The legend of Anthony Thompson was growing in Indiana before he ever stepped foot in Bloomington. Stories were circulating of a running back out of Terre Haute that would go entire games without ever hitting the ground. Legends are just that, but by the time he arrived at IU in 1986, the expectations were sky high for Thompson.
Let’s just say this — Anthony Thompson didn’t disappoint anyone.
Thirty years after his IU playing days were over, virtually every Hoosier fan knows who you are talking about merely by saying his initials — “A.T.”
Thompson had an immediate impact during his freshman season. He carried the ball 191 times for 806 yards to lead the team. He would lead the team in rushing three more seasons, in the process rewriting the IU record books.
Thompson was Indiana’s most valuable player in 1988 and 1989 and the Big Ten MVP during those same
years. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and a two-time first team All-American. He led the Big Ten in rushing yards his junior and senior seasons. He finished eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 1988 and second in 1989.
The 1989 Heisman vote was one of the closest ever, and Thompson would have been a lock to win the award if Indiana could have found a way to win one more game to become bowl eligible.
Although he didn’t win the Heisman in 1989, Thompson was named the Walter Camp Foundation’s Player of the Year, the AFCA “Coaches Choice” Player of the Year, and he won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s finest college football player.
Despite the passage of 30 years and the addition of more games, Thompson’s dominance of the IU record books remains. He is IU’s career leader in rushing yards, all-purpose yards, carries, points and touchdowns. When he left IU, Thompson held NCAA records for both rushing yards in a game and career touchdowns.
Thompson’s career rushing yards total of 5,299 is more than 1,400 greater than No. 2 on the IU all-time list. It is reasonable to speculate that it is a mark that will never be broken. He holds three of the top 16 season rushing totals in program history, and two of the top four. Thompson’s 28 100 plus yard games is 11 more than the next guy on the list.
If there is one game that stands out in his illustrious career, it was November 11, 1989 at Wisconsin, when he went for 52 carries, 377 yards, and four touchdowns. You can watch the latter part of that game here, and notice how he had not only worn down the Wisconsin defense, but also their announcers and the crowd.
When Thompson arrived at IU the career touchdown record was 30. When he left, it was 68. In 1989 Anthony Thompson became the NCAA career touchdown record-holder with a touchdown against Michigan State. He has 23 more touchdowns than the No. 2 player on IU’s all-time list. He holds the two best single season touchdown totals in program history, scoring 26 and 25 in his final two years as a Hoosier.
In a list dominated by kickers, Thompson has a 58 point lead over Griffin Oakes on the all-time scoring list.
He even returned kickoffs at times, leading the team in 1989 with a 21.9 yard average.
Thompson was drafted in the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Phoenix Cardinals. He played four years in the National Football League with the Los Angeles Rams and the Cardinals. He played in 37 games and scored six touchdowns in the NFL.
Thompson was inducted into the IU Hall of Fame in 2003, and the National College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
AT still lives in Bloomington. He is a local pastor and a Senior Associate Athletic Director at IU. He gave the eulogy for his former head coach Bill Mallory at Memorial Stadium in June.
There will never be another No. 32 for IU. Literally. He is also the only athlete in Indiana history to have his jersey retired.
Prior IU greats on the list:
#10 — John Isenbarger
#9 — Dan Feeney
#8 — James Hardy
#7 – Nate Sudfeld
#6 – Tevin Coleman
#5 – Corby Davis
#4 – Antwaan Randle El
#3 – Pete Pihos
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