Even if it's not officially done, there's no question that LaDainian Tomlinson's career in San Diego has come to an end. Personally, I'm already exhausted with all of the "breathless" media coverage surrounding this; it's been an open secret since last spring that he was not likely to return.
Over the last few weeks, I've argued with family and friends about why Tomlinson isn't coming back. Most of the reaction I get from people is that it's Norv Turner's fault for not using him correctly, or the offensive line went soft / sucked against the run, as well as delusional people who think that once Tomlinson gets "completely healthy," he will return to All-Pro form.
It pains me to say that Tomlinson is no longer an every-down back in the NFL. It has been frustrating to watch him this year, knowing that the desire was there, and that he knew what to do, but that his body wasn't capable of doing it anymore. There were no great jump-cuts to break into the open, no long sprints down the sideline for TDs, and for the first time since his rookie season, he was a liability in the passing game.
As of now, I'm forgetting about all of that. I'm choosing to remember the player who carried this franchise from the depths of Ryan Leaf Hell and back to legitimacy. I'm remembering the player who finished 8th on the all-time rushing yardage list, and was the 3rd greatest TD scorer in NFL history. I'm remembering him as possibly the best player to ever wear the uniform in San Diego, with only Dan Fouts and Lance Alworth in the discussion.
Below are my 10 favorite LaDainian Tomlinson moments. Add more if you think of any that I've missed. Let us Chargers fans at Bolts From The Blue give the NFL's All Decade Back a worthy monument of thanks.
- September 29, 2002 vs. New England. The Chargers entered this game at 3-0. In all honesty, I didn't think the world of LT before this game. However, running for 217 yards, and 2 classic TDs - one breaking Tedy Bruschi's ankles in the hole, the other a cross-field sprint - and I realized for the 1st time that Chargers' fans were seeing something special.
- December 1, 2002 vs. Denver. After falling behind 10-0 early, LT single-handedly took Denver's defense to the woodshed, scoring 18 unanswered points. He posted 37 carries for 220 yards and 3 TDs, as well as a 76 yard gallop down the sideline.
- October 19th, 2003 at Cleveland. Helping the Chargers to their first win in a miserable season, LT goes off for 200 yards, including a 70-yard sprint down the sidelines for a TD.
- December 28th, 2003 vs. Oakland. LT starts our unbeaten streak against the Oakland Raiders with a 31 carry, 243 yard effort, and a pair of short TD runs. It seemed like every time he touched the ball, he went for 20 yards a carry.
- November 6, 2005 at New York Jets. LT's rushing numbers were solid, going for 107 yards on 25 carries. What I remember from this game was his catch in the right flat, in front of Ty Law. LT juked twice, breaking Law's ankles and scoring a TD from 25 yards out... untouched.
- November 27, 2005 at Washington. In OT against the Redskins, LT breaks free at the line of scrimmage, stiff-arms a defender to the ground, and sprints the rest of the way to a game winning 41-yard TD run.
- November 12, 2006 at Cincinnati. LT scores 4 TDs to help the Chargers overcome a 28-7 halftime deficit and take a 42-38 lead on the first play of the 4th quarter, on their way to a classic 49-41 come-from-behind victory.
- December 10, 2006 vs. Denver. In a 48-20 romp to clinch the AFC West, LT scores 3 TDs to break Shaun Alexander's single-season TD record. LT would add 2 more TDs before the end of the season, giving him a (current) record of 31 TDs, as well as setting the season scoring record with 186 points.
- October 14, 2007 vs. Oakland. LT continues his mastery of the Raiders, going off for 198 yards and 4 TDs. The game-clincher came in the 4th quarter, courtesy of a 41 yard TD run.
- January 6, 2008 vs. Tennessee. In his first playoff victory, LT didn't post huge numbers. However, I smile every time I think of his 4th-and-1 TD, jumping over the pile, getting hit, then stretching the ball across the goal line to give the Chargers the clinching score.
There are surely other moments that others can (and should) mention below. Beyond the field, however, I will always remember LT as a class act, a player who wanted victories more than money, who wore his heart on his sleeve (sometimes to his detriment), and always acknowledged his status in the community - and used it to make things a little better for a lot of people.
I wish him and his wife the best of luck and all health when their baby arrives later this year. I wish him the best as continues his career - as long as it doesn't cost us a trip to the Super Bowl. Lastly, I can't wait another 6-8 years to see him enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame, and few players will deserve it more.
LaDainian Tomlinson, it has been an honor and a privilege watching you play. Thanks for everything.