LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement on schedule in San Diego late this morning. His thank-yous included many from the Chargers who benefited from his first nine sensational seasons in the NFL.
But No. 21 didn't forget the Jets, who brought him and his presence and talent to their offense for the 2010 and '11 seasons.
"It's been a long journey, to say the least," Tomlinson, the Hall of Famer-to-be, told Chargers president Dean Spanos, his former San Diego teammates and fans, local reporters, and a national audience via streaming video on chargers.com and nfl.com. "Obviously when you stand up and announce your retirement, so many people need to be thanked.
"I always felt I was a Charger. Thanks to the Chargers organization, Dean Spanos and the Spanos family. ... as well as Woody Johnson and the Jets organization, for two great years in New York, chasing a dream, chasing that Super Bowl trophy, I want to thank them as well."
Johnson, the Jets owner, in a statement just released by the Jets, returned the favor.
“People and players like LaDainian Tomlinson don’t come around very often, if at all," Johnson said. "His humility and work ethic made it clear why he will be remembered as one of the game’s best players. Without question, his next stop will be the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Others on the Jets extended their thanks and memories to LT, among them general manager Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Rex Ryan and running backs coach Anthony Lynn, all of whom worked with Tomlinson for the 2010-11 seasons when he exchanged his Chargers blue and gold for Jets green and white.
“During my time around LaDainian, he never took one day for granted when it came to any aspect of his performance," Tannenbaum said. "His commitment drew his teammates to him and elevated everyone that came in contact with him. On the field, he was a dynamic, versatile player who was everything you could ask for in a running back. He could significantly affect the outcome of a game as a ballcarrier, but he also was superior as a receiver and in pass protection. He had a positive impact on our organization and I am grateful for his time with the New York Jets.”
“I think right from when LaDainian burst on the scene as a rookie, he had a major impact," said Ryan. "Clearly, he’s one of the all-time-great, first-ballot-Hall of Fame backs. This guy was so consistent throughout his career right up until the end. He was a dominant performer. He could play all three downs. He could do it all — a great receiver out of the backfield, obviously a great runner inside, great runner outside and could pass-block. We were fortunate to get him at the end of his career, but he was still outstanding. He still had that great wiggle."
Lynn, who incorporated Tomlinson into the Jets' backfield, as the featured tailback in '10 and as third-down back last season, said LT "is one of the best pros I've ever been around. We were all blessed to have him in the National Football League as an ambassador of this league and just to have him in the New York Jets organization. He meant a lot to the younger players that looked up to him. The example that he set for those guys was unbelievable."
The example he set for running backs, players and fans of all stripes was impressive. Spanos, who had to part ways with Tomlinson after the '09 season, never doubted No. 21 would be back to be honored when he decided it was time to retire.
"LaDainian was the very heart and soul of this organization," Spanos said. "Every game he was out there, I always expected to see something special."
"I've had five months to contemplate retirement," Tomlinson said. "I knew the end of my career was possible and that I would walk away from the game. It wasn't because I didn't want to play anymore. That wasn't the reason. It was simply time to move on. That's how I look at it."
He was asked if he, like a number of great athletes in all sports, might consider making a comeback after a year away from the game.
"I did have opportunities to continue to play football," he said. "But at the end of the day, it was time for me to leave the game. I'm happy where I am today. I have no regrets, no regrets at all. I don't anticipate ever coming back."
Whether he does or not, the last 11 seasons speak for themselves. The Chargers were the main beneficiaries of Tomlinson's incredible career, and the Jets were able to get a two-year ride on LT's amazing train as well. And as Lynn said, capturing the feelings of many who watched him over the years, "The game is going to miss him. It's going to miss him tremendously."