The Chargers may be leaving but LaDainian Tomlinson is arriving.
“I know it has a great tradition,” Tomlinson said.
Once again, Tomlinson is spot-on.
Tomlinson, along with two baseball standouts, Chris Chambliss and Tony Clark, will be inducted into the Breitbard Hall of Champions on Monday night.
“The great thing about it is they honor the amateur and high school athletes, too,” Tomlinson said.
And that led to Tomlinson’s first brush with the Hall of Champions.
In 2002, Tomlinson presented Helix’s Reggie Bush with San Diego’s high school player of the year award.
But on Monday, Tomlinson is in the spotlight. His remarks are ready and they won’t surprise anyone.
Tomlinson could spread praise as well as he could make gravity defying cuts. It was never about No. 21 crashing in for another touchdown; it was his 10 teammates that made it happen.
“I want to talk about the sacrifice of others so that I could be great player at a high level,” said Tomlinson, now an NFL Network analyst and living in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. “There are so many people that I want to mention.”
We won’t steal this Bolt’s thunder with a sneak preview. But the theme is what others have done for him.
“Like my wife standing in my corner while I’m off chasing my dream,” Tomlinson said. “You neglect a lot of people when you are doing that and they are making the sacrifices.
“It’s not about me. It’s about everybody allowing me to this ‘L.T.’ guy I became in San Diego.”
It was a celebrated time, with Tomlinson among the game’s biggest stars with his amazing running: MVP, six-time All-Pro, fifth all-time leading rusher and the list goes on.
It was regular playoff trips thanks to a dominating, smash-mouth approach to football that coach Marty Schottenheimer preached and Tomlinson embraced.
Back then Marty Ball drove the conversation instead of taking a wrecking ball to Qualcomm Stadium.
Nothing matched 2006, when Tomlinson was the NFL’s MVP as he scored a record 31 touchdowns, while leading the league in rushing for the first of two straight seasons.
“We knew at the time something special was happening,” Tomlinson said. “Scoring four touchdowns in a game? Those kinds of things just don’t happen and they were happening because it was a perfect storm.”
This after offseason winds sent Drew Brees to New Orleans.
“Drew had left and Philip was the new starter and no way Marty was going to throw the ball a lot,” Tomlinson said, and his laugh could be heard without a phone. “So he had to rely more on me and we had the perfect offensive line for it. It was a run-blocking line.”
He rattles off the names of Kris Dielman and Nick Hardwick and says even Marcus McNeil, “bought into it.”
“They enjoyed the way we were beating people,” Tomlinson said. “We knew if we kept it close until the fourth quarter, we would just look at each other and know we got them.”
What stunned Tomlinson was the fallout after the 14-2 season morphed into a AFC Divisional Game loss to the Patriots. The perfect storm vanished, but wasn’t all sunshine.
Schottenheimer was fired and the shock waves didn’t skip Tomlinson.
“Yeah it was surprising, it really was,” he said. “Anybody that knows football, man, there was something there. The synergy that has to happen to go 14-2? And we still had more ahead of us.
“Rivers was going to be in his second year and they should have kept that together; it just made all that sense in the world. That was so disappointing. We know we had a better team and we should have been in the Super Bowl that season.”
Tomlinson never reached the big game, despite his big presence. Then when leaving the Chargers for the Jets in 2010, there was a big to-do in how he was treated.
Then-general manager A.J. Smith pushed Tomlinson aside as if he was a third-string tight end.
“I didn’t even think about that,” he said. “I closed that chapter in the books and was motivated to go to New York and prove that I can still play and was still viable in the league. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on San Diego.”
But it was a divorce that wasn’t completely healed until Tomlinson return in 2012 to speak at Junior Seau’s memorial. The crowd’s response was as predictable as another shifty Tomlinson scoring run.
“L.T.!, L.T.!, L.T.!”
Once a Charger, always a Charger and don’t even bring up the potential move to Los Angeles.
“I’m a,” Tomlinson said, “a San Diego Charger.”
+ Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org