Before LaDainian Tomlinson began leaving his mark on the San Diego Chargers, the Chargers had left their mark on him.
Whereas quarterback Eli Manning refused to put on a Charger cap when the team made him the No. 1 pick last spring, and essentially forced a trade, Tomlinson, upon being drafted, went directly to a Texas tattoo parlor and had a lightning bolt emblazoned on his calf.
It's there to stay, and so is he.
"I'm an old-school guy," he said. "I just believe in staying with a team through good and bad. Ride it out and be loyal."
Although it's too early to say, that loyalty seems to be paying off. The Chargers (3-3), who play at Carolina (1-4) on Sunday, appear to be turning a corner. Quarterback Drew Brees has completed 72.7% of his passes in the last three games and is getting good protection from a line that's beginning to play well together. Over that three-game span, Brees has six touchdown passes, one interception and has been sacked only twice. Gone is the notion that rookie quarterback Philip Rivers would step right in and banish Brees to the bench.
With recently added receivers Keenan McCardell and Bobby Shaw, the Chargers hope to generate more of a threat with their passing game and thereby create more holes for Tomlinson, who has been recovering from a strained groin and had to come out of the last two games.
Tomlinson was limited to 80 yards from scrimmage in a loss to Atlanta last Sunday. Statistics show, however, that he might be the best rebounder in the league. According to STATS Inc., Tomlinson has bounced back with huge games after he has been held to fewer than 100 yards. He has had 11 such bounce-back games in his career, averaging 141.7 yards rushing and 174.7 total yards. He scored 15 touchdowns in those 11 games, and the Chargers were 7-4.
"It's a pride thing," he said. "You're always looking to rebound and get back on track."
As for the Chargers bouncing back to respectability?
"We're on the verge right now," he said. "I can't say it's all completed. But once we get into the playoffs, they can't call us losers anymore."
Where, oh, where has Carolina's defense gone? The Panthers had 40 sacks last season, tying them for seventh in the NFL. This season they have only seven, tying them with Cincinnati for last in the league. And defensive end Mike Rucker, who led the Panthers with 12 sacks last season, has none.
Mike Ditka said recently that Ricky Williams retired from the NFL because he was tired of getting hit. But David Cornwell, one of Williams' attorneys, takes exception to that.
"What does Mike Ditka know?" Cornwell said. "Those comments are completely irrelevant, and the fact they've been widely reported don't make them any more relevant to me.
"I remember a Monday night game, Bears vs. 49ers in Candlestick Park when he either threw gum or something, had a negative reaction to a fan. That was a human reaction. And he expected people to understand that that was a human reaction. What we're going through now is the product of Ricky having a human reaction. It is unbelievable to me that Ditka could be critical of Ricky having a human reaction, yet expect us to understand his human reaction years ago."
Pity the Tennessee Titans. They have to face Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who on the scale of hot hands is somewhere between scalding and nuclear. He has 18 touchdown passes in five games, the most of any quarterback since 1970.
Culpepper has thrown five touchdown passes three times this season. Only three times before this season had a Viking quarterback thrown five or more touchdown passes in a game: Joe Kapp threw seven in 1969, and Tommy Kramer threw five in 1982 and six in 1986.
Jerry Rice might be the greatest player in NFL history, but it was pretty nervy of him to coax the Seahawks into bringing Steve Largent's No. 80 out of retirement so he could wear it. Yes, Largent gave Rice his blessing to do it, but what a jerk Largent would have appeared to be had he blocked the move. Rice shouldn't have put him in that position in the first place.
To best take advantage of their most popular home game of the season -- and to keep a flood of silver-and-black clad fans away from Qualcomm Stadium -- the Chargers have put special rules in place for their Oct. 31 game against the Raiders. Tickets may only be purchased in combination with an equal number of tickets purchased to one or more other games. In other words, if you want to buy a pair of tickets to see the Charger-Raider game, you also need to buy a pair to the Chargers vs. New Orleans, Denver, Tampa Bay or Kansas City.
Team officials are making no secret of their motives.
"Our ultimate goal is to sell out every game and sell as many tickets as possible to Charger supporters," Charger marketing executive Ken Derrett said in a release.
As it has over the last three seasons for this game, the San Diego Police Department will have additional uniformed officers at the game, there will be "pat downs" at the gates, and stricter alcohol controls.
The Arena Football League isn't mentioned too often in this space, but some tidbits are too good to pass up: The AFL's Grand Rapids Rampage is trying to wipe out the memory of last season, when they won only one game. So the franchise sent out rolls of toilet paper to its season-ticket holders with "1 and 15" printed on each sheet. The message was simple:
It's time to put last season behind us.