CANTON – When defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in 2010 was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Steelers called off practice and took a field trip — bussing the entire team to Canton to attend the ceremony.
It was the smart and right gesture, with the Steelers demonstrating their appreciation for LeBeau by being there for the NFL’s equivalent of a coronation.
Now fast forward seven years to former San Diego star LaDainian Tomlinson’s induction. The Chargers not only won’t be there; they’ll be 2,400 miles away, practicing with the L.A. Rams at their new facility. Only tight end Antonio Gates, a close friend of Tomlinson’s, Gates will attend Saturday’s enshrinement … and he goes only after gaining a hall pass from new coach Anthony Lynn and only after an earlier report suggested Lynn wouldn’t grant permission to him or quarterback Philip Rivers.
Lynn denied the story, but it doesn’t matter. The damage was done. What happened this week with the Chargers was in direct opposition to what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Neither smart nor right.
First of all, the Chargers never should have let it get to this. When I spoke to Rivers at the team’s San Diego mini-camp in early June, he said he had no idea if he’d be in Canton for Tomlinson’s enshrinement … but he should have. He and Gates and whoever wanted to attend should have been advised long ago that they not only had permission to go but would be encouraged to attend.
So Gates will be here, but Rivers will not — with the quarterback telling the NFL Network that Lynn was “adamant” that Rivers … as team leader … stay behind. And why? Well, that leads me to point number two: The Chargers have that joint practice Saturday with the crosstown L.A. Rams, so there’s a conflict.
Excuse me, but that’s supposed to matter? Stop it. This isn’t the ESPYs we’re talking about. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and the Chargers should try to do as much for L.T. this weekend as he did for them in his career.
It’s not just that Tomlinson is one of the greatest running backs ever; it’s that he’s one of the greatest players in Chargers’ history, only the eighth primary Charger to be elected. Yet the club seems to be thinking more about L.A than it is L.T. — scheduling its workout for 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, virtually the same time as the Hall-of-Fame induction.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Instead of practicing, the Chargers would be better off taking a team charter to Canton so players could see what it takes to achieve greatness … as well as to demonstrate their appreciation for Tomlinson, much as the Steelers did for LeBeau. Yeah, I know, Pittsburgh is a two-hour drive from Canton, and L.A. is a five-hour flight. I don’t care, and neither should the Chargers. They’d get more out of a day at Canton than an afternoon of hitting heads with the Rams.
But let’s say that’s a no can-do; that ownership simply won’t go for it. Well, then, I suggest it move the practice, sequester players at the team facility, cater a meal around the Hall-of-Fame induction and have everyone there sit and listen to L.T.’s speech on a big screen.
This is, after all, your team’s history. And let’s be honest: It’s more than a former star we’re talking about. This is a legend, who just so happens to be a current member of the Chargers’ organization, with Tomlinson named special assistant to the owner so he could, as team chairman and CEO Dean Spanos said, “help us win our fight for L.A.”
So this is how you help L.T.? Please.
Lastly, the Chargers could have avoided another public-relations hit by not only permitting Rivers and Gates to go but by putting them on a plane and sending them directly to Canton. I mean, Rivers was part of many of those carries that netted Tomlinson his 13,684 yards. So was Drew Brees, Rivers’ predecessor, and I notice he had no problem taking Saturday off to attend.
But Brees should be there. So should Rivers, Gates, Spanos and whoever else from the Chargers wanted to attend. Because this is a big deal. A joint workout with the Rams is not. But they should be there because common sense demands it. It is, simply, the smart … and right … thing to do.