Its always a little weird when an athlete that you grew up watching retires. Even weirder when its an athlete that you also grew up hating. But such is the relationship between LaDainian Tomlinson and an entire generation of Patriots fans.
I learned of LTs retirement yesterday during the final round of the U.S. Open, as the news scrolled across NBCs bottom line Report: LaDainian Tomlinson to sign one-day contract with Chargers. Will retire at the age of 33. And to be honest, it hit me pretty hard. First of all, because its always emotional when an all-time great hangs them up. Second, because LTs only a year older than I am, and there's always a special connection with athletes around your own age.
So when I saw that LT was saying goodbye, it took a few seconds to digest: Wow. The greatest running back of my generation one of the fastest and most versatile players Ive ever seen in cleats is suddenly too old and slow to play football.
Ill never get used to that feeling. (Although sadly, Im sure I will)
Anyway, a few seconds later, I re-woke to the reality:
LaDainian Tomlinson . . . Bleh!
The problem with Tomlinson was never a matter of talent. That's to say, we didn't dislike him in New England for being "too good." Even though he's a lock for the Hall of Fame, hes got nothing on guys like Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant local villains who weve all grown to respect (as competitors) over the years. The difference is that with Tomlinson, that respect never came. Or more, it was never earned.
Knowing what you know now (and assuming guys like Brady and Pierce werent a lock to end up in Boston), wouldnt you have been comfortable building the Patriots around Manning? Or the Celtics around Bryant? Or the Red Sox around Jeter? I think so. They were all destined for greatness.
On the other hand, if you could, would you go back and build a team around LaDainian Tomlinson? Even with his otherworldly talent, is he a guy that you'd enlist to lead your team your ENTIRE team to greater heights? Was he ever obsessed, selfless or mentally tough enough to step up when it was all on the line, or be there for his teammates when they needed him most? Nope, that was never him. And hes got the rings to prove it.
And that's how I'll remember LT. One of the greatest running backs I've ever seen, but one that I was more than happy to watch from afar.