LaDainian Tomlinson might not have had a Hall of Fame football career had he not gone to a camp that Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith attended.
Tomlinson, the TCU great, shared a story from his younger days and meeting Smith during his Hall of Fame speech on Saturday night, and the importance it had on him.
As a 12-year-old growing up in Marlin, Tomlinson saw a flyer about a football camp Smith would be attending nearby. Tomlinson begged his mom to go, but she told him it may be too expensive.
But Tomlinson’s mom, Loreane, saved up enough money and surprised Tomlinson by paying for the camp.
“That’s when I first saw Michael Irvin, Emmitt, Jay [Novacek], Daryl Johnston, and other Cowboys greats,” Tomlinson said. “I vividly remember the first practice. We were running the hand-off drill and I’m with all the other running backs. Emmitt all of sudden jumps into the line and hands the ball off to me.
“Then later that evening, I was going upstairs to dinner when Emmitt was coming downstairs and literally ran me over. I began to fall, but he held me up and asked, ‘Are you all right, kid?’ I answered, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
“But really, I wasn’t. I was awestruck. Because two astonishing moments with my idol, a 12-year-old kid who entered camp lacking in self-confidence as an athlete left on top of the world feeling he could truly fulfill his dream to play in the National Football League.”
Tomlinson did just that. After a standout career at TCU, Tomlinson was the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft and went on to become the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher with 13,684 yards in an 11-year career.
Tomlinson finished his career as a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All Pro and 2006 MVP. He is one of only two players, along with his childhood idol Walter Payton, with 13,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards.
None of it may have been possible without that interaction with Smith, who spoke about Tomlinson on national TV afterward.
“This is what it’s all about. This is about the soul of the game,” Smith said. “This is about men who overcome so many different obstacles in their lives and the men and women that have helped support them throughout this whole entire journey.”