LaDainian Tomlinson doesn't mind offering his time to the youth. In fact, he says he does it a lot, mostly out of the spotlight and without the media present because he's not doing it strictly for publicity.
So that's why he nearly decided against taking part in the five-day "My Wish" series that was featured on ESPN's "SportsCenter" this week.
But he was glad he went through with it.
"It was fun, you know?" Tomlinson told me as we spoke just before he sprinted up the tunnel and inside the Jets locker room at the New Meadowlands Stadium on the final day of minicamp. "I’m always kind of hesitant to do stuff like that with the media, with ESPN because that’s a private time. And I like to talk to the kids a lot. But that was kind of different.
"This kid really wanted to have us make a wish. So for me, my heart went out to him. I just wanted to take his mind off whatever may be going on."
Yours truly was granted special behind-the-scenes access for part of the touching time the two spent with each other. Just seeing the smile Tomlinson put on the face of LaJerrick, a 9-year-old from Indiantown, Fla. with a congenital heart disease, was enough to nearly bring his family members to tears.
That's something that can't be replaced.
"No, you can’t replace that," Tomlinson said. "Not at all. And I think that's the thing. A lot of times we don’t understand what kids go through when they have diseases or whatever they may have. And a lot of their time is spent frowning and just in pain. For him to be smiling like he was, I mean it made me feel great. I had a great day because I spent time with him."
That includes a 14-13 victory over LaJerrick in Madden '10.
"Yeah, I beat him by a point, but I’ll tell you what, it was so fun playing," Tomlinson said. "These kids are so good on Madden, but it was fun. That was an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get to get, and we don’t get the chance to just spend time with a kid like that playing them in video games."
Of course, Tomlinson couldn't help let his mind wander a bit when he was spending time with LaJerrick. As a then soon-to-be father (they've since welcomed newborn baby boy Daylen earlier this month), he thought about how tossing a ball around with LaJerrick is something he could be doing with his own son. Soon.
"I can see myself with my kid and playing the game and talking to him because that is part of the time that you spend," Tomlinson said. "Whatever they like to do is what you are going to end up having to do. So that kind of reminded me that this is what I’m about to go through."
And as a new father myself, I can attest: Few things can compare to playing with your child.