Chargers fans are breathing a sigh of relief now that running back LaDainian Tomlinson has agreed to a new contract that will keep the five-time Pro Bowler in San Diego for at least three more years.
The team announced the decision late Tuesday, and Tomlinson held a press conference on Wednesday.
"It's great to be back in this room" Tomlinson said. "Obviously I want to thank the organization and Dean Spanos for me being back. It's great to be back. My heart has always been with San Diego and I'm happy to be back. I love these guys on this team and never really thought I was going to leave. I'm happy to be doing this right now. I'll open it up to any questions that you all may have."
How tough has this whole process been?
"It was kind of tough, I think more so for my family because I had to answer their questions a lot of the time. Any time something went across the screen I had to answer their questions, but I still maintained the belief that I would remain a Charger. They drafted me here. I've been here for eight years and loved every minute of it. I just couldn't see myself putting on another uniform. That Charger uniform, that 21 with the bolt on the side of my helmet, that's pretty special. You really can't replace that. I'm just happy to be putting that helmet on again."
Can you talk about your relationship with Dean Spanos and how that has evolved?
"It's just kind of happened over the years of knowing Dean and his wife and family, going out to dinner and playing golf, just hanging out a little bit and getting to know each other beyond the business part of it, as friends. Obviously I have a lot of respect for him. Relationship builds over time. That relationship is something that has built and it's been a strong one. I appreciate that friendship."
Do you feel appreciated by the Chargers after this process?
"Absolutely. It's a two-way street. We've always said that this is the part you don't like, the business part of it. Obviously A.J. (Smith) has been criticized as well as myself about some of the things that we both have gone through, but that's a part of the business. I hold no hard feelings to anyone. I respect A.J. for the job he has done, the job he's continuing to do for this team and I'm going to try to do the best job I can for this team on the field. That's the way we're going to handle it. When we win a championship, everybody is going to be happy."
Realistically, how close are the Chargers to winning a championship?
"I think we're very close. Obviously over the past two years we've been hampered a little bit by injuries. That's been the unlucky part of it. I've got to figure that it's our time. I've got to figure that this is not going to continue to happen to us where we get so close and get injured and really hurt ourselves in that way where we can't be at full strength. When we're at full strength, we're a tough team to deal with. I think everyone has seen that in the past. I'm looking forward to being at full strength with this team."
Did you at any point feel like you were close to leaving San Diego?
"I don't know if there really was. From my standpoint, I remained optimistic about it. At the same time, I knew that it was a business and guys sometimes go other places. For that reason, I kept it in the back of my mind that I might have to. At the same time, I had to think that something would happen. As we kept continuing to talk about it, I became more optimistic that I would be here. I kind of figured something would get done and it did."
How involved was Dean Spanos in these talks?
"I'm not sure at all. I know when we first started going through these talks, Dean called me and said he wanted to talk about a couple of things. I left it at that. At the end, he called and said, 'We're good.' I was happy to hear those words from him, that 'we're good', and I knew I was going to remain a Charger."
Were you pleased with how little information leaked during the negotiation period and was that done at your suggestion?
"Yeah, for me, I'm a pretty private person. I think this organization is the same way. You want to keep everything in house. Obviously we had a great relationship through eight years. We both kind of felt like the best way to do it was within us, two parties working this out. Then if anything was to happen the media would know later. We just felt like it was the respectable thing to do, to deal with business between us two."
Is there anything in this deal that assures us we won't be going through a similar scenario a year from now?
"Let's just worry about this year. This is something that obviously you deal with sometimes, but I don't think it will be. That's not something that I'm worried about. I don't believe this is something we'll be going through next year."
Do you have any guaranteed money out in the future?
"I can't answer that just because I actually haven't signed the contract yet. We have agreed but I can't answer that right now."
Besides football, what are some of the other reasons why you really wanted to stay in San Diego?
"I think the most obvious is I've got a house here and my family really enjoys being here. We've been a part of the community for so long. Our foundation does so much stuff here to help so many people. I just really didn't want to turn our back on the people in the community and all the things we've built here so far."
Did you ever feel like the Chargers were turning their back on you during the process?
"No, again, I understand the business side of it. I didn't feel like they were turning their back on me, but I felt like they needed to make business decisions as any organization does. I never felt like they were turning their backs on me. Of course there are times when you wonder if you're going to be here. I never felt like they were turning their back on me. They had given me eight years, great years. They drafted me and gave me the opportunity. Not at all did I feel like they were turning their back on me."
If you're healthy, how close can you be to the LT we've seen the last eight years?
"I think I will continue to be a very explosive player. You guys saw me last year where I was banged up all year, played with a hurt toe and obviously with the groin injury. I'll be back to full strength and to being the LT that you guys are used to seeing."
Did A.J. Smith explain to you the thought process in restructuring your deal and were you satisfied with his plan for the future?
"Absolutely. It's to win, to get players here to help us win games. I've never been a selfish guy. The more guys we can have here to help us win…I'm all about winning championships. We've come so close so far but haven't done it yet. I've always said when I first got to San Diego that I wanted to be a part of something special and help bring championships to this organization and to this city. That's how I remain."
