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Dielman reflects on historical career
SAN DIEGO – Chargers guard Kris Dielman made his plan to retire from football public Thursday.
Dielman discussed his decision at an emotional press conference.
“I gave everything I had. It ended a little early, but it is the right thing to do,” Dielman said in front of his family, many of his teammates, coaches, Chargers staff and the media.
The four-time Pro Bowl guard entered the league in 2003 as an undrafted defensive lineman, but became one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL in short order.
Dielman started 120 games for San Diego in nine seasons, including at least 14 a year from 2005-10. He signed a six-year contract with the Chargers in 2007, almost four years ago, turning down more money from Seattle.
A member of the Chargers’ 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and twice a second-team All-Pro player, Dielman provided the line with a hard-nosed persona. He cleared space for 2006 MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and Pro Bowler Ryan Mathews, among other talented running backs, and protected four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
The 2006 offensive line helped shatter the franchise record for single-season rushing yards.
“That was a pretty special year,” Dielman said. “The O-line was playing awesome. We were bullying people. As an O-lineman, the passing records are great, but I like to run the ball. Those years were fun, man.”
An honorable mention All-Big Ten player at Indiana, Dielman had a decent career as a tight end and defensive lineman, but pioneered an uncharted path toward NFL greatness by adding bulk and learning a new position on the Chargers’ practice squad, transforming from unheralded longshot to star lineman in three years.
San Diego went 14-4 against AFC West rival Oakland from 2003-11 with Dielman on the team.
“All the domination we had over the Raiders, every one of them was awesome,” Dielman said. “We dominated them. Just look at the record. The proof’s in the pudding. I wasn’t playing in the ’70s, so I don’t really care about that. The time I was here, we hardly lost to them. I remember that more than anything.”
Dielman also mentioned the 2007 AFC Divisional win at Indianapolis and the 2009 road comeback over the New York Giants as two of his favorite games.
“I’m having beers with Peyton Manning in Hawaii. I mean, come on, this is a guy I watched growing up,” Dielman recalled. “Playing in Lambeau Field against Brett Favre. Really?”
Respected around the league and among analysts, the private Dielman cared most about winning, loyalty and his teammates, who gush about the 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard.
Tight end Antonio Gates, a future Hall of Fame candidate and nine-year veteran, called Dielman the toughest player he’s ever seen.
“As a player, you wish you had 53 Kris Dielmans on your team, just because of how much he cared and how hard he played,” Philip Rivers said. “We won a bunch of games because of him. He had a lot to do with our success offensively.
“I love the guy and I loved playing with him.”
Mathews called Dielman one of the most influential teammates of his young career.
“Coming in as a rookie, he really helped me out a lot. He showed me that he really cared and he really believed in me. He was probably the first guy that I clicked with, one of the first linemen to accept me into the group of guys.
“I’m going to miss him a lot. I have a lot of love for Diel. It’s going to be real tough to replace a guy like that. You don’t find guys like that very often. Me personally, it sucks. It sucks from a professional standpoint of him blocking for me, but as a friend, from that standpoint, with him retiring, I’m really going to miss him a lot.”
Just read the list of adjectives bestowed upon him by the Chargers’ major decision-makers: President Dean Spanos used old-school, throwback and respected. General Manager A.J. Smith picked tough, hard-nosed and team-first. Head Coach Norv Turner described Dielman as competitive, physical and dependable.
TALENTED: Dielman appeared on course for a fifth consecutive Pro Bowl selection in 2011 before a Week 7 concussion sent him to Reserve-Injured. Only tackle Russ Washington (1975-76, ’78-80) was selected to more Pro Bowls as a Chargers offensive lineman.
Dielman attributes some of his strength to jobs working in concrete and lawn care growing up. He says playing high school basketball allowed him to maintain his athleticism long enough to develop as a football player.
That San Diego didn’t always get a reputation in the media as a physical, powerful team grated on the man that epitomized the Chargers teams that won five AFC West championships in seven seasons.
Those blue-collar Bolts teams were founded on undrafted free agents as much as first-round prospects, as Dielman, Antonio Gates, Stephen Cooper, Malcom Floyd, Steve Gregory, Jacques Cesaire and others became starters for San Diego after being overlooked in April.
Though Dielman overcame odds as an unlikely star, his 6-foot-4, 310-pound frame and brute shoulder strength helped as well.
“He worked so hard at being a pro and he was playing his best football this past season,” Head Coach Norv Turner said.
INTIMIDATING: Sports talk hyperbole aside, professional athletes rarely are intimidated by physical play and aggressive attitudes. But Dielman managed to bully some of the NFL’s baddest defensive linemen.
The youngest of three brothers, Dielman became tough by default as a boy.
“I got my (butt) beat a lot,” Dielman said.
He embraces the adjective “nasty” as applied to his style of play.
“In football terms, it’s probably the best word. That’s the way I played,” Dielman said. “No pun intended, but you never know what’s going to be your last play. That’s just the way I was raised to play.
“I got a lot of criticism growing up about the way I played. People said I was playing too mean, playing too rough and whatnot, but football ain’t a nice sport. You’re supposed to have a little edge to you when you play it and I pressed the envelope a lot with that and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Dielman’s bravado, and his willingness to back it, was a source of confidence for teammates.
“It was an honor to play next to Kris for so many years,” Nick Hardwick said. “His loyalty and toughness gave me and the guys who played with him a sense of security, knowing that we had the baddest guy on the field. And we knew nobody wanted to find out how bad a dude he was.”
Offensive line coach Hal Hunter and right tackle Jeromey Clary expressed similar sentiments independently.
“There’s a lot of guys who are tough, but Kris was intimidating. Guys didn’t want to mess with him. He intimidated his opponent and he did it to the point where the guy he was battling didn’t want to deal with him anymore,” Hunter said.
Said Clary: “If I was a D-lineman I wouldn’t want to face him on Sundays and I’m sure a lot of people we played against didn’t really want to have to deal with him either. It was amazing to come in on Mondays and you’d watch film and some of the stuff he would do, you’d just go, ‘I can’t believe that this guy is doing this kind of stuff to other NFL football players.’”
INSPIRING: Rivers, one of many teammates on hand Thursday to support and congratulate Dielman, got emotional when sharing a story about his long-time left guard.
“I always give the lineman a little head-butt before we go out for the first play of the game,” Rivers said, his eyes welling with tears. “Kris always grabbed me a little tight and said, ‘Lead us.’ Him saying that every week was special. That moment right there is probably what I’ll miss the most Week 1 of next year.”
Dielman’s fans – which you’d think is an oxymoron of sorts for an offensive lineman who preferred to stay in the shadows – responded en masse upon learning of his retirement. The Twitter hashtag #ThxKris gained usage by dozens of fans. Dielman received numerous texts, phone calls and messages from teammates and fans, one of which waited in front of Chargers Park in a No. 68 jersey all morning Thursday to shake the guard’s hand.
After numerous thanks, Dielman referred to his teammates and coaches with a gesture that said more than words could. He tapped the left side of his heart twice and pointed at them.