For LaDainian Tomlinson, it isn’t all about the Benjamins. It is all about the Lombardi.
The Canton-bound running back — perhaps the most exciting and versatile player of his generation — bypassed other offers to sign a contract with the Jets last year. Tomlinson said that he bought into what the Jets were about and where they were going as a franchise and after nine years in San Diego, wanted a chance at the Lombardi Trophy that has eluded him his entire career.
In April of last year, Tomlinson flew out to New Jersey to meet with the Jets. After a sit-down with head coach Rex Ryan, the Pro Bowl running back had dinner that evening with Mark Sanchez.
“I sat down with Mark that night and we talked, we just connected and I felt like it could be something special here with the Jets,” Tomlinson told Metro. “I could see what Mark was about, that he wanted to win with this team. I heard what Rex told me, about winning a Super Bowl here — it just felt right. They both said the same thing, had that same common passion.”
“It was the same passion I had. I knew I had to be a part of it. After talking to Rex, talking to Mark, I knew I had to be here.”
There is no denying that a Super Bowl win would be the capstone to one of the most complete careers ever by a NFL running back.
Eight times in his career Tomlinson has topped the 1,000 yard rushing plateau and he has had 50 receptions in all but one season. The numbers on the back of his trading card are gaudy, but there is only one thing that fuels Tomlinson at this point in his career — finishing the year with a Super Bowl win. That mentality led Tomlinson to restructure his contract this past August to free up cap space so that the Jets could add Plaxico Burress and re-sign Santonio Holmes.
Tomlinson’s bank account may have taken a hit, but he believes the reward at the end of the season will outweigh the financial hit.
“I didn’t come here for me or to add to my stats; I did it to bring a championship to this team. I’ve never been fortunate enough to win the Super Bowl and I want one,” Tomlinson said. “I realize that this is the best chance I have at winning one. I came here for that reason and wanted to stay here to achieve that goal.”
Tomlinson feels that connection with the Jets, from that first dinner with Sanchez where he was convinced to trade thunderbolts for green through the contract renegotiation of this summer to just days before the kickoff of his 11th NFL season. Emblazoned on Tomlinson’s left calf muscle is a tattoo of the Chargers logo, with the dates of 2001-2009 underneath, symbolizing his tenure with the team.
On the right leg, at the same point, is the Jets logo. It was freshly inked last summer and there is a 2009 underneath the logo but no end date. Tomlinson said in early August that he feels like he can play one more season after this year. He won’t specify if it will be in Jets green or not.
There is no denying that Tomlinson returning for at least one more year with the Jets helps bolster what on paper looks like a pretty impressive offense. Consecutive AFC Championship Games have shown that the Jets are among the elite teams in the NFL.
With players like Burress and Holmes at wide receiver, plus the continued development of Sanchez, there is reason for Jets fans to hope that this team can make its first Super Bowl appearance in more than four decades.
But Tomlinson bristles when asked if there is pressure on the Jets to win, and win now.
“I don’t think it is pressure that any of us feel,” Tomlinson said. “I would say it’s more confidence with the things that we’ve done in the offseason, building on a team that’s coming back from the AFC Championship Game.”
However, Tomlinson acknowledged that this year is about one thing and one thing only.
“The championship, winning that championship,” Tomlinson said. “It has to be the Super Bowl this year.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for Jets news all season long.