Philip Rivers quarterbacked the San Diego Chargers when LaDainian Tomlinson scored a league-record 31 touchdowns, but he won’t introduce him as a Hall of Famer. Drew Brees quarterbacked the team before Rivers, leading them to their first division championship in 10 years, but he won’t introduce L.T., either.
Nor will tight end Antonio Gates, who will attend Tomlinson’s induction Saturday … or a head coach or assistant with the Chargers … or any offensive lineman with the club. Nope, introducing Tomlinson for the biggest moment of his career will be fullback Lorenzo Neal, and for good reason: He helped open many of those holes that netted Tomlinson 13,684 yards, the fifth-most in NFL history.
“I was definitely surprised,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
He shouldn’t have been. Neal was with the Chargers for five of Tomlinson’s best years (2003-07) and was … and is … a close friend. Moreover, he was so much a part of L.T.’s greatest moments that the Hall-of-Fame inductee said choosing him as his presenter was an easy decision.
“When I think back on my career and when I started to excel, Lorenzo was vital in me going to that next level,” said Tomlinson. “Not only was he a smart teammate; he was a selfless guy. And, at the same time, I think about him about all those record-breaking runs and all those touchdowns, he was the one leading me through the hole.
“I’m in the Hall of Fame because of those runs people remember be by. So it’s only right that on this big stage and on my biggest moment that Lorenzo should lead me out.”
And that’s the thing about Tomlinson: While his decision might have surprised Neal, the logic does not. Tomlinson always tried to get things right, he said … and, usually, he did.
“The thing about L.T.,” Neal said, “and who he is and what he represented for the National Football League — Hall of Famer; will be one of the top five backs in the history of the National Football League. Total back. Can block. Catch. Can do it all.
“So you think about L.T. and who he is as a player and what he meant to the National Football League … it’s just amazing. I mean, think about the guys he could’ve had introduce him: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates — three Hall-of-Fame guys who are probably going to be Hall of Famers when it’s all said and done. Any coach who played against him.
“All of these people he could’ve had introduce him at the Hall of Fame. So I’m very privileged, humbled, honored, taken aback, very surprised and just really, really excited to honor a man who needs no introduction but just really played the game like it was meant to be played.