SAN DIEGO — LaDainian Tomlinson was in the midst of saying goodbye to the NFL when his young son, Daylen, wandered across the dais and tugged on his pant leg, wanting a little attention.
Tomlinson reached down and lifted him up, holding him as carefully as he used to carry the football.
Joined by his family and several former teammates, Tomlinson ended his brilliant 11-year NFL career the same way he started it — with the San Diego Chargers.
Tomlinson signed a one-day contract with the Chargers on Monday and then announced his retirement.
"It wasn't because I didn't want to play anymore. It was simply time to move on," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson rushed for 13,684 yards, fifth all-time, and scored 162 touchdowns, third-most ever. His 145 rushing touchdowns are second-most in history. He also passed for seven touchdowns.
Just as importantly, he helped the Chargers dig out from one of their worst stretches to become a force in the AFC West. He played his first nine seasons with San Diego and the last two years with the New York Jets.
Tomlinson, who turns 33 on Saturday, said he knew at the end of last season that he'd probably retire. He said he was still physically capable of playing but mentioned the mental toll it takes to play at a high level.
Tomlinson didn't shed any tears, as he did two years ago after being released by the Chargers.
L.T. recalled the news conference in 2006 when former teammate Junior Seau announced his first retirement.
"He said, 'I'm graduating today.' I've been playing football 20-some years and so at some point it almost seems like school every year where you sacrifice so much and there is so much you put on the line, mentally and physically, with your body, everything," Tomlinson said. "So today, I take the words of Junior Seau: I feel like I'm graduating. I really do, because I've got my life ahead of me, I'm healthy, I'm happy with a great family and I'm excited to now be a fan and watch you guys play."
Seau, who committed suicide on May 2, came out of retirement to play for the New England Patriots.
Tomlinson, though, said this is it for him.
His most memorable moment with the Chargers came on Dec. 10, 2006, when he swept into the end zone late in a game against the Denver Broncos for his third touchdown of the afternoon to break Shaun Alexander's year-old record of 28 touchdowns.
Tomlinson was voted NFL MVP that season, when he set league single-season records with 31 touchdowns, including 28 rushing, and 186 points.
"Those were championship days, for not only myself and my teammates, but my family as well," said Tomlinson, who won two NFL rushing titles. "So I'm OK with never winning a Super Bowl championship. I know we've got many memories that we can call championship days."
Tomlinson was joined on the dais by wife LaTorsha, mother Loreane, son Daylen, who turns 2 next month, and 9-month-old daughter Dayah.
Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were among the several former teammates in the crowd, as were offensive linemen Nick Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and recently retired Kris Dielman. Also in attendance was Ryan Mathews, who replaced Tomlinson as the Chargers' featured back in 2010.
Tomlinson said of his offensive linemen, "They were my best friends."
Dielman retired in March due to a concussion.
"I was a part of greatness," Dielman said of Tomlinson's career. "And it was awesome to be a part of it. It was awesome to watch. I mean, I had the best seat in the house. It was a fun time."
Rivers became the Chargers' starter in 2006 after Drew Brees was allowed to leave as a free agent.
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