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Chargers

When it comes to LaDainian Tomlinson entering Hall of Fame, it just works

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Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is hoisted in the air by teammates after breaking the NFL single-season record with his 29th touchdown of the season on Dec. 10, 2000.
(Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

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.

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“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.

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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.

It is why he continues to be a Charger — declaring he will go into the Hall as a San Diego Charger but proudly working for the Los Angeles Chargers.

“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.

Tomlinson gained 1,236 yards his rookie season, the first of what would become an unprecedented and still unmatched eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards to start his career. He scored 10 touchdowns in 2001, launching a streak of nine straight seasons with at least that many, also never done by anyone in NFL history.

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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.

In San Diego, late Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn would be considered more dear to locals’ hearts. Seau was a native, and Gwynn went to San Diego State and remained a Padre his entire 20-year career.

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.

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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.


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