By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
“It’s like planning a wedding,” laughed LaDainian Tomlinson recently on a conference call with reporters, talking about the process of preparing for the running back’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. But, Tomlinson isn’t complaining. His selection is the culmination of a life-long love and commitment to football.
The fifth overall pick out of TCU by the San Diego Chargers in the 2001 NFL Draft, Tomlinson’s career took off as a rookie when he started all 16 games and rushed for more than 1000 yards. Despite a wholesale coaching change by the Chargers between his first and second seasons, Tomlinson went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first seven seasons. Throughout his 11-year career, he was selected to five Pro Bowls, and in 2006 was named NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Tomlinson still holds more than 50 various NFL and team records, and more than a dozen other awards and acknowledgements including his induction into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 2015.
The Texas native truly lived his football dream.
“I fell in love with football watching the game with my dad when I was six years old,” Tomlinson said. “He always found the (Chicago) Bears on TV. Football is like a religion here in Texas. Seeing Walter Payton play, I fell in love with him and wanted to be a running back because of Walter Payton. But those early years were spent playing football in the front yard with older brothers and cousins. It was a like a family tradition to get out there and throw the ball around. I was the youngest so the older brothers and cousins took it out on me. They made me tough.”
That toughness lasted through all 11 NFL seasons. After spending the first nine years with the San Diego Chargers, Tomlinson signed with the New York Jets in 2010 and proved to be an integral component in helping lead that team to that year’s AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (the Steelers won, 24-19). He remained with the Jets one more year and then in 2012, Tomlinson signed a one-day contract with the Chargers to officially retire with the team that drafted him.
Tomlinson started hearing his name mentioned as a Hall-of Famer-years ago, and while it was flattering and exciting, it was still hard to fathom.
“Even though you hear people say you’re a shoo-in in, and you have all the numbers, you truly never know,” he said.
Then came 2017 with Tomlinson on the short list, waiting in his hotel room at the Super Bowl to hear what the final decision was.
“The day of the announcement, the wait was so long I stared to question if I was going to get in,” he said. “The time we were supposed to know, I still hadn’t heard. Sure enough, when the knock on the door came it was raw emotion, jubilation and all those things you can imagine when you’re told you’re going to the Hall of Fame and are going to be forever enshrined in the Hall of Fame.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.