LaDainian Tomlinson’s career in the National Football League ended as it began, proudly holding up a San Diego Chargers jersey and displaying that charismatic youthful smile.

What happened between being drafted by the Chargers in the first round in 2001 and retiring as a Charger today is one of the greatest stories in San Diego sports and NFL history.

Tomlinson steps away from the game as the league’s fifth all-time leading rusher with 13,684 career yards, its third-most prolific scorer with 162 career touchdowns and owner of the second-most rushing touchdowns in NFL history with 145. He certainly will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he becomes eligible in 2017.

Tomlinson was the face of the Chargers’ franchise during nine seasons in San Diego (2001-09). He set or tied a total of 28 team records, including marks for career rushing yards, rushing touchdowns in a season and total touchdowns.

“This is a special, special day for me, just as it is for all Chargers fans,” said Chargers President Dean Spanos. “Few players, if any, have meant more to this franchise than LT. He was the heart and soul of this team through one of the most successful decades in our history. I couldn’t wait to watch him play because I knew I would see something special every week. And that’s what he gave all of us: special memories we’ll carry with us forever. And being here with him on the day he came into this league and the day retired is extra special.”

“Some guys you watch play and say, ‘I wonder if he will wind up in the Hall of Fame?’ LT answered that question a long time ago,” said Chargers Executive Vice President and General Manager A.J. Smith. “He is one of the greatest and most versatile running backs to ever play the game. He helped this organization return to relevancy in the NFL and gave all of us a lot of exciting moments we’ll remember forever.”

Head Coach Norv Turner added: “I was fortunate to be with L.T. his rookie year. It was very evident that he was going to be a great player, a complete player with good fortune. He was going to have the career he had. There have been very few players in the NFL who have meant as much to their team than LT did during his career here. In particular, his MVP season in 2006. It would be hard to find a back that led the league in rushing and caught over 100 balls in separate seasons. It speaks volumes for his abilities and what he was capable of doing.”

Tomlinson is one of the most decorated Chargers in history. Among the more than 100 team and NFL awards that he captured during his career, Tomlinson was the Associated Press’ NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2006, the same year he was named the Walter Payton co-NFL Man of the Year and the runner-up as the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year. He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time first-team All-Pro, a two-time second-team All-Pro and runner up for the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2001. Tomlinson was named by his teammates as the Chargers Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year five times.

In 2004, Tomlinson carried the Chargers to their first AFC West title in 10 years as he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (17) for the first time in his career. A year later, he tied Lenny Moore’s NFL record by scoring a touchdown in 18 straight games and set a new NFL record by scoring a rushing touchdown in 14 straight games. In San Diego’s ’05 season finale against Denver, Tomlinson scored his 20th touchdown of the season, breaking Chuck Muncie’s team record of 19 in 1981. Tomlinson also moved past Lance Alworth to become the team’s all-time leader in career yards from scrimmage.

Tomlinson enjoyed perhaps his best season in 2006 as he helped the Bolts recapture the AFC West throne with a 14-2 record. He was selected the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the AP that season. It was the team’s first-ever league MVP award. Tomlinson garnered 44 of a possible 50 MVP votes. He also finished second to Tiger Woods in voting for AP’s Male Athlete of the Year Award.