Editor’s note (Nov. 17, 2014): LaDainian Tomlinson’s rushing record stood for 15 years until Saturday, when Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for 408 yards against Nebraska.
The official box score lists a crowd of only 21,218 at Texas Christian University’s Amon G. Carter Stadium for the Horned Frogs’ Nov. 20, 1999, football game against the University of Texas at El Paso. However, those fans in Fort Worth witnessed one of the greatest single-game performances in NCAA football history, as TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 406 yards, a record that still stands today.
“People still bring up that game to me all the time,” said Tomlinson, who went on to an 11-year NFL career. “The funny thing is that there were less than 30,000 people in the stadium for the game, but I probably have had 60,000 people tell me they were at the game.”
However many were truly there, the crowd kept growing as the game went along – and as Tomlinson kept piling up the yardage.
“In the fourth quarter, the crowd became very loud and really got into the game,” said Shannon Brazzell, Tomlinson’s TCU teammate and current vice president of business development for the LaDainian Tomlinson Preparatory Academy. “It was obvious he was having a great game, so defensively, we got so focused on forcing three-and-outs so we could get the ball back because it was all about LT that day.”
The score was tied at 14 at halftime, and the rushing record was the last thing the TCU players were worried about. The Horned Frogs needed to win the game and the next to tie for the Western Athletic Conference crown.
With TCU leading 31-17 heading into the fourth quarter, Tomlinson went to work. He scored on back-to-back carries of 70 and 63 yards to put the game out of reach and vault himself into record-breaking territory.
“I didn’t know anything until I was a few yards short of the record,” Tomlinson said. “I heard an announcement over the speaker that I was close, and then I heard I had broken it, so I was coming off the field when coach Fran (Dennis Franchione) and my running backs coach yelled at me to get back in there.”
His final carry was a 7-yard rush, allowing him to break the 400-yard plateau. The previous record of 396 rushing yards had been set by Tony Sands of the University of Kansas against the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1991.
Tomlinson scored six touchdowns in leading the Horned Frogs to a 52-24 win over UTEP. His team went on to beat Southern Methodist University the next week to share the WAC title.
But Tomlinson’s legacy at TCU is more than just numbers.
“The thing I remember most about LT during his playing days was his leadership,” Brazzell said. “I remember there was this very steep hill by our practice fields, and after two-a-days, everyone on the team was running up the hill – that’s the type of effect he had on people.”