After 11 extremely productive seasons, all-world running back LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement from the NFL last week as a member of the team that drafted him and where he played 10 of those 11 campaigns, the San Diego Chargers.
Speaking to NBC SportsTalk on Monday, Tomlinson was asked whether he would have rather won a Super Bowl and then not get in the Hall of Fame or gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and not have a Super Bowl ring. LT articulated his intriguing opinion as follows:
“Hall of Fame player without a ring, because you’ve got to sacrifice so much individually just to be good. They draft you individually and you’ve got to back them up and make them right. I think at the end of the day, even though I didn’t win a Super Bowl ring, I felt like I backed them up for drafting me. I backed up the San Diego Chargers for picking me with the fifth pick.”
Some may argue that it is easy for Tomlinson to have that opinion, in light of the fact that his career is now over without achieving Super Bowl glory, it is nevertheless difficult to argue with his logic. Granted, football is the ultimate team sport, requiring every player on the field to meld into a cohesive unit, each individual separately doing their respective jobs but executed with well-honed precision in order to be successful, be it on a single play, a game, or even an entire season or playoff run.
But the same reasons that make pro football the ultimate team sport also provide evidence in abundance that when presented with an either/or scenario, having Hall of Fame credentials perhaps is a more revealing indicator of just how much a player contributed to a team’s quest for Super Bowl glory than actually winning a Super Bowl championship. It’s not entirely Tomlinson’s fault that the loaded Chargers squads came up short when those teams reached the playoffs no more than it could be stated that LT’s stellar on-field performances were the sole reason why the Chargers franchise had the success it had during his time with the team.
Ultimately, a player’s worth is more readily defined by the individual statistics that make him a candidate for Canton. There is an innumerable amount of players who have Super Bowl rings that, for all intents and purposes, are completely anonymous, little-used or unnecessary cogs in a machine that would have fared just as well without their presence. Go down any roster from any Super Bowl champion and count the names of players whose names leave you scratching your head and asking, “Who in the heck are these guys?”
And then there are players whose careers are immeasurably superior despite not attaining glory on Super Bowl Sunday. Dan Marino comes to mind, for instance. And now, so does the name LaDainian Tomlinson. And his bust in Canton will look just as good and be a reason for pride, even if LT is not wearing a Super Bowl ring at the induction ceremony.