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Posted at 02:45 PM ET, 06/18/2012

LaDainian Tomlinson: “I feel like I’m graduating”


LT goes out as a Charger. (Denis Poroy / AP)
LaDainian Tomlinson’s NFL career came to a touching end this afternoon, with the running back retiring as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Tomlinson, who will turn 33 on Saturday, is a beloved fixture in the San Diego community and returned to the team for one day after playing for two seasons with the New York Jets. “I always felt in my heart like I was a Charger,” Tomlinson said in a press conference in San Diego, adding that he has known for five months that he would be retiring.

Tomlinson recalled that his former teammate, Junior Seau, the Chargers’ linebacker who died in May, compared the day he retired to graduation from football. “One thing I’ll remember was when Junior Seau retired, he stood up here and gave his speech and one thing that stood out to me was when he said, ‘I’m graduating today.’ That’s the way I look at it,” Tomlinson said. “I’ve been playing football for 20-some years. You sacrifice so much. You put it on the line mentally and physically with your body. Today, I take the words of Junior Seau. I feel like I’m graduating. I’ve got my life ahead of me. I’m healthy. I’m got my great family. I’m excited to be a fan and watch you all play.”

Tomlinson, the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher, said he never had surgery in 11 years and wasn’t likely to risk that streak by making a football comeback, either. “I have no regrets at all, so I don’t anticipate coming back.”

The fifth overall pick out of Texas Christian in the 2001 draft, Tomlinson is the Chargers’ all-time leader in rushing yards (12,490) and rushing touchdowns (138); he is second in scoring with 918 points. He signed with the New York Jets as a free agent in 2010 and rushed for 1,194 yards, scoring seven touchdowns, in two seasons. He caught 94 passes for 817 yards and two touchdowns.

“When you know someone when they are very young, and you watch that person grow into being a man and one of the very best to ever play the game, it is inspirational for me personally,” said Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, who has known LT since he was 13. “He was a pleasure to watch play football. He did it with pride and passion and he was a true professional from his very first day in the NFL. I am extremely honored to know that I have had a positive influence on him. What he accomplished in his career gives me great pride.”

Where does LT rank among the all-time great running backs?

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By  |  02:45 PM ET, 06/18/2012

 
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