Thankfully, LaDainian Tomlinson is retiring and not returning to Chargers as a player

Posted: 06/17/2012 in football
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

LaDainian Tomlinson will sign a contract with the San Diego Chargers on Monday and immediately announce his retirement.

That certainly beats Tomlinson signing a contract and rejoining the franchise as a player.

The legendary running back was hopeful of finding employment for the 2012 season despite it being increasingly clear last season that his tank was near empty.

Tomlinson had just 280 rushing yards for the New York Jets last season, a total that he could have threatened to reach in one game when he was at the top of his profession.

He had one of the top seasons in NFL history – regardless of position – in 2006 when he rushed for 1,815 yards and scored 31 total touchdowns while winning NFL MVP honors.

Tomlinson also led the NFL in rushing yards in 2007 and topped 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. He began showing his decline in 2008 when he was often perturbed that Chargers coach Norv Turner felt the squad’s chances of winning hinged on Philip Rivers’ arm as opposed to Tomlinson’s fading legs.

He had a poor 2009 season and the Chargers parted ways with him. Tomlinson wanted to continue playing and he joined the Jets. By early last season, it was painful to turn on the television and see No. 21 lugging the ball for New York.

Loyal MrSportsBlog followers may recall it was urged on these pages last October that he needed to retire after the 2011 season. But Tomlinson didn’t do so until the writing on the wall became the size of Jupiter earlier this month.

There was public clamoring for the Chargers to sign Tomlinson for one final hurrah – especially after Tomlinson’s emotional speech following the suicide of San Diego legend Junior Seau – but there was no way Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was going to sign off on that after the acrimonious departure just two years earlier.

Think about it, the Chargers were glad to move on after Tomlinson had 730 yards in a season in which he scored 12 touchdowns. So why would they have any interest in a guy now clearly well past his prime who turns 33 on Saturday?

The Chargers signed 30-year-old Ronnie Brown earlier this month to officially stamp out any chance of a Tomlinson return. That the injury prone Brown was seen as a better option had to be humbling for Tomlinson, who finally appears to have accepted that none of the NFL’s 32 teams view him an asset worth signing.

The good news is we can now remember Tomlinson for being one of the top all-time running backs in NFL history as opposed to a worn-out horse who no longer has the legs to be a factor. Tomlinson ranks fifth on the all-time list with 13,684 rushing yards and his 162 total touchdowns rank third behind Jerry Rice (208) and Emmitt Smith (175).

He will be remembered as one of San Diego’s most beloved athletes – only Seau and baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn were adored on the same level – and he also will be recalled as a superstar athlete who always avoided trouble and did extensive work in bettering the community.

Tomlinson also leaves the game without suffering any serious injuries so hopefully he won’t be one of those players who suffer with physical and mental pain later in life.

But the best news is we won’t be submitted to another season of seeing an impostor wearing No. 21. The LaDainian Tomlinson we saw last season is not the one to picture when recalling his spectacular career.

Instead, think about the No. 21 in powder blue who was a highlight reel for the Chargers for most of his nine seasons with the franchise. That is the LaDainian Tomlinson worth discussing and remembering.

Now that Tomlinson has made the right decision, he can look forward to five years down the road. That is when he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer as one of the top running backs to ever play the game.

The decision may have come later than it should have, but it is definitely the correct one.

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