L. T. Calls It Quits: LaDainian Tomlinson Retires As A Charger
As the finest running back of his generation, Tomlinson is the first surefire future Hall of Famer drafted in the 2000s to hang up the cleats. His walk down the stage at Radio City Music Hall to greet then-NFL Commissioner Roger Tagliabue was 11 seasons and many yards ago. After an excellent collegiate career at TCU, where he broke and still holds the single-game record for rushing yards in an FBS game, the newly drafted Tomlinson was considered “a faster Emmitt Smith” when he joined the San Diego Chargers. As if that was not enough pressure, Tomlinson lived up to the hype and expectations placed upon him.
Running between the tackles, no. 21 was merciless. Off a swing pass with no defenders on his side, it was all over. When he found open space, rare was a defender who caught up to the 5-foot-11 blue-and-white blur. His speed, agility and power for his size often made defenders look stupid. He was similar to Marshall Faulk, but to call Tomlinson Faulk’s clone would diminish the small details that made L. T. a one-of-a-kind tailback.
Until Antonio Gates and Drew Brees emerged, Tomlinson was the entire Chargers offense, yet he was unyielding. Indomitable. Anyone familiar with the NFL knows L. T. If not, check a few highlights below.
As the face of an organization and of San Diego for most of his career, Tomlinson flourished and embraced it. Due to his charitable actions, he was the recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2006, recognizing his skill on the field and kind-heartedness off it, learning from another Charger great, Junior Seau.
“There’s one name that belongs on a number 21 jersey, and that’s Tomlinson,” Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos stated before Tomlinson signed his one-day contract and spoke to the crowd.
“I didn’t even check how much it was for,” Spanos joked. “It’s worth it.”
Tomlinson’s humility shone through during his statement and his question-and-answer period. And he had no sense of Brett Favre ambivalence on his decision to retire
“I wasn’t because I didn’t want to play anymore,” Tomlinson asserted. “It was simply time to move on.
“I’ll take the words of Junior Seau: I’m graduating today,” he added.
Just shy of 33 is an above average age for a running back to retire. But for Tomlinson, it felt like he could have played until he reached spitting distance of Smith’s 18,355 career rushing yards. But there’s something to be said for knowing when to quit. Since his last year in San Diego, it was clear the end was in sight for Tomlinson. But he hung on for two mostly effective years for the New York Jets as a co-starter with Shonn Greene.
Tomlinson was a consummate professional. It seems that term is used loosely, but Tomlinson warrants that level of recognition. On the field, the man was as steady as can be. Stoic. Humble. That damn ball flip of his is so iconic and special because it revealed a different side of him. It was a brief glimpse at an ultimate competitor’s pure emotional response as he unquestionably proved his superiority on the gridiron. The NFL and its fans will miss LaDainian Tomlinson. There won’t be another.