LaDanian Tomlinson is no stranger to memorable moments. The exciting memories of watching him find seams and fly through defenders are very much vivid in the eyes of Chargers fans everywhere. With each passing season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Tomlinson would end up wearing the gold jacket in Canton one day. That day inevitably arrived on Saturday, August 5. LaDanian Tomlinson is now a Hall of Famer. And, the man who had provided so many marvelous highlights may have just saved his best for last.
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There is no question that Tomlinson’s career is worthy of a Hall induction. He was selected to five Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times. The man they call ‘L.T.’ won back-to-back rushing titles in 2006 and 2007. During the 2006 season, he set several NFL touchdown scoring records, which earned him both the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year Award and the NFL Most Valuable Player award. Tomlinson finished his career with 13,684 career rushing yards, 18,456 all-purpose yards and 145 career rushing touchdowns. Is that worthy of the gold jacket? Most emphatically, yes!
However, Tomlinson is as equally revered off the field as he was on it. His former coach Marty Schottenheimer described L.T. as the finest man he ever coached, both professionally and personally. He is beloved by his former teammates, coaches and, of course, the legions of Chargers fans, primarily in San Diego. So, when it was time for Tomlinson to accept his rightful place among the NFL immortals enshrined in Canton, he showed why he is still in a class by himself.
In his 26-minute induction speech, Tomlinson exhibited the same poise and grace that he did on the football field. Only this time, he demonstrated those qualities from behind the microphone. He not only spoke from the heart, but he also shared a message of hope and unity for Americans of all walks of life. In short, he challenged us, as Americans, to come together and work together.
Recounting the journey of his great-great-great grandfather, George, who came to America on a slave ship 170 years ago from West Africa, Tomlinson reminded all who listened that the socio-economic and racial divisions that exist in America do not have to be insurmountable boundaries.
“On America’s team, let’s not choose to be against one another,” he said. “Let’s choose to be for one another. My great-great-great grandfather had no choice. We have one. I pray we dedicate ourselves to being the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind. Leading the way for all nations to follow.”
With his heartfelt decree, the San Diego Chargers’ great showed another type of greatness. He reflected the human spirit that extends beyond the field. It was not politically motivated. Rather it was a sincere plea for positive change, starting with using the game he has loved for his entire life as an example.
“Football is a microcosm of America – all races, religions and creeds living, playing, competing side by side,” Tomlinson said.
It’s a sentiment heralded by so many, but adhered to by so few. On Saturday, L.T. used the NFL’s version of the ‘bully pulpit.” And, it struck a nerve.
Perhaps Tomlinson’s message resonates so deeply for one simple reason. He is the genuine article. As he did on the field, he leads by example. Tomlinson paraphrased a message that President Obama gave during his farewell address, when he urged Americans to “try harder, show up, dive in and stay at it.” Perseverance was one of the main reasons why he is a Hall of Famer. All NFL fans, and most importantly Chargers fans, can be proud of the example set by L.T. The best way to show that pride is to follow the example of a man that led on the field, and continues to lead by that example in all aspects of his life.
– Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers.