In the world of football, a knock on the door is not always welcomed.
At an NFL training camp, for instance, a knock precedes a pink slip. On the other side of that door stands an assistant coach, saying, “Coach Whistleblower wants to see you. Bring your playbook.” Of course, the head coach has summoned you in order to inform that you’ve been released.
Occasionally, though, a knock can bring happy news for a football player. On the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, it worked out that way for LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson was in Houston for the big game and his broadcasting duties with NFL Network. But it was also the day he was supposed to find out whether he’d been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
A call on the hotel phone meant that the finalists had to wait another year, at least. A knock on the door, however, signaled that someone had arrived to deliver the good news in person.
Waiting for that knock – and sweating that it could be a call – proved as nerve-wracking as any big-game moment for LT.
“(You’re thinking) Am I going to be in or not? You’re waiting for the phone call or the knock on the door,” Tomlinson said. “They were supposed to let us know by 5 o’clock, so by 5:30 I was starting to wonder, ‘Man, maybe I didn’t get in.’ Right about 5:45 the knock on the door happened.”
Tomlinson, the kid born in Rosebud and raised in Marlin and Waco, the kid who had to serve as an apprenticeship as a blocking back in high school before getting his shot as the featured ball carrier, had landed permanent residence with the game’s all-time greats.
In that moment, he found himself overcome with emotion.
“It is a relief. It really is,” Tomlinson said. “You know at that point, it’s all over. It can’t be any greater. My football career is essentially over, it’s complete.”
Tomlinson ran for 13,684 yards in his 11-year NFL career. That amounts to more than 41,000 feet or nearly eight miles of rigorous travel up and down a patch of turf. Eight miles of trying to duck and dodge and dash past a horde of angry people designed to take him down.
Truthfully, he traveled many more miles than that. Like 30 miles – the distance from Marlin to Waco, where LaDainian’s family moved when he was six years old. His mother Loreane moved her children back to Marlin eight years later, after her divorce. But she sensed that the best chance for her children to succeed was back in Waco.
So they moved back, much to Ladainain’s dismay. He had played varsity football, basketball, baseball and track as a freshman at Marlin, and didn’t want to leave.
But Mom knew best. He found that out – time and time again.
Remember when Kevin Durant won the NBA’s MVP award in 2014, then broke down in the press conference when he recounted his mother’s influence? “You’re the real MVP,” Durant said, tears streaming down his face. Here was one of the best basketball players in the world, humbly admitting that he couldn’t have reached those heights without a boost from Mom, without standing on her shoulders.
It was no different for Tomlinson. All along the way, Loreane paved the way. If she wasn’t the real MVP, she was at least the real lead blocker.
“When you’re preparing the speech for the Hall of Fame it causes you to reflect,” Tomlinson said. “I remember when I was writing it, one day I was just reflecting and reading and writing about some stuff, and kept on going back to certain things that she did. Certain sacrifices she made for my dream to come true. I became emotional, and I called her.
“I was crying, saying, ‘Mom, thank you, thank you for everything you did. All the practices you took me to.’ She said, ‘Baby, it was you. You had the passion for it.’ I said, ‘No, it was you, because you believed in me.’”
Loreanne raised him right, and the evidence still shows. LaDainian makes his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex now – “I’ve got to keep tabs on all those TCU people,” said the still-proud Horned Frog – but Waco will always be home.
He returned to his hometown on Tuesday to serve as the guest speaker for the Rise Up! Waco Banquet, a fundraiser for the Talitha Koum Institute, which aids in the education and development of at-risk children from birth to kindergarten.
LT was visibly moved by the video showing some of Talitha Koum’s young students, and the work that the teachers and mentors were doing to help those kids. After his remarks, he even pulled out his checkbook and donated $10,000 to the organization.
More money poured in through an auction of various prizes, trips and memorabilia. The first of those items was a Tomlinson-signed football that included the notation, “Hall of Fame 2017.”
That ball fetched another $10,000, and LT tossed it from the stage to the winning bidder. Asked before he threw it if he could get it there, Tomlinson smiled and said, “I have seven (NFL) touchdown passes … more than Johnny Manziel.”
Today, Tomlinson admits that he would never exhibit that kind of self-confidence had it not been for Loreane’s direction and influence. His mother scraped together $250 when he was in junior high school so that he could attend a Jay Novacek football camp in the Metroplex, where LT experienced a “life-changing moment” while interacting with his hero, Emmitt Smith.
“I realized that Emmitt wasn’t a super hero,” Tomlinson said. “He was real, and my dreams were real.”
When you’re young, you need someone to give you guidance, discipline and encouragement. LaDainian Tomlinson had that in his mother.
Thanks in part to his generosity, the kids at Talitha Koum will continue to experience similar mentorship.
Opportunity is knocking. Will you answer the door?