The Chargers’ lightning bolt always seemed to mean something to LaDainian Tomlinson.
This is part of what endeared him to San Diego.
He didn’t just wear it on his uniform for nine years. He had it tattooed on his left calf. He was irate in early 2007 when Patriots players reacted to a playoff win in San Diego, their celebration including stomps and dances on and around the lightning-bolt helmet at midfield. Tomlinson, usually known for his easy-going demeanor, had to be restrained.
Now, Tomlinson is asking San Diego to understand.
Months from his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, one of the most revered Chargers in franchise history recently split his audience. He accepted a position with the now-Los Angeles franchise, serving as a special assistant to owner Dean Spanos. Tomlinson appeared on a San Diego radio show Friday, addressing critics who say he “sold out” the former NFL city.
“That’s so strange to me,” Tomlinson said on the Darren Smith Show of Mighty 1090. “I think people, in general, they try to pin one against the other. I don’t think that’s fair at all. For one, I’m not a person who hates. I’m not a person that can stay angry at someone. I’m quick to forgive; maybe that’s a fault of mine. I’m not the type of person to say, ‘Well, I played for the San Diego Chargers, and I’m not going to support the organization anymore.’ I don’t work like that. I’m not built like that.
“There was a time early in my career where we weren’t very good in San Diego. I had opportunities to say, ‘You know what? I don’t believe in the organization, the city. I don’t think we’re going to get a stadium. I don’t think we’re going to win. I’m going to get out of here.’ I could’ve done that, but me, being the type of person I am, I wanted to stay there because I’m loyal to a fault. I was loyal to San Diego. I was loyal to the Chargers, the organization, the Spanos family. They gave me the opportunity to come to San Diego. So how can I sit here and say, ‘Oh, I played for San Diego, but forget about the brand; forget about the Chargers?”
It is unclear what specific duties Tomlinson, 37, will perform as special assistant to Spanos.
A team statement announcing his hire stated generally he will “further develop fan engagement and community relations programs for the Los Angeles Chargers.”
“Remember: I care about the lightning bolt,” Tomlinson said to Darren Smith. “That’s what’s tattooed on my calf muscle. It’s not San Diego. It’s not L.A. It’s a lightning bolt, and that’s what I care about. There are two things you can do. You can sit on the sideline and watch and be angry, or you can be a part of the transition and try to help that organization to win. I wouldn’t feel good, myself, if the organization didn’t do well and they lost year after year. I would feel terrible. That wouldn’t make me feel good.
“I played for that franchise. How would that make me feel good? So, I decided to jump into the game with an opportunity. You know what? I’ll help. I’ll stand up. I know a lot of people are mad right now, but I’ll still help. I’ll get involved. And I know there are people that are going to be mad at me. God bless you. I respect that. You have the right to be. But I’m going to jump into the game and try to do whatever I can do to help this franchise win.”
Tomlinson, an NFL Network analyst, said that he’s already finished preparing his Hall of Fame speech.
San Diego will be “represented” in it “of course,” he said. He plans to hold a celebration in the city following his induction.
“I’m always going to have the organization’s back,” Tomlinson said, “but I love San Diego. I love the community.”