I must apologize for this being a little late. A combination of a bunch of things, including the difficulty in actually writing this, has contributed to my untimeliness. But I digress.
I’m writing you because I felt like what you did for me, the city of San Diego, and Charger fans everywhere deserves it.
I know I’ll have friends read in amazement that I care this much about someone who I’ve never even met. Friends who aren’t into sports and may even shake their heads at me for taking the time and effort to write this when there’s so many other things that probably deserve more attention. I’m not mad. They just don’t understand.
I grew up in San Diego my entire life. I was born during the 80’s, the time of Dan Fouts and the Air Coryell offense. Then I consciously became a fan during the early 90’s, the Bobby Ross/ Stan Humphries/ Natrone Means/ Junior Seau era. I was able to witness the amazing 1994 season where we upset our way to the Super Bowl…only to get smashed by the 49ers (which Niner fans still have to bring up to this day!). Then pretty much after that, us Charger fans had to endure through ‘the dark years’.
We became basement dwellers. Suffered from inept coaching. Wasted money and a #2 draft pick on *sigh… Ryan Leaf. We were the laughing stock of the NFL. Us fan suffered through it, hoping for a turn around, then were disappointed time and again. But little did we know, there was light at the end of the tunnel…
The 2001 NFL Draft. The team had the first pick, then traded it Atlanta for the fifth pick and a grab bag of other stuff. Our lives as Chargers fans changed forever when the team picked a speedy 5’10 running back out of TCU. At the time, the Chargers were criticized for the trade because they could have taken highly-touted QB, Michael Vick, with the first pick (we all know how that turned out for them). Instead, us fans had to get used to pronouncing: LaDainian Tomlinson (took me a while, but I eventually got it).
We hoped by picking you LT, that we could get over the trauma of having a top five draft pick and failing. We were happy we got you, but we couldn’t help but have our shields up, just in case you became a bust like so many others before you. But we saw something different in you. The fact that you and Ryan Leaf were both a top five pick is where the similarities end. The main differences were:
1) You played running back
2) You weren’t a spoiled prick
3) Your teammates liked you
4) You worked hard and didn’t just rely on your natural talents
5) You were mature enough not to yell at reporters…or people in general for that matter
6) You contributed to the local community
7) You were actually really really good at football
8) And I’m pretty sure when you retire, you won’t be indicted with drug charges
Right out of the gates, you made your mark on the league. You played with a drive and passion that we rarely saw in San Diego. Even though it took a couple more years for the team to become a force to be reckoned with, you provided us with the hope and inspiration that the rest of the decade would be ours.
You played your heart out, not missing a regular season game until last season. You provided leadership when it was needed, even when it wasn’t in your nature. You ran over EVERYONE in the league, forcing teams to respect the Chargers’ offense. You gave us fans a likable superstar that we could cheer for. You were like the Chargers’ Tony Gwynn, a type of player who defines your team’s particular era.
Also, you weren’t a one-hit wonder. You ended up breaking record after record. You won a very well-deserved NFL MVP award in 2006. You were also named to the NFL All-Decade team. At this point, you’re pretty much assured your rightful place in the Football Hall Of Fame.
But I’m not writing this letter to inflate your ego or to rehash past achievements. I’m writing this to let you know how much you’ve meant to me as a lifelong San Diego Charger fan. You let us be proud of our team again. No longer did we have to hide our faces in shame whenever we met other football fans. Thanks to you, we owned the bragging rights over all of our rivals, most especially (and happily) the Oakland Raiders, who we haven’t lost to since I moved to the Bay Area. The ability for a young person to have an infinite amount of pride for their team was something I never knew. Now my nephew and niece knows what it feels like to have a winning local team.
Some of these bandwagon fans don’t know what it was like before. For each year to pass without a glimmer of hope to make the playoffs. With you, we got used to post-season play (even if it didn’t last as long as we wanted). Despite setbacks and missed opportunities, it’s a hell of a lot better to be a Chargers fan NOW than it was more than 10 years ago. We can credit you for a lot of that.
But now, we have to part ways. I never thought I’d see this day. I assumed (and hoped) that you would be an MVP-caliber player with us forever. Guess all good things really do have to come to an end. I didn’t want you to go, but I understood why it happened. I understand that sometimes players and teams have to move on. As they say, it’s the business of football. I’m not mad, like many of my fellow fans. Just sad that this day eventually came.
The saddest part of this is that we weren’t able to celebrate a Super Bowl victory with you. That makes the end of this year hurt even more. I hope we both get there eventually. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’ll be together.
I saw your last press conference and was deeply moved by your emotions. You were always a great player, but an even better person. I’ve heard other fans try and make you into someone you weren’t/ aren’t. They just never saw how you were off the field. Besides, they were probably just mad that you destroyed their teams.
Surrounded by a league full of jerks, assholes, and egomaniacs, you always kept it classy. That’s something I’ll always remember about you. You proved that a player can be the most dominate at their position, but stay humble and not dwell on individual achievements. You reminded us that football is a team sport and always gave credit to your teammates for helping you get to the level you’re at.
Oh…and how can I not mention the ‘Electric Glide’? Dude, this was great. You became internet legend in a mere couple of days. I just wish you did this as your touchdown celebration.
Now that we’ve “broken up”, I feel it is appropriate to play a “break up song”. Trust me, it’ll make dealing with this situation better for all of us. This is for you LT. Because we’ll truly never be able to dance again…
So I’ve rambled long enough. Thank you for everything you’ve done. Some may look at what you do as mere sport. But for some of us who try and make a positive impact on the community day in and day out, you helped keep our morale high by what you did on and off the field. You gave us about three hours each week for a few months out of the year to unwind and watch you play your heart out. I wish you luck in the rest of your career and your next team (except when you play the Chargers of course). They’ll be lucky to have you.
I’ll wait patiently for the day you retire with us and when you’re inducted into the Hall of Fame.
-A lifelong fan
p.s.: thanks for saying you’d never sign with the Raiders, that would be just about the worst thing in the world