Tom­lin­son proud to join Hall as Charger

TCU prod­uct hopes fans up­set over move to L.A. ‘can for­give me.’

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Bernie Wil­son

One of the great­est mo­ments in San Diego Charg­ers his­tory came on Dec. 10, 2006, when LaDainian Tom­lin­son swept left and into the record book.

With the ca­pac­ity crowd at Qual­comm Sta­dium on its feet, Tom­lin­son, who starred at TCU and Waco Univer­sity High School, scored his third touch­down of the day and his 29th of the sea­son, break­ing the NFL’s sin­gle-sea­son record.

He was en­gulfed by his mas­sive of­fen­sive line­men, hoisted onto their shoul­ders and car­ried to­ward the side­line. Tom­lin­son held the ball high in his right hand while wav­ing his left in­dex fin­ger as the crowd chanted “L.T.! L.T.!” and “MVP! MVP!”

Tom­lin­son fin­ished with 31 touch­downs, 28 rush­ing, in one of the great­est sea­sons in NFL his­tory. He also ran away with the Most Valu­able Player Award.

Those mag­i­cal days are long gone, as are the San Diego Charg­ers. They of­fi­cially ceased to ex­ist on Jan. 12, when chair­man Dean Spanos announced he was mov­ing the team to a Los Angeles sub­urb.

The San Diego Charg­ers will live on, though, through play­ers such as Tom­lin­son, who will be in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Many fans are still an­gry at Spanos for bail­ing for Los Angeles, where the Charg­ers will play in a 30,000-seat soc­cer sta­dium be­fore mov­ing into a sta-

dium be­ing built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Some have been fur­ther in­censed be­cause Tom­lin­son, once uni­ver­sally beloved in San Diego, has taken a job as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to Spanos.

Tom­lin­son said he isn’t con­flicted in the slight­est as he pre­pares to ac­cept his Hall of Fame bust.

“I’m go­ing in as a San Diego Charger be­cause that’s who I played for,” Tom­lin­son said. “And I rec­og­nize that you can­not erase the his­tory of 56 years in San Diego. How­ever, I do re­al­ize that I now work for Dean Spanos and the L.A. Charg­ers, and so there’s no con­flict there. I know who I played for, but now in my re­tire­ment I now work for the L.A. Charg­ers, who, in my mind they’re the Charg­ers.

“To me it’s al­ways been about the light­ning bolt. And that’s my thought about con­flict and what not.”

But Tom­lin­son, in­spired in his youth by watch­ing Wal­ter Pay­ton and Em­mitt Smith, said it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a lot of, I won’t say sleep­less nights, but toss­ing and turn­ing some­times at night wondering if I’m making the right de­ci­sion,” Tom­lin­son said. “But at the end of the day, I love both. I have the bolt tat­too on my calf, there’s no se­cret about that. There’s a part of me that al­ways will be. But the same goes with the com­mu­nity. I came were as a 21-year-old kid and I left a 30-year-old man. So I learned how to be a man in this com­mu­nity. So I’m kind of torn. I can’t have one with­out the other. The Charg­ers were here for 56 years and it’s hard to just get over that.

“I com­pletely un­der­stand how peo­ple are feel­ing. My hope is that one day they can start to for­give. Peo­ple want me to choose a side, but that’s not who I am at the core of my soul and spirit. I can’t chose ei­ther side. I want to be on both sides. But I un­der­stand how peo­ple are feel­ing right now. My hope is they can for­give me be­cause I feel like I’m do­ing some­thing right.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Hall of Fame, the only other per­son to be en­shrined the same year that the team he played for re­lo­cated was Orlando Pace from the class of 2016. His St. Louis Rams moved back to L.A. last sea­son.

Tom­lin­son played nine mostly bril­liant sea­sons for the Charg­ers (2001-2009) be­fore be­ing re­leased for salary cap rea­sons and be­cause his role had de­creased. He played two sea­sons with the New York Jets be­fore re­tir­ing.

Tom­lin­son rushed for 12,490 yards and 138 touch­downs with the Charg­ers, club records by far. He won NFL rush­ing ti­tles in 2006 and ’07.

He said he still gets nos­tal­gic when he’s in San Diego, “es­pe­cially when I pass by Qual­comm. It’s some­thing you can never for­get. Those old feel­ings that I have, they’re still there. The in­ter­est­ing thing about it when I’m here, I have a cer­tain smell. It’s re­ally weird. There’s a cer­tain smell like when I used to go to the game, it was game day.

“I still have that same feel­ing, that smell, some­times when I come here. There’s so much his­tory here that I can never erase.”

Tom­lin­son helped the Charg­ers re­build af­ter the night­mar­ish Ryan Leaf years and a 1-15 fin­ish in 2000. The Charg­ers took Tom­lin­son with the fifth pick over­all in the 2001 draft af­ter trad­ing the top pick to At­lanta, which used it on Michael Vick.

Tom­lin­son fin­ished his ca­reer with 13,684 yards rush­ing, fifth all-time, on 3,174 car­ries. His 145 rush­ing touch­downs rank sec­ond and his 163 to­tal TDs are third, be­hind Jerry Rice (208) and Em­mitt Smith (175).

Hall of Fame num­bers for sure.

AP FILE 2006

LaDainian Tom­lin­son is fifth on the NFL’s all-time rush­ing list (13,684 yards) and third in to­tal touch­downs (163).

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