LaDainian Tomlinson spent nine incredible years in San Diego. Tomorrow, Tomlinson will have the opportunity to make it nine years and one day as he will re-sign with his former team and immediately announce his retirement as a San Diego Charger. Going back twelve years, it wasn’t always a given that LT would be part of the San Diego franchise. The Chargers had the #1 pick heading into the 2001 draft and were in position to draft quarterback Michael Vick from Virginia Tech, but the San Diego front office saw the TCU running back who was sixth all-time in NCAA rushing yards, and decided to fall back 4 spots and draft LT. San Diego traded picks with the Falcons and Atlanta drafted Vick #1, and although the QB had immediate success as an exciting impact player, his troubles with the law are well documented. While Vick was sentenced to prison following a 2006 investigation which caused him to miss the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the TCU RB was showing the NFL what an NFL MVP and class citizen looked like.
Even as they drafted him, the San Diego brass couldn’t have known how fantastic Tomlinson would turn out. He came into camp the first summer and made it known that he was the starting running back for the franchise’s future. LT missed only one regular season game from 2001 through 2008, rushing for over 1,100 yards in every season. When Tomlinson left the Chargers, his 12,490 yards placed him as the eighth all-time leading rusher in NFL History. He was also able to amass 138 career rushing TD’s, which was second all-time. His best season was in 2006, which happened to be Mike Vick’s last year before serving his jail sentence. Tomlinson won the MVP as he set the new NFL single-season records with 31 touchdowns, including 28 rushing. He won the league rushing title for the first time in his career, and then followed that up in 2007 by rushing for another 1,400 yards and another rushing title. LT left the Chargers to join my team, the New York Jets, but had already obviously cemented his Hall of Fame status in his years as a Charger.
LT signed with the Jets to be a veteran leader and a third down option in the backfield, allowing Shonn Greene a rest every now and then. While Tomlinson accepted whatever role the Jets offered him, as he saw an opportunity to win a Superbowl with the Jets and wanted to help in any way possible, his play was way to good to keep him as a backup to Greene. LT managed to rush for 915 yards with 6 TD’s, which happened to be 150 yards more than Greene ran for during the regular season. When the Jets came up short in the playoffs in 2010 and then failed to make the tournament last season, one of the players I believe all fans felt the worse for was Tomlinson. He was an incredible player as his numbers dictate, but the one thing missing from his resume in all his years with the Chargers was a Superbowl victory. The Jets offered him a good shot, and when they failed to capitalize against the Steelers in the AFC Championship, many wondered if LT would get as close again. His retirement tomorrow now let’s us know he won’t.
LT currently holds 36 different NFL records, which are obviously too many to write about. I believe that he has earned a spot in the hall of fame as a rare first ballot hall of fame inductee, so hopefully in 2017 we’ll be writing about how great his speech was when he is inducted. When LaDainian went to the Jets, he still expressed a desire to eventually retire as a Charger, even though he had a tumultuous relationship with Charger GM A.J. Smith when he departed. As a Jets fan, I am saddened by seeing Tomlinson leave our organization, but as an NFL fan I can respect the fact the LT was possibly the greatest Charger of all time (no disrespect to Junior Seau or Kellen Winslow), and to see him work out his difficulties with Smith so San Diego can honor him on his retirement day is really wonderful to see. Tomlinson has the personality and intelligence of an individual who will succeed in any future endeavors he partakes in, and we wish him all the success that a true gentleman and NFL icon deserves.
Check out the sick highlight reel to see LT at his greatest