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By Skip Bayless
Page 2

The first one was no big deal.

Drew Brees flipped it into the flat to No. 21, who snagged it effortlessly with his wide receiver's hands and appeared almost disappointed that the Oakland Raiders had blown the coverage. He basically jogged 35 yards for the touchdown.

Then again, this man's "jog" is overdrive for some running backs.

The next one put the exclamation point on a six-play, 55-yard drive in which he showcased his Walter Payton power and body lean and his crazy-legged Barry Sanders escapes. The touchdown came when he lightning-bolted off-tackle from seven yards out, right into the teeth of Oakland's "Black Hole" end-zone maniacs.

San Diego 14, Oakland 0.

Damn.

Make that LaDainian Tomlinson 14, Oakland Faders zip. And he wasn't through.

With his Chargers leading 17-7 in the second quarter, Tomlinson swept right, pulled up and gunned a tight spiral with possibly more mustard than quarterback Brees can muster. From four yards out, this pass hit tight end Justin Peele right in the hands.

Tomlinson 24, Fade to Black 7.

Triple damn.

It wasn't even halftime, and Tomlinson had become only the seventh player in NFL history to run, catch and pass for a touchdown in the same game.

Call it a helmet trick.

He also hit a trifecta on NFL records.

He tied one by scoring a touchdown in his 18th straight game. He extended his record for rushing TDs in consecutive games to 18 -- five more than the previous record held by John Riggins and George Rogers. And he became the first player with at least 10 rushing TDs in each of his first five seasons.

This man smells paydirt even better than Marcus Allen once did.

LaDainian Tomlinson
AP
He runs, he catches, he throws! No wonder he gets the game ball.

If only this L.T. got the attention that the defensive L.T. once did. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was once the baddest man on the planet. He also lived in the New York-New Jersey fast lane, which helped lead to the drug-fueled demise of his career.

But that L.T. created magazine-cover mystique, on and off the field, for better and worse. This L.T. hasn't even created quite as much national buzz the last few years as another San Diego product -- the "Anchorman," Ron Burgundy.

But as Will Ferrell's character might have said: "You stay classy, LaDainian."

Sad but true: Tomlinson is almost too classy for his own good. No rough edges. No TD dances. No soap-opera spats with teammates or coaches.

The only time he expressed any public displeasure was when, unforgivably, coach Marty Schottenheimer forgot to feature him in the game plan in an opening-day home loss to Dallas. Schottenheimer should get on his knees each night and thank the Good Lord for blessing him with such a supremely talented coach's dream.

Talk about Anchorman. In an era in which most NFL teams are going with platoon backs, Tomlinson is both thunder and lightning. There is no more versatile -- and better -- back in football.

Hail, LaDainian.

Early this season, it appeared rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams would challenge Tomlinson's supremacy. But Cadillac has missed Tampa Bay's last two games with assorted injuries. Season after season, Tomlinson has proven to be what all great backs must be -- durable.

He hasn't played in a Super Bowl yet, but he's the biggest reason the Chargers still have a chance to make it this year. Yet rings or no rings, it isn't too early to consider Tomlinson's all-time greatness.

He's a little faster and he's a little better receiver than Walter Payton was, and he keeps himself in the kind of nearly indestructible shape that always protected Payton. This isn't to say he's better than Payton, who had the all-time biggest heart of any back. But Tomlinson is on his way to being better.

At 5-foot-10 and 221 pounds, he's USC's Reggie Bush packing about 20 more pounds. Yet San Diego product Bush already generates more water-cooler raves around the country than Tomlinson does.

That's partly because Tomlinson's arch-conservative coach won't let him pile up rushing yards in runaway wins -- unless the victim is the Raiders. Schottenheimer has made no secret over the years how much he despises Al Davis' organization; so for once, he kept feeding Tomlinson the ball on Sunday after the score was settled.

Tomlinson: 140 yards on 31 carries.

Tomlinson: 620 yards rushing in his last four games against the Raiders -- all victories. The Chargers haven't beaten the Raiders four in a row since Davis coached the Chargers' defensive ends from 1960-'62.

Notice a correlation there, Marty?

"If you give him the ball enough times," Schottenheimer said after the game, "he's going to get plenty of yards."

You think?

I think the Chargers made the right choice when they basically traded the draft rights to Michael Vick for Tomlinson and Brees. Vick is far more marketable. Tomlinson is more valuable.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.