LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement today.
It seems fitting that he steps off the stage now as he can now always be remembered as being the last of a dying breed.
No, not the last of the multi-threat, all-purpose running backs; but rather as the finest example of a regular season superstar who failed to achieve success in the post-season.
In a spring where LeBron James has single-handedly led the Heat to within 2 games of the NBA championship, almost assuredly permanently removing the ‘playoff choke artist’ tattoo he has worn the last few years, L.T.’s retirement is an opportunity to reflect on the career of a player with countless regular season accolades and almost no distinguishing post-season performances.
First, start with the numbers:
Regular Season (170 games):
163 TDs (rushing+receiving) (.9 TD/game)
47 100-yard rushing games (27% of all games played)
Playoffs (10 games):
7 TDs (.7/game)
1 100-yard game (10% of all games played)
But beyond mind-numbing statistics that can be argued (“They needed to pass more because the Charger defense couldn’t stop the opposing offense.” “Good teams were geared to stop him in the playoffs.” “He played for Norv Turner and Norv Turner can’t coach in the playoffs.”), the bigger thing for me about L.T.’s playoff performance is his lack of a transcendent moment.
While we can all remember his standard TD celebration, with his hand on the back of his helmet as he stands tall and flips the ball to the ref, what is your over-riding memory of L.T. in the playoffs? Do you have one? Mine is him sitting on the sidelines of New England during the AFC Championship game hiding in a parka and behind his shaded visor as Philip Rivers tried to beat the 17-0 Patriots while playing with a torn ACL.
We all killed Jay Cutler years later for not playing through the pain in the NFC championship, yet L.T. receives only accolades for a career that could best be summed up by William Shakespeare: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
(Obviously ‘that idiot’ is Norv Turner)
There is no greater summary of the contradiction that is L.T.’s career than the fact for years he was considered the best player in the league (for fantasy purposes at a minimum) and yet I just negatively compared him to Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler, 2 of my least favorite players in the league.
To steal a stupid saying most likely said by Skip Bayless several times this week: great players make great plays. Jordan had the Flu Game. Elway had the Drive. Eli Manning has every Super Bowl against the Patriots. L.T. never had one of those when it counted. When the moment got big, he got small.
So L.T. exits stage left today, in the midst of LeBron doing his best to flip the script on the very career storyline that L.T. defined.
Even if the Thunder are able to turn the series around and find a way to win, no one can argue that LeBron has come up short this year like he has the last two. With Chris Bosh injured and Dwyane Wade an inconsistent shadow of himself it has been LeBron that has gotten Miami to within shouting distance of a championship. When he has needed to step up, he has done so – scoring points, playing defense, rebounding – whatever is needed. He has adapted his game and realized he can’t be stopped when he doesn’t want to be.
The spring of 2012 will be remembered as the spring LeBron learned to step up and lead his team when it needed him the most.
And it marks the end of the career of a man who never could.