My first thought yesterday upon hearing the news of LaDainian Tomlinson’s one-day contract with the Chargers so that he could retire with the same team he starred for over nine seasons was a thought few others have. Does that make me special, or selfish? (don’t answer) I’m not sure, but it definitely made me sad.
I’ll no longer have a player in the NFL who shares my last name, and therefore I can’t wear my vintage LT baby blue jersey and feel a false sense of superiority. That was my only source of self-esteem during Tomlinson’s prime years, and now I’m hopelessly lost without another fake cousin in all of professional sports.
That was of little concern to Tomlinson since we’ve never met, but we’ll still be connected forever (we’re bros, brah). My next two thoughts were as follows:
- One-day contacts are still a ridiculous farce. Why do we need a fake gesture for a team to honor a former player publicly? Said player can still retire, and his long-time team can then pay him the respect he deserves through a ceremony of some kind if they so desire, and do it without a meaningless piece of paper. In a league that’s generally low on cheese and phoniness, this is the one heaping helping of lame that still remains.
- This afternoon when Tomlinson signed that contract and formally announced his retirement in a press conference, we may have witnessed the official end of the workhorse running back.
Tomlinson is a sacred dinosaur, and his breed barely still exists. Over his 11-year career between the Chargers and Jets that ended with 13,684 rushing yards and 145 touchdowns, and was highlighted by his 31 TDs in 2006 that broke the single-season scoring record, he had seven 300-carry seasons, averaging 288.5 per year. That’s more than just a heavy load; it’s a carry distribution which implies that throughout most of his career (and certainly his career with the Chargers) LT was consistently the engine through which the offense ran.
Tomlinson’s highest single-season carry total was his 372 during his sophomore season, and then even six years later during his last season in San Diego at the gray-haired RB age of 29 he still had the durability to flirt with the 300-carry mark again (292). Today in a passing-dominated league where offenses largely flow through the quarterback’s arm and all but a few of the truly elite RBs share a percentage of their carries, a 300-carry season could soon become a mythical thing of the past.
It shouldn’t be surprising that this past season only two running backs eclipsed that mark. Maurice Jones-Drew had 343 carries while leading the league in rushing, while Atlanta’s Michael Turner barely squeaked over the line with 301 carries. In 2006 when Tomlinson set his scoring record while rushing for 1,815 yards, he was one of 10 RBs with more than 300 carries, and despite his TDs and yardage, he still didn’t lead the league in rushing attempts that year. Larry Johnson quite dubiously held that title with his 416 carries, and he’s still the most recent (and last?) running back to receive more than 400 carries in a season.
The passing era is in its infancy due to the new defensive rules implemented over the past several offseasons limiting contact with defenseless receivers. So this is when we lean back and wistfully wonder if we’ll see another LT who dominated so thoroughly on the ground as the focal point of an offense for many years, and if his breed is truly dead. Will there be a gradual shift towards the hybrid runner and pass catcher out of the backfield? (think Sproles, Darren)
Tomlinson referenced a quote by the late Junior Seau in his retirement speech this afternoon, saying that in his own retirement address the former Chargers linebacker said he’s actually not retiring, and instead he’s graduating, and moving on to a different phase of life.
“I’ve been playing football for 27 years, so at some point it almost seems like school every year,” Tomlinson said.
“I have my life ahead of me, and I’m excited to just be a fan.”
Five years from now there will be another gathering for Tomlinson in Canton, Ohio. He’ll be honored again while getting to see what a miniature version of his head looks like, and by then we’ll know whether or not he truly was a member of a dying breed.