LaDainian Tomlinson returned to the San Diego Chargers even if it was only for one day. The long time Bolts’ great decided to hang up the cleats after an impressive 11-year career in the league. On Monday, Bolts fans got to see the San Diego star retire in the proper fashion as a member of the Chargers.
Tomlinson’s departure from San Diego two years ago was a messy one after the club decided to move on from his decade of greatness and turn the page to a new franchise back. He and General Manager A.J. Smith had a public disagreement over the restructuring of his then contract which eventually led to his release in February of 2010.
Following this past season after two years with the New York Jets, LT again found himself out of work. Set to turn 33 in less than a week, Tomlinson had to come to a difficult conclusion as he said during his retirement speech. LT said: "It wasn't because I didn't want to play anymore. It was simply time to move on." It has been reported that Tomlinson wanted to rejoin the Chargers as a backup to now starter Ryan Mathews, but when the team signed Ronnie Brown back on June 8, the writing was on the wall for the former league MVP.
That 2006 season was a magical one for LT and the Bolts as he set all-time single-season marks for touchdowns with 31, rushing scores with 28, and 186 points scored. He recalled that year saying: "Those were championship days, for not only myself and my teammates, but my family as well. So I'm okay with never winning a Super Bowl championship. I know we've got many memories that we can call championship days." Those numbers were just part of what was a Hall of Fame worthy career in which Tomlinson rushed for 13,684 yards, fifth all-time, and scored 162 touchdowns, third-most ever. His total of 145 rushing touchdowns is the second highest in league history.
What made LT special was more than just his performance on the field however, as his work in the community along with his understanding of the game shined above all else. He was fully aware of the fact that his accomplishments were made possible by five seldom-mentioned guys blocking down in the trenches. Of the offensive linemen, he said: "They were my best friends."
Two current linemen in Nick Hardwick and Jeromey Clary were in attendance along with the recently retired Kris Dielman after his concussion incident this past season. When asked to comment on LT’s career, Dielman said: "I was a part of greatness. And it was awesome to be a part of it. It was awesome to watch. I mean, I had the best seat in the house. It was a fun time."
Clearly Tomlinson has Canton credentials and will one day be fitted with a golden jacket, most likely in 2018 (his first year of eligibility). His résumé boasts some incredible accomplishments that the league has never seen before like 100 receptions by a running back in a single season which he achieved in 2003. That year he became the only player in league history to rush for over 1,000 yards (1,645 to be exact) and catch 100 passes. He is and will likely remain the only member of the 1,000/100 club.
During his retirement speech, Tomlinson also referenced the late Junior Seau and his emotional goodbye to the game. "He said, `I'm graduating today.' I've been playing football 20-some years and so at some point it almost seems like school every year where you sacrifice so much and there is so much you put on the line, mentally and physically, with your body, everything. So today, I take the words of Junior Seau: I feel like I'm graduating. I really do, because I've got my life ahead of me, I'm healthy, I'm happy with a great family and I'm excited to now be a fan and watch you guys play."
Plenty of grandiose labels are tossed around for players who come and go all of the time, but when talking about Tomlinson, it isn’t hyperbole to put him in the conversation for best running back of all-time. Being mentioned in the same breath as players like Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Gale Sayers is quite a feat for a player coming out of small school TCU with plenty of question marks back in 2001. He certainly ranks at the very top of the hierarchy for Bolts’ backs outgaining the next closest by nearly three times the yardage.
While his place in history will be up for debate for years to come, LT’s commitment to the community and his goodwill toward others will never be questioned. Leave it to the man himself to sum things up best as he said: "I always felt like I was a Charger. The guys, my teammates - the bond we built and the battles we won together - it was special."
Now it’s your turn! How did you feel watching LaDainian Tomlinson retire as a member of the San Diego Chargers? Is LT the best Charger of all-time? Where do you rank him among the best running backs in NFL history? Does LT’s 100-catch season make him the most versatile back in the history of the league? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts about one of the best Chargers ever to put on a uniform!
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