Thursday, February 4, 2010

End of an Era (Thank you L.T.)

It was the saddest I've felt since Emmitt Smith started a decline with the Cowboys. LaDainian Tomlinson telling the San Diego Union Tribune today that his career with the Chargers is over. Even though we saw it coming, it's still sad it has to end this way.

I'll get to the numbers in a minute but I'll share some personal testimonies. Coming to San Diego for college in 2002, I never saw a city rally around a team like they did the Chargers and I had just left a city fresh off a Lakers three-peat. I had never been around a football environment before in person so I was dazzled by the love the city had for its team. At the center of it all was Tomlinson - who I saw demolish the WAC at TCU in high school and only happened to be there because the team traded away the No. 1 pick for Michael Vick.

(I always wonder what if that trade never went down....Vick becomes a freak in San Diego? Does LT have the career he does in Atlanta? And what about Drew Brees, who was drafted in the 2nd round? - that trade affected three teams if you count New Orleans)

The city loved LT like they loved any of their past icons. Tony Gwynn is Mr. Padre and you almost forget that he earned his stripes in Long Beach, he's a San Diego icon. Same with Kellen Winslow, Trevor Hoffman, Pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church down there - if you played sports and made an impact, you are beloved. And LT earned it with his charity work and friendly persona.

In 2007 and 2008, after I started working for the paper I had the chance to meet LT at this local radio award show for ESPN. I almost didn't want to be in a picture with him but I'm glad I did. He greeted everyone warmly and in 08 when I asked him about his injury, he was gracious to share how his recovery was going. It's still one of the highlights of my career (and yes, this is the first pic of myself I've posted on the blog)

On the field, his work speaks for itself. 8th all time in rushing yards, 3rd in total TD's, holds several NFL records (including most TD's (rushing and overall) in a season). One of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen and one of the greatest seasons in league history - his MVP season of 2006 that was absolutely special to behold.

I remember when he set the season TD record, he said he wanted his linemen there to share it. He wasn't showy but always businesslike and he earned the respect of his peers and NFL legends for it.

I saw the decline in 2008 when he couldn't go in the AFC Title game. The season after was a tough grind where Darren Sproles became the bigger go-to-guy showing off speed that Tomlinson started losing. Then came the playoff win against Indy where Sproles dominated and LT was on the sidelines. I said before the year that if he wanted to save his career, the team needed to split carries. But the speed wasn't there, the burst was gone and he was reduced to a power back most of the year.

The end was near and no matter how much Chargers fans wanted him to stay, we knew that LT was no longer what he was. The running game was a liability, no longer a strength, And at least he was classy enough to make his decision so the team can draft a solid tailback in the upcoming draft.

For a city that has seen too many of its players leave early (Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau, the aforementioned Hoffman), LT joins the list of players who left their mark in the 619 but won't close the final chapter of their book there. He was easily my favorite player of the decade and it's fitting he reminded me of Emmitt Smith (my all-time favorite) because he idolized him growing up in Texas.

Stay classy, LT. Good luck with the rest of your career and Chargers fans everywhere - especially in San Diego - thank you for the memories.


  1. Well done, sir. Reading how his accomplishments and class attitude further cements his legacy as the greatest Charger and one of the best football players ever. LT's restructuring of his contract this past season also reinforces his team-first attitude. Since his interview aired in SD where he mentioned he wasn't happy with the limited carries he was getting, many fans have been calling LT selfish, distant, and a poor team player. It's so sad how frustration from a great player can be taken so negatively by the very people that chant his initials with pride the past decade. Such is the beast in sports where the present rules and the past will merely be a distant spectacle on the rearview mirror, shrinking ever so slightly as each day passes. Here's to you, LT - go get that ring before you enter the hallowed halls of Canton.

  2. I believe LT has two more good years in him. I don't believe he was utilized correctly since Norv arrived. That's not a matter of opinion - it's factual. LT is too classy to throw Norv under the bus, but that's just a fact. (I could go on forever, and Evan, you know this.) LT is going to leave, and despite being over 30, will have two good seasons somewhere else. I assure you of this.

    Norv's offense worked like hell for LT. I hope he can show the 619 he still has it. I look for him to land in Buffalo, with Vick. As a "mentor-figure" to Marshawn Lynch.

  3. San Diego fans booing LT obviously don't get the business - of course he wants more carries. As great as the Chargers are passing the ball, their strength is the run game making it easier for Rivers to hit his targets

    And Shane is partly right. I saw several games where they abandoned the run and didn't really give LT a chance to be used better (Norv having too much on his hands as a coach instead of just being an OC). That being said, he's lost a step and can be used better as a goal-line or 3rd down back or situations. He may be on the decline but he can still produce splitting carries with a featured back and still playing a key role.

    Over/under he has 2-3 seasons left.