An open letter to Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and the Waco City Council …

Dear Mayor Deaver (and friends):

Happy new year. Hope y’all had a nice holiday break and a restful time away with family and friends.

Of course, it’s time to get back to work, and it’s to that end that I come to you with this correspondence. But before we look forward, let’s look back at 2017 for a moment. Through the lens of sports, it was an eventful year. The Baylor women’s and men’s basketball teams made trips to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, respectively, while the Baylor baseball team broke through with its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years.

Waco’s Southwest Regional Little League Headquarters again hosted successful baseball and softball tournaments, and the latter was highlighted by a buzzsaw named Lake Air, which proceeded to claim the World Series title in Oregon. And Mayor Deaver, you were on hand to help with the announcement in November that Waco would serve as the permanent state championship home for virtually all TAPPS events.

And then there was LT – the city’s favorite football son. In August, LaDainian Tomlinson became the first Waco-bred football star to earn enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Which brings me to my point. I propose that it’s high time to honor LaDainian in that most unique and special of ways – let’s name a street after him.

The city has done an admirable job of preserving the legacy of some of its heroes, most notably Doris Miller, the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross, for his gallantry during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Media icons like Dave Campbell and the late Frank Fallon have been recognized in a variety of ways, from namesake awards to city-sponsored movies. (I’ve still got my treasured DVD copy of the Dave Campbell Story.)

However, other great Wacoans have slipped through the cracks. I’d contend that the city should also honor Andy Cooper — the Negro Leagues great who in 2006 became the first Waco-born player to gain induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame — in some form or fashion, perhaps with a historical marker near his grave at the old Greenwood Cemetery. But that’s an impassioned letter for another day.

With LaDainian, we’d have the chance to honor a man who has represented Waco in a fine, upstanding manner all throughout his life, and to do it while he’s still a young man and able to appreciate it. There is no downside here, guys.

Naturally, the numbers speak for themselves, and their emphatic message is this: Tomlinson is one of the great running backs ever to take an NFL field. He ranks sixth all-time in rushing yards (13,684), second in rushing touchdowns (145) and third in total touchdowns (162). His 31 TDs in his MVP 2006 season remain an NFL record.

And yet LaDainian is as down-to-earth and gracious a big-time athlete as I’ve ever encountered. For more than a decade, he gave back to the youth of Waco in myriad ways, including his popular Camp LT football camp and the annual awarding of college scholarships to worthy University High School students.

He gives back still, as evidenced from last year’s Rise Up! Waco banquet, where Tomlinson’s efforts helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Talitha Koum Institute.

Now, Mayor Deaver, I know there must be logistical hoops that would have to be navigated in order to change the name of an existing street. But it’s not without precedent, either. In 2014, the Waco City Council unanimously voted to rename a stretch of Pleasant Street (and who wouldn’t want to be associated with Pleasant Street?) as Douglas C. Brown Street, for the late East Waco business leader.

My idea: Let’s take that stretch of South New Road that runs by University High School and call it LaDainian Tomlinson Drive. Pardon the pun, but it feels like a “new road” anyway, given that before the current high school was built in 2011 it was a road that ran past a large, vacant field.

Now, I realize that LaDainian Tomlinson Drive is rather unwieldy for a street sign. Other options could be considered — LT Way, Tomlinson Street — but I prefer LaDainian Tomlinson Drive, just because it’s so poetic. You know where a LaDainian Tomlinson drive typically finished? The end zone. Ol’ LaDainian would get you where you wanted to go, that’s for sure.

Mayor Deaver, this also would provide an opportunity for Waco to reach out and bring three Central Texas communities together. Tomlinson was born in Rosebud and spent part of his childhood in Marlin, and wouldn’t it be nice to invite our friends from the Marlin and Rosebud-Lott areas to participate in a potential street renaming ceremony? After all, they are a part of LaDainian, too.

Last summer at his Hall of Fame ceremony, Tomlinson stole the show with a stirring speech that told a story that extended far beyond the football field. He spoke of a place that already carries his name — Tomlinson Hill, near Marlin — where a man named Tomlinson who owned LaDainian’s great-great-great grandfather as a slave first passed along that name.

“The family legacy that began in such a cruel way has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons,” LaDainian said, without a hint of bitterness.

Then, like some of the best political orators, LaDainian made a plea to America. Like all of us, he’d witnessed divisiveness in our land. Now was the time for unity, he said.

“On America’s team, let’s not choose to be against one another,” he said. “Let’s choose to be for one another. My great-great-great-grandfather had no choice. We have one. I pray we dedicate ourselves to be the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind, leading the way for all nations to follow.”

Mayor Deaver, city officials, LaDainian Tomlinson is a man Waco can be proud of. Christening a street in his honor seems like the least that we could do in gratitude.

Oh, and one more idea:

What do you think of nothing but green lights on LaDainian Tomlinson Drive?

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