For his Hall of Fame presentation speech, LaDainian Tomlinson could’ve picked any number of former teammates and coaches.
LT picked Lorenzo Neal, which ought to give us some insight into their bond and Tomlinson’s character.
“It just tells you so much about the man,” said Neal, the former Fresno State standout who opened holes for Tomlinson during their five seasons as teammates with the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers.
“Here’s a guy going into the Hall of Fame, getting his bust in Canton, Ohio, and he remembers his little ol’ fullback. A position that’s dying off and never gets much credit.
“It’s his stage, it’s his moment, but he’s still thinking about people other than himself. That’s LT in a nutshell. Who does that? That to me is the epitome of selflessness.”
Football is what he did. It’s not who he is and doesn’t define him as a person.
Lorenzo Neal on LaDainian Tomlinson
Tomlinson concluded his 11-year NFL career in 2011 with the fifth-most rushing yards in league history (13,684) and its third-highest touchdown total (162). His Hall of Fame credentials are beyond doubt, which is why the voters elected Tomlinson during his first year of eligibility.
Because of that – and because Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony is sure to include Tomlinson video highlights – Neal doesn’t feel the need to pack his speech with details about LT the football player.
Instead, those in attendance and watching on TV will hear Neal talk about Tomlinson the man.
By learning about Tomlinson’s special relationship with Twila Neal, Lorenzo’s 37-year-old younger sister who was born with Down syndrome.
“When hundreds of people are around him wanting his time and attention, when LT would see Twila he’d stop what he was doing and go over make her feel like she was the only person on this earth,” Neal said.
“He would go over, just take the time and look at her in the eye and say, ‘Twila, how are you doing? Let’s take a picture. Let’s go for a walk.’ For him to do this, to go over and make her feel special and unique, was incredible. Even now, LT has been out of the league for five years. But you ask my sister who’s her favorite player, she’ll say, ‘LaDainian Tomlinson. ”
Neal knows what the more cynical among you are thinking: That the reason Tomlinson paid attention to Twila Neal was because he’s Lorenzo’s sister.
“I don’t care – he did it,” Neal replied. “But I’ve seen him in other situations, with other people, when he did the exact same things.”
The loquacious Lemoore native, now a radio talk-show host in San Francisco, then launched into a story about Throwback Thursday, a weekly function in which the Chargers invited former players to the practice facility.
One player who always turned up was an ex-running back “down on his luck.” The player in question, whom Neal declined to name, always brought No. 21 jerseys for Tomlinson to autograph.
“People would go to LT and tell him, ‘Don’t sign that jersey because he sells them.’ LT said, ‘I’ve got to sign,’ ” Neal recalled. “A lot of athletes, a lot of MVPs, would say, ‘No, man. I’m tired of signing. I know what you’re doing with these jerseys.’
“LT was different. He’d say, ‘I’m doing this because I can. I’m doing this because he’s in a worse-off position than I am.’ That’s greatness. That’s what makes LT a Hall of Famer to me.”
During a party in Houston during Super Bowl week celebrating the Hall of Fame announcement, the two men shared a private moment.
That’s when Tomlinson informed Neal that he wanted him to give his presentation speech: “What he said brought tears to my eyes,” Neal said. “I was humbled and taken aback.”
The two are close friends and were extremely productive together, but there’s more.
“It was the best relationship I could have had with a fullback,” Tomlinson said earlier this year. “It’s hard to even explain what our relationship was like. … Lorenzo was my eyes. He was the guy who led me through the holes. We were harmony. We were always in sync. It happened quick for us, too. There were certain things I didn’t even have to tell him. He already knew.”
The NFL has altered its Hall of Fame ceremony in recent years. While Tomlinson and Neal will be next to each other on the stage, presentations are no longer made from the dais.
Neal’s speech was filmed beforehand and will be shown moments before Tomlinson gives his induction address.
“It’s a huge deal, and I’m not worthy,” said the man who blocked for five 1,000-yard rushers during a 16-year NFL career. “I’m humbled and extremely honored.”
2017 Hall of Fame Enshrinement
Saturday, Aug. 5: 4 p.m. in Canton, Ohio (NFL Network)
The class: Kicker Morten Andersen; running back Terrell Davis; safety Kenny Easley; owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones; defensive end Jason Taylor; running back LaDainian Tomlinson; and quarterback Kurt Warner
Of note: Tomlinson, the San Diego Chargers great, chose former teammate and Fresno State/Lemoore High alum Lorenzo Neal as his presenter. Two wives, two coaches, an agent and a son will present the others.