LaDainian Tomlinson: Lack of Ring Will Ruin Case for First-Ballot HOF

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJune 19, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 18:  LaDainian Tomlinson announces his retirement from professional football, after signing a one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers and being immediately released by the club, at Qualcomm Stadium on June 18, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)
Kent Horner/Getty Images

LaDainian Tomlinson called it quits on a stellar NFL career Monday, but although the 11-year veteran will certainly one day find himself enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the lack of a gaudy ring on Tomlinson's finger may prolong his wait for a year or two.

Tomlinson signed a one-day contract Monday so that he could retire as a member of the San Diego Chargers, the team he starred with for nine seasons before an acrimonious split a few years ago. The soon-to-be 33-year-old said that the desire to play still burns inside him, but he felt "It was simply time to move on.’’

It would certainly appear at first glance that Tomlinson has the credentials to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Tomlinson's 13,684 rushing yards ranks fifth in NFL history, and his 162 total touchdowns and 145 rushing touchdowns rank third and second all-time respectively.

Tomlinson and contemporaries such as Marshall Faulk also ushered in a new era of "do it all" running backs who were every bit as dangerous catching the ball as running with it, as evidenced by Tomlinson's 600-plus career receptions for nearly 5,000 yards.

Were it up to those contemporaries, Tomlinson would no doubt find himself enshrined on the first ballot. Any number of current and former players and coaches offered glowing testimonials after hearing of Tomlinson's retirement, including this statement that former San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer gave to ESPN's Bill Williamson.

"When you look at the history of the game, he is clearly, in my opinion, one of the handful of elite and complete running backs in the history of the National Football League. The numbers aside, he just brought a tremendous threat to every opponent. Not only did he have the ability to run the football but he also could catch it and gain yards after the catch. I think he posed considerable problems to every opponent because of his skill set, the versatility that he brought to his game. All of that pales in comparison to the quality of the young man. He is one of the finest young men I have ever been around in football or any area of my life.”

So given Tomlinson's impressive resume, which also includes five Pro Bowl trips and being named the 2006 NFL MVP after rushing for a league record 28 touchdowns, what's the problem?

Tomlinson and Faulk are often closely compared due to their similar skill sets, and while Faulk was a first ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there is one very large difference between the careers of the two backs. Faulk played in two Super Bowls, winning one, while Tomlinson failed to make an appearance on football's biggest stage, never playing in the Super Bowl.

So what, you say? Football is a team sport, after all, and you can hardly hold it against Tomlinson that the Chargers and New York Jets (where Tomlinson finished his career) failed to reach the NFL's pinnacle.

Thing is, there are some people (possibly including some of the Hall of Fame's induction committee) who believe that, to an extent, you can.

One of the seminal images of Tomlinson's postseason career came in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, where Tomlinson missed most of the team's loss to the New England Patriots with a sprained knee ligament.

Normally, this wouldn't have been a huge deal, but Tomlinson had to that point never missed a game in his career due to injury, and quarterback Philip Rivers played the same game on a torn ACL. The image of Tomlinson sulking by himself on the sidelines while the Chargers lost created a firestorm of controversy, with none other than Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown questioning Tomlinson's toughness at the time in a FOX Radio interview that was reported on by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

I love LaDainian, but he looks so comfortable sitting there. And then you have his quarterback out there giving everything he had, and it was a contrast between the two visually that when you looked at him and you looked at Philip Rivers, you said well, damn—we don't know how bad Tomlinson was hurt.

But the thing in football is that if you say you can't cut, well, you run straight ahead, be a decoy. You go out on the field in the red zone, they're going to have to worry about you. So you have to participate and some of that has to be on the field if you can walk. I love the kid, he's a good kid, but I can't buy the fact that he was not on that field in some capacity.

All this isn't to say that LaDainian Tomlinson isn't worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot, because a convincing argument can certainly be made that he is.

However, the induction committee has been known in the past to be notoriously nitpicky when it comes to allowing players in on the first try, and Tomlinson's lack of playoff success may provide naysayers with just the ammo they need to delay Tomlinson's induction for at least one year.

Don't worry though. "LT2" will get his chance to don one of those hideous sport coats soon enough.