Can you remain as explosive as you were in 2006?
"Absolutely, with the opportunities. That was a special year, no doubt. Will I rush for 1,800 yards again? Who knows. I think it's possible, definitely. That's yet to be seen. I think with the same opportunities, it can happen."
How would you describe your emotions today?
"It's relief, knowing where I'm going to be playing football at. That was my whole focus. That's very important. It lifts a big weight off my shoulders and everybody else around you, to know where you're going to lace them up at."
When you signed your contract in 2004, did you know that this day would likely come?
"I know history tells us that usually you do restructure sometimes later into your contract. Sometimes you don't get to. You end up getting released or traded or what have you. I was just happy that I had the opportunity to restructure my contract rather than be released or traded."
What was your wife's reaction to the news?
"She was happy. I could just tell. She probably read every comment that each of you had written. I used to tell her to stop reading it. She said, 'No, it's not bothering me,' but I knew it was. It was just a relief from here after it was done. I knew that she was excited that we were going to remain in San Diego. he loves it here and she really didn't want to move anywhere."
Do you have any regrets about the statement you made on your website in January and the reaction that came out of that?
"No. At that time I was starting to get a lot of notes from fans saying, 'Don't leave,' and 'How could you turn your back on us?' I just wanted to let them know that I was going to do everything I could to remain a Charger. My heart is here and I'm going to do everything possible to be here. That was my whole point in making that statement."
Do you think you have to prove you can stay healthy through a full season and postseason?
"Absolutely. I feel like I do have to prove I can stay healthy. I've always felt like I needed to prove something. When I first came into the league, I wanted to prove that I could play in this league and that I could be dominant. I know I can do that. Going on 30 (years old), I want to prove that I can stay healthy a full season and still be that dominant player.
Honestly, I haven't had any serious injuries with surgeries. I don't see why I can't continue to be a dominant player."
Is there something you can do during the offseason to help prevent injuries?
"I think you become smarter. You learn how to work in a different way. You still maintain working hard, but you do it in a different way. Not as much pounding in the offseason, kind of save myself a little more for the season and gearing up for training camp and going through the season. Before, I used to start off just going 100 miles per hour, and sometimes it wore me down. I was in such good shape when I got to training camp that I really had nothing to work for. Obviously I think some of that will change, but most of it is going to stay the same."
Can you talk about your recent comments about Emmitt Smith's career rushing record and why for the first time you discussed making a run at him?
"I think that's something that I've just kind of got a new fire of saying, 'Why not?' If we're winning and winning championships, I do want to play as long as I can and walk away with all the records. That would be a heck of a challenge and I'm up for challenges. I'm certainly going to try to do it."
Now that the contract negotiations are done, when do you start negotiations with Norv Turner about returning the halfback option?
"We just got through talking about that to be honest with you. Norv has told me that, I don't want to give it away to all the teams out there, but you'd better watch out. It's going to be in."
What is your message to the fans that admire you?
"I just appreciate their support, for coming to the stadium with their 21 jerseys on and just the Charger jersey period and supporting this team. I appreciate that. I look forward to many more years of exciting football and winning. I just believe that we're going to walk off with that Lombardi Trophy and we're going to have the craziest party in this city that we've ever had."
You've previously said the Smith record wasn't that important to you. What's changed?
"I think for so long I blocked it out. It was so far out there, but reevaluating where I'm at in my career now, I think it's reachable. I guess I just kind of got the sense of, 'Why not?' Why should I at the end of my career look back and say, 'I was this close to Emmitt's record. Why didn't I continue to play and try to get it?' I don't want to have that regret. I don't want to have any regrets when I leave this game. I guess that's kind of what's changed."
Did you feel like you were shortchanged last year when people wrote things about your decline when you were actually battling injuries?
"No, you play the hand you're dealt. For me, it's good because I get to prove what I'm worth again. I get to prove to people, and that's the way it's always been for me. I've always enjoyed doing that. I get to do it once again."
How do you feel physically right now?
"I feel great physically. I've started back working out. This week was the first week where I've actually starting cutting and all kinds of things. It feels really good. It's really good to be feeling strong again."
Have you negotiated any incentives into your contract for passing Emmitt Smith?
"No I haven't. I think sometimes the outside endorsements, you can negotiate with that as well, with the Nikes and the Gatorade and what have you. I think the Chargers are paying me enough money. I'm good."
Was money much of a factor in this process?
"To me, I thought being fair was what I was looking for. Not to really try to break the bank or do anything crazy, but just to be fair. That was all that I was looking for. The Chargers have always been that, so I really didn't think they wouldn't be fair. When it came down to it they were."
Do you think the comments your mother made on the radio last week were a factor in this?
"I really don't know. The funny thing, I didn't know my mom had said that. Sometimes you can't tell Mom to be quiet. My mom has her own opinion, and rightfully so. I'm her son. If I would have told her something, she probably would have given me a backhand or something. I just acted like I didn't see it."
What did she say when the deal was done last night?
"She was just excited. She has so much Chargers stuff in her house, I don't know how that would have gone over, getting rid of all that stuff."