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Lorenzo Neal Opens Up about Inducting LT into the Hall of Fame
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Lorenzo Neal hung up his cleats nine years ago after playing a pivotal role for seven teams over 17 seasons.
While he hasn’t played a single snap since 2008, his greatest moment in the NFL still awaits.
In fact, it’s just under a month away as he’ll introduce LaDainian Tomlinson when the legendary running back is officially enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’m just so grateful and elated, and I don’t take this moment lightly,” Neal said. “It is the greatest honor of my career. There are so many other impactful players, and Hall of Famers who are still playing, to do it. He could have asked any of those guys like Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates or Drew Brees. But yet, still, I felt he chose the lesser. The guy who is just the fullback, which is a position which doesn’t get much praise or anything. So still, I’m at a loss for words. Here’s a guy again saying this isn’t about me. I’m going to give the opportunity and the stage for someone else to introduce me. So it’s an honor. Those are the moments that show the kind of person LT is. You know he’s special when you watch him play, but I also tell people he’s a better person than he is player.”
Neal takes a deep breath, and resumes talking as his voice quivers with emotion.
“Here is a man, who in one of the greatest moments for any athlete, even bigger than a Super Bowl, is choosing me for that moment. And I mean it. People don’t know every player who won the 1992 Super Bowl. Hell, you probably don’t even know who everyone who won the Super Bowl seven years ago or even who won off the top of their head. But the Hall of Fame; people know that. That’s a legacy. That’s a moment. You can go through the Hall of Fame and say, ‘There is my bust. Right there, that’s my face. That’s LaDainian Tomlinson.’ So when he asked me, I choked up. At one of the biggest points in time, once again, he’s choosing little old me.”
Before any figure officially enters Canton, he choose an important figure from his life on and off the field to introduce him to the stage. It was a no-brainer for number 21 to choose Neal, which is why he asked his former fullback to do the honors the very night he got the call he’d been elected back in January.
“That night he had a party,” he recalled. “We shared a couple of moments, and then he reached out and said, ‘Hey Lo, can I talk to you?’ The music was going and loud, and he pulled me over to the side and said, ‘Hey man, I want you to induct me.’ I was at a loss for words. All I could say was, ‘Are you serious?’ I choked up.”
Tomlinson has been vocal about the role his fullback played on the field. In fact, he’s famously said that without 41, there’s no 21.
“He is one of my very best friends,” LT said earlier this year. “But Lorenzo is the ultimate professional. It was the best relationship I could have had with a fullback. It’s hard to even explain what our relationship was like…Lorenzo was my eyes. He was the guy who led me through the holes. We were harmony. We were always in sync. It happened quick for us, too. There were certain things I didn’t even have to tell him. He already knew.”
The Hall of Fame recently changed rules on how introductory speeches work. Instead of standing on stage, Neal will be filmed prior to arriving at Canton for a video that will be shown moments before LT takes the stage. He’ll be there right next to number 21, watching it together before Tomlinson takes the stage for the gold jacket.
While he won’t share specific details of what he plans to say, Neal shared the one underlying theme he wants the world to know. “You got to see how special he was as a player. But I wish you got to know the man.”
That’s why as LT joins the legends on the gridiron, Neal plans to also focus on Tomlinson’s Hall of Fame character.
“I saw him on Thanksgiving and Christmas where he is handing out turkeys and putting in his own resources. Where he’d give hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to the new hospital. It’s because it’s not about him. It’s about passing it forward. I remember at the Pro Bowl, my sister Twlya, who is 37 years old and was born with down syndrome. LaDainian is her favorite player, and no matter what, at the Pro Bowl, at games, if we were eating dinner; wherever we were he’d go up to her and say, ‘Hey Twlya!’ He would go out of his way to ask how she was doing, and you could watch the expressions on my sisters face light up. He made her feel special. He treated her like a princess. To see him go out of his way to always acknowledge here, to this day, she asks where she can see LT and watch him play. She loves him because he took moments out of his life, and from his busy time, to get up from dinner, to leave where he was at the Pro Bowl and so on just to make time for her. That’s why I love LaDainian. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.”