LaDainian Tomlinson produced Hall of Fame credentials during a nine-year run with the Chargers, but he is the first to admit none of it matters now that he has begun the second - and likely final - phase of his NFL career.
In his first public remarks since signing a two-year, $5.1-million deal with the Jets, Tomlinson said Tuesday that he has to prove himself all over again. Especially after taking over for the popular Thomas Jones, whose 1,402 rushing yards were nearly twice the 730 Tomlinson ran for in his least productive year.
"I don't expect anything to be given to me," Tomlinson said. "Wherever I fit in, I fit in. It's still on me to prove that I can still play in this league. Now here we are with a team like the Jets with a good offensive line. There are no more excuses."
Tomlinson, who will turn 31 in June, picked the Jets over the Vikings during the weekend, choosing the team that runs an offense similar to the one he had in San Diego over one that features All-Pro Adrian Peterson and possibly Brett Favre, who remains undecided about whether he'll play next year.
"I had two places that wanted me, and I think the major decision came down to having to learn a new offense versus playing in an offense that I already know with Brian Schottenheimer," Tomlinson said, referring to the Jets' offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer was the Chargers' quarterbacks coach from 2002-05. "That had a lot to do with it."
Just how the Jets use Tomlinson remains to be seen, but he is willing to do whatever is asked. That includes serving as a backup and a mentor for second-year running back Shonn Greene, who emerged late last season as the Jets' go-to guy in the ground game. Greene's play, coupled with a late-season drop-off from Jones, prompted the Jets to move in another direction at tailback. Tomlinson's skills set fit the need, especially with uncertainty surrounding Leon Washington's return from a fractured fibula.
"We have a saying around here that the best players play, and we expect [Tomlinson] to play a lot," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "We can't say whether he'll carry it eight times or 28 times. But we're going to run the ball a lot next year. That's our offensive philosophy."
The Greene-Tomlinson relationship certainly will be interesting, especially after Greene taunted the former All-Pro during last season's playoffs. After a 53-yard run that sealed the Jets' 17-14 win over the Chargers, the rookie imitated Tomlinson's touchdown pose in the end zone.
Tomlinson joked about it Tuesday. "When I saw him do it, I felt it needed a little critique," he said. "I'll show him the right way to do it, and I'd be honored if he did it a few more times this year."
As for Tomlinson's role as teacher, he said he'll embrace it. "The greatest thing is teaching young guys, guys that can continue a tradition of running the ball. I embrace that role of mentoring young running backs."
And he won't demand playing time.
"The Jets made it to the AFC Championship Game without me," he said. "How can I come in and demand to be the starter?"
But at least Tomlinson landed in a spot he often dreamed about during his days in San Diego. He told teammates during his career there that one day he would like to play in New York. And now he gets the chance to play on the biggest stage of all.
"A young kid from the country in Texas is coming to New York. Who would have thought that?" said Tomlinson, a native of Rosebud, Texas. "It's such a blessing. I can't tell you how excited I feel."
The only thing better: Helping the Jets win it all.
"There would be no greater thing," he said, "than to bring a championship to the city of New York."