As he heads to Hall of Fame, LaDainian Tomlinson remains married to the game


LaDainian Tomlinson has been through this before. He’s gotten measured for the perfect fitting jacket. He’s had to organize friends and family. He’s been at the center of a massive ceremony, with eyes focused squarely on him.

“What’s surprising is how similar it is to planning a wedding,” Tomlinson said Thursday. “It feels like I’m getting married again, that’s what the process has been like.”

The big day, in this case, is Saturday, Aug. 5, when Tomlinson will enter into holy matrimony with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But unlike a wedding, the buildup and event itself aren’t really about the future.


Getting enshrined in football’s most important museum is so much more about the past.

It’s why Tomlinson can recall with ease the moments he first fell in love with football, a game he eventually grew to dominate. Before he rushed for 13,684 yards and before he scored 162 touchdowns for the San Diego Chargers and the New York Jets, Tomlinson was just a kid on a couch, watching the ballgame with his dad.

“He liked the Chicago Bears so he always found the Bears on TV,” Tomlinson said. “Being in Texas, football was like a religion. So watching football with my dad, I just kind of fell in love with it. Seeing Walter Payton play, I fell in love with him and wanted to be a running back because of [him].”

From the couch, the love spilled out into the front yard, where as one of the youngest, he got hit the hardest. He hurt the most, and he cried the most often. But, he kept playing.

Those memories seemed to come out of his mouth with ease Thursday during a conference call.

He reminisced about meeting fellow Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith at a football camp, an experience Tomlinson said changed his life.

“I remember when I was coming up, I didn’t know anybody from my part of the country who made it to the NFL, was successful on TV and doing things like that,” he said. “I found inspiration in meeting Emmitt Smith at the age of 12 years old. … I had a chance to really meet him, talk to him, touch him and see he was a real person.”

While the celebration in Canton, Ohio, will focus almost squarely on Tomlinson’s past — he retired in 2012 — his life in football is far from over. He’s a television analyst and, after the Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, Tomlinson took a job with the team as a special assistant to owner Dean Spanos.

“Football is something I have been very passionate about for a long time. As long as I can remember, from 5 to 6 years old, I’ve watched football every year religiously,” he said. “At the age of 7 or 8, I started playing football and I retired at 32. That means I played football every single year for about 24 years of my life. Naturally for me when I left the game, I felt more comfortable doing something in the capacity of football. … It’s been the best thing in my retirement.”

The best thing in retirement, though, will probably change in early August.

Surrounded by some of the best to ever play the game he’s loved since childhood, surrounded by the people who love him most, Tomlinson will receive the highest honor the game can offer back — a golden jacket, a bronze bust and membership in one of sport’s most exclusive clubs that never expires.

“It’s a great feeling to be immortalized,” Tomlinson said. “The thing that I can’t really get over is that the bust will last [hundreds] of years. That is amazing to me — that 200, 300 years from now, my bust will still be there. People will look and have an idea of the impact that I had on the game of football.”

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports