Talking to Tomlinson
San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson is in Los Angeles this week filming a pair of spots for the latest Chunky soup advertising campaign. (The ads will break during the NFL's opening weekend). SI.com caught up with the super Charger during a break on the set.
SI.com: Why do people want to cast you in commercials?
Tomlinson: I guess I have a positive overall personality. I think that translates over to companies wanting to use me for a positive image.
SI.com: So are you acting, or are you playing you?
Tomlinson: No, it's some acting. You can't be you all the time. The director wants you to act a little bit and do stuff out of your element. It's fun playing someone else. I like doing it. This is something that's different for me. It's a challenge.
SI.com: You recently told ESPN's "Sunday Conversation" that you don't anticipate playing after your current contract expires after the 2011 season. How many more years do you want to play?
Tomlinson: I really don't have an idea of how many years I'll play, but I've always said I'll play as long as I'm competitive and winning. Basically, as long as I still love the game. Once that starts to leave, I think it will be time for me to walk away.
SI.com: The idea of breaking Emmitt's Smith career rushing record doesn't motivate you?
Tomlinson: No, it doesn't motivate me. I'm not out to break Emmitt's record. I'm out to win championships. That's my concern. That's what I strive to do. If breaking Emmitt's record came along with that, then so be it, great.
SI.com: It's hard for athletes to walk away before they get old. Why will you be different?
Tomlinson: Obviously, whenever I decide to walk away, I'm going to miss it. It's going to pull at me a little bit, but I don't think it will be a problem when I decide to walk away. I don't think you'll see me wanting to come back and all that kind of stuff. I don't think you'll see that out of me.
SI.com: You felt your image was tarnished in the AFC Championship Game with the criticism you received for not finishing that game. You're not one who gets criticized a lot.
Tomlinson: It has been motivating for me, to say the least. At the time, it was definitely something unwanted. People have their own opinions and everyone has critics. There is always someone looking to criticize you. But it's motivating and it makes you want to get back on the football field and get it going again.
SI.com: How is the (injured) medial collateral ligament in your left knee?
Tomlinson: It's going good, healing up just fine. I participated in all the team stuff [last month], all the individual stuff. I ran full speed. I did a lot of cuts. It felt great. The only thing now is just to continue to strengthen my knee leading up to the season. It does need to be strengthened. But as far as the structure of it, it's doing well.
SI.com: You were trying to convince [coach] Norv Turner to give you some action in the preseason but he doesn't seem to buy it, right?
Tomlinson: I don't think it will happen. I think we are going to keep things the same as the last few years. That's fine.
SI.com: You said this is the closest and best you've felt about a Chargers team since you've been there. Why?
Tomlinson: Well, I just think we have all the pieces in place, and obviously we've showed the kind of talent we have by getting to the AFC Championship Game and barely losing in a game in which a lot of our guys were injured. I just think the makeup of this team is great and we have guys who love to compete. I just feel like this season is a great opportunity for us.
SI.com: How much will the Chargers miss Michael Turner?
Tomlinson: I think we'll miss him a bunch. He gave me comfort in knowing I could take a break, and then knowing that I didn't have to rush back in the game. He got the job done and kept the chains moving. We just have to have someone come in and do what he did, but it will be hard to replace him.
SI.com: So have you gotten a sense of what kind of player [third-round pick] Jacob Hester will be?
Tomlinson: I think he's going to be an excellent player for us. He's smart, he can do a little bit of everything. He can block, he can run the football, he can catch. He'll be a great asset to our team.
SI.com: Have you seen Darren McFadden play?
Tomlinson: I've seen him play and he had a great college career. Very explosive. He can run away from people,and he's done a great job of catching the football, as well. I think he'll be an exciting player in this league.
SI.com: Will New England come back to the pack?
Tomlinson: No, I expect the Patriots to be the same team that I've always seen. They are still going to be a very strong team. They always seem to reload and every year they are right there making a push at the championship. I don't expect anything less from them.
SI.com: Who is a guy in the NFL who does not get the national recognition he deserves?
Tomlinson: Brian Westbrook comes to mind. This guy is a heck of a player, one of the top players in the league. He definitely doesn't get the recognition that he should get. He plays on a team where he has carried them a lot of the time.
SI.com: You can be one other athlete for one day, who are you?
Tomlinson: Tiger Woods. Because I love to play golf and I would love to hit the ball like he hits it. I would love to be Tiger Woods on a Sunday at a major.
SI.com: How often do fans talk to you about fantasy football?
Tomlinson: All the time.
SI.com: What do tell you?
Tomlinson: If they have me, they tell me how many yards and touchdowns they need.
SI.com: And if they don't?
Tomlinson: They tell me how they tried to draft me but didn't get a chance to. They tell me hopefully they'll draft me this year. It's all positive stuff.
SI.com: So you enjoy hearing people tell you that you went first in their fantasy draft?
Tomlinson: Yeah, it's a big sense of pride. It's like the NFL draft for me all over again.
SI.com: Will Brett Favre come back?
Tomlinson: I think he'll stay retired. I don't think you will see him come back. He's been playing for awhile and I'm pretty sure the last few years he contemplated retiring, then came back. This is one time where he says: 'Yep, this is it.' I don't think he'll come back.
SI.com: What's the one thing in sports you wish you could do?
Tomlinson: I would love to be in an NBA game and dunk over somebody. I knew what that felt like in high school but the NBA level is a lot different.
SI.com: The most famous person you have in your cell phone?
Tomlinson: Michael Jordan.
SI.com: What person would you most like to meet?
Tomlinson: That's a good question. Man, I've met pretty much everybody that I could possible meet or want to meet.
SI.com: Really, no movie star, politician, musician?
Tomlinson: No, not really. I feel like I've met the top athletes and celebrities. I can't give you one.
SI.com: So life must be pretty good?
Tomlinson: It is.