Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson knows firsthand what winning the FedEx Ground Player of the Year Award means for the recipient and the military families aided by the connected charitable contribution.
The 2006-07 NFL season was a memorable one for Los Angeles (then San Diego) Chargers fans. Not only did the team lead the league in regular-season wins with 14, but running back LaDainian Tomlinson amassed an impressive 2,323 yards from scrimmage with 31 combined rushing/receiving touchdowns. He even went 2-for-3 for 20 yards through the air. Both of those completions resulted in touchdown passes, giving him an impressive quarterback rating of 125 for the season.
Because of his historic campaign, Tomlinson won the FedEx Ground Player of the Year award. Tomlinson now has the opportunity to reflect upon that season as the voice of the 2017 FedEx Air and Ground Player of the Year awards nearly a dozen years later.
“That year that I won the FedEx Ground Player of the Year was probably the best year of my career,” Tomlinson said. “I obviously had a phenomenal season individually, but collectively as a team we had a terrific year as well. It seemed like a dream season. Everything went right for us, me personally and as a team. It was kind of like the point where people started saying ok this guy might be a Hall of Fame type player. It all kind of came together and having that award to my name certainly helped. It was great getting that trophy and I sit here with it still.”
The awards for 2017 come with the usual three finalists that the public can now vote on through Saturday, Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. ET. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz are the finalists for the Air award. The finalists for the Ground award are Smith’s teammate Kareem Hunt, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
Fans can vote for one Air and one Ground finalist at nfl.com/fedex or by directing a tweet @FedEx with the players’ names using the #AirandGround hashtag. Tomlinson says that he’s glad that he has the following weeks to decide upon his vote.
“I think we have some really good candidates,” Tomlinson commented. “All the quarterbacks, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz and Alex Smith have had terrific seasons. Carson Wentz was to me before he went down probably the MVP of the National Football League, so he is certainly deserving as well as Tom Brady who has been a model of consistency for a very long time but Alex Smith, leading his team to a division championship, to where they are now, certainly has claim to right to have his name here and be a serious contender.”
“Then the running back position, we could really go either way,” Tomlinson continued. “Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt have all had terrific seasons. To be honest with you, I don’t know who I’m going to vote for at this time.”
As excited as the eventual recipients of these 2017 awards will be, the real story of this award could be the $100,000 donation to the USO that will be made by FedEx in conjunction with the awards. Tomlinson spoke to the importance of the work that the USO does.
“I think we all have a connection in our families and friends that are military service men and women,” Tomlinson elaborated. “What makes this award so special is that FedEx donates a total of $100,000 to the USO programs. If they don’t know what the USO does, they keep service men and women connected to their families, their homes. When they get done and transition into civilian life, that money helps them in their transitions into civilian life. We know that it isn’t easy when our soldiers leave the military to transition into civilian life. They need as much help as possible. That’s why this is so important that FedEx makes this huge contribution to the USO.”
Two of this year’s finalists will join the company that Tomlinson joined in 2006. Whether those players will see the same success after winning the award that Tomlinson did remains to be seen, but what’s certain is that the money FedEx will donate to the USO will do much to aid United States service men and women.