LaDainian Tomlinson was in Chicago this past Saturday attending a corporate event for Panini America, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
He boarded a plane shortly before 10 p.m., arrived at LAX after midnight and was on a field in Costa Mesa at 9 a.m.
At the first training camp practice of the Los Angeles Chargers, Tomlinson held a news conference, took a microphone to welcome fans and then shook more hands and posed for more pictures with VIPs in two different tents.
The man just doesn’t stop working.
“My philosophy is never look back, to keep on going and going,” he said recently. “Part of that I got from my mother. She sometimes worked two jobs. She would be gone long hours and still come home and cook us dinner. I just adopted that philosophy. I always felt if I looked back, I would slow down or forget something, I wouldn’t see what was next.”
It explains a lot.
It is why he is here this week, slipping on the gold jacket and unveiling the bronze bust that have been commissioned for just 310 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It is why after retiring from the NFL in 2012 he immediately went to work for NFL Network.
It is why he starred in the movie “God Bless the Broken Road,” due out in December, and will soon start work on another film based on the life of one-legged NCAA wrestling champion Anthony Robles.
“My football legacy is cemented,” Tomlinson explained. “I’m going into the Hall of Fame. I can’t be any greater. I’m a Hall of Famer. That part of my life is over. I find myself searching for, ‘Where do I have my next impact?’ ”
He decided one place could be as special advisor to Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos, doing public speaking and meeting with corporate partners in an attempt to, in Tomlinson’s words, “build the brand.”
San Diego, the town he made relevant in NFL terms for a dominating stretch a decade or so ago, is divided on how it feels about Tomlinson now. Such is the hurt of abandonment, the sense of betrayal that one who made them so happy has chosen to align with someone so hated.
“It’s difficult,” Tomlinson said this week. “I certainly understand the disappointment the San Diego fans and community have. I think about when I went through my deal with the Chargers and I was pissed. I was let go [after the 2009 season]. I thought I’d never come back. But then time passed, and as I watched the Chargers play I realized it is about the bolt. That bolt, you never can dismiss it or forget about it. I’m so much part of that organization and what I put into it. At the end of the day, that’s my team.”
Good golly, it was.
The Chargers still stunk — they had the NFL’s second worst record from 1996 to 2003 — but Tomlinson caught 100 passes in 2003. No one had ever done that while also rushing for 1,000 yards in the same season.
In 2004, the Chargers made the playoffs. Over an eight-game win streak that culminated with the Chargers clinching their first AFC West title in 10 years, Tomlinson scored 11 of his total 18 touchdowns.
He was the league’s most valuable player in 2006 when the Chargers went 14-2. His 28 rushing touchdowns and 31 total touchdowns that year still stand as NFL records. Counting his two seasons with the Jets, Tomlinson scored 162 touchdowns, a total exceeded only by Jerry Rice (208) and Emmitt Smith (175).
A team that needed the city to buy tickets the previous seven years to avoid local television blackouts sold out 48 straight games from November 2004 through the end of the ’09 season, a span in which the Chargers had the NFL’s third-best regular season record (67-29).
And in that time, Tomlinson became the NFL’s highes paid running back — his 13,684 career rushing yards rank fifth all-time — and the only San Diego professional athlete to become a true superstar on the national stage.
But nationally, there has never been a Charger to get so much recognition.
His smile pitched Campbell’s Chunky Soup, Nike, Canon, Vizio and AT&T.
Now, the kid from Waco, Texas, is at home in Los Angeles with the Chargers.
He has divided his time between the Dallas area and L.A. since shortly after retiring, when he began working as a television analyst.
The only thing he has never done is stop working.