As part of a series at the NFL Network, former players who currently work for the company have been taking turns recalling their favorite teammates they got to play with during their storied careers. On Wednesday, it was Chargers legend LaDainian Tomlinson’s turn to discuss his top-five and of course it was full of all-time greats.
Tomlinson couldn’t decide between two players for the number five spot so he chose both Rodney Harrison and Lorenzo Neal to fill that spot. LT played with Harrison from 2001-2002 and played with Neal from 2003-2007.
“Harrison was Junior Seau’s Robin — and much like Seau, who I’ll get to in a minute, Harrison was a phenomenal leader. He knew exactly how to communicate with everyone in the locker room and, most importantly, how to motivate you.He gave everything he had in practice and on game day, and one of his best qualities was he was always present. All of these things made him an exceptional teammate, and I learned a lot from him in terms of being a leader for our team.”
“Neal was my personal protector, and the quality that stood out the most was his selflessness. He understood his job and sacrificed his body so others — like me — could benefit, and he was fine not getting any credit. He accepted his role, which was to essentially clean up everyone else’s mess, and performed his duties flawlessly. In fact, defenders feared him, including Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, one of the best linebackers to ever play the game. I kid you not. We played the Baltimore Ravens three times between 2003 and ‘07, and I had never seen Lewis avoid contact from anyone. Anyone. But, he avoided Neal. I saw it right in front of me. And that’s when I truly understood just how good Neal was.”
At number four, LT listed Philip Rivers, the quarterback he spent the most time with in the NFL. Rivers and Tomlinson were teammates from 2004, when Rivers was drafted, to 2009, when Tomlinson signed with the New York Jets.
“Philip Rivers is as advertised. What you see is what you get. I knew he was a country boy from Alabama when we drafted him, and I appreciated how authentic he was (and still is). He has never tried to be somebody who he isn’t, and that’s a quality everyone in the locker room wants from a leader.”
“On the field, everyone knew the competitor he was. He brought that competitiveness to the facility every single day — and that approach got the best out of me and the rest of the team. One of his best attributes is his short-term memory. He was always looking ahead to the next play, regardless of whether we had just turned the ball over or scored a touchdown.”
At the number three spot, the Chargers G.O.A.T selected another Chargers G.O.A.T in tight end Antonio Gates. Gates and LT were teammates from 2003-2009.
“Gates was my sidekick and I was his. We needed each other to be successful. Often facing stacked boxes, I needed a receiving threat — and the fact that he was an all-world tight end helped tremendously. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Gates go up over a defender or two and bring the ball down like a rebound in basketball, the first sport he mastered. In the NFL, he used his moves from the court to burn players on the field. He had one of the quickest first steps I have ever seen, thanks to his basketball skills — a little shake and shimmy, then he’d cross over defenders like it was nobody’s business. It was an unbelievable thing to watch.”
The runner-up in Tomlinson’s top-five is the quarterback who got drafted by the Chargers in the round immediately after he was taken in the first. Brees and LT were teammates from 2001-2005 before he was let go following his catastrophic shoulder injury.
“Because Drew and I came into the league together, we did everything in lockstep. We worked out together, learned how to be pros and became great friends outside of the facility. We confided in each other when things weren’t going well and knew how to help and motivate one another.”
“In New Orleans, Brees has been exactly what I expected. Watching him work up close early on, I knew the kind of player he was, and everything he’s done with the Saints just reaffirms what I saw in the early 2000s.”
At the top of the mountain is none other than Mr. San Diego, himself, Junior Seau. Seau and LT only spent a pair of seasons together but it’s incredibly evident in Tomlinson’s remarks just how impactful Seau was on his career and his entire life.
“Seau is in this spot for a lot of reasons. In just two years, he taught me so much in terms of being a leader and setting the highest standard for myself and our team. One of the biggest honors of my playing career was when Seau handed me the torch as the face of the franchise. Succeeding Mr. San Diego wasn’t easy. He was beloved by the entire city and his on-field accomplishments spoke for themselves — 12 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1991 to 2002 and six first-team All-Pro nods. He was a true Chargers icon.”
If you want to read all of Tomlinson’s comments regarding all six of these players, you can find them here.