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L.T.: Off-Field Work Is More Important

Bob Simon Profiles NFL Superstar LaDainian Tomlinson

You've probably heard the saying that "nice guys finish last." But as correspondent Bob Simon reports, LaDainian Tomlinson is proving to be the exception to that rule.

L.T., the record-setting running back of the San Diego Chargers, was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player last season.

This season he's not doing quite as well: he's only averaging one touchdown a game. It's terrific for any other player, but not for L.T., who scored twice a game last year; that's when he was also named the NFL's M.V.P. off the field for his generosity and community service. And that's what makes him truly remarkable. Despite all his success, and this era of chest-thumping, law-breaking athletes, L.T. remains soft-spoken, and self-effacing - a rare role model for children and their parents.

To adoring fans, he's king of the world. And to keep his crown, L.T. sweats just as much off the field as on it. His training routine is so secret, that he would only let 60 Minutes see part of it. But it's no secret that nobody works out harder.

"They say that each time you play a game, it's like being in a car wreck. And so that's 20 car wrecks in one year. I have to prepare my body for that type of abuse," Tomlinson explains.

But he often does two things at once, not just training his body, but also training his mind. "It's one thing to prepare your body. But if you're not focused on what you're doing then you know you're not gonna be successful anyway," he explains.

When he's not working out, L.T. is a sweet, laid back guy. But on game day, his wife LaTorsha told Simon her husband stops talking and starts focusing.

"If I ask him questions he pretty much'll ignore me until I keep asking. And he'll finally say, 'You know I don't talk on game day," she tells Simon.

"Because for me it's a point of survival for the day," he explains. "Not knowing if I'm coming out of the game able to walk or anything. You know?"

What is he most worried about?

"Guys that get injured and can't play any more ever," L.T. tells Simon. "You know, it's brutal. It's brutal out on the football field."

L.T. scored 31 touchdowns last season, an NFL record, by nailing defenders with his staggering stiff arm, and by running through them, around them, and over them. He shuns the self-promoting "end zone dance," letting his play speak for itself. He's a triple threat because he doesn't just run the ball, he also makes sensational catches. And he can throw: his specialty is touchdown passes.

But what he does off the field makes L.T. so exceptional: no player puts more time into more projects for more people. Two days before Thanksgiving, he gives 2,000 families enough food to make Thanksgiving dinners.

He visits children in hospitals, giving presents and personal attention.

He admits he thinks he gets the bulk of the joy when he hands out presents. "I think definitely me. Definitely me," he tells Simon. "They're so grateful to be getting toys, you can't help but to enjoy yourself."

He has his own charity golf tournament, gives $1,000 college scholarships to seniors at his old high school, and hands out dozens of bikes and hundreds of shoes to underprivileged kids in San Diego.

Asked what's more important to him, his on or off-field work, L.T. tells Simon, "I think definitely, what I do off the field. People may remember something I did on the field for a couple of days, maybe a week. But the things that I do, and we do in the community is something that people remember for the rest of their lives. Because they're touched by it."

Since he couldn't afford to go to NFL games as a child, he buys tickets for 21 kids to every home game. Twenty-one is his jersey number. And again, he gives them his time. After the game he comes back on the field to greet each of them, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.

"It's a full circle from being that kid to being the guy these kids look up to," he explains. "When I see their smiles I remember how I felt at their age."

And at their age, LaDainian went to a football camp run by Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. L.T. told 60 Minutes that getting a handoff from Smith changed his life.

"A hero, somebody I looked up to was actually handing the ball off to me in a drill. I kind of took it as a sign of things to come," L.T. recalls.

Now he's handing that same experience to hundreds of mostly disadvantaged kids at three summer camps he's opened in San Diego, Fort Worth, and Waco.

He's out there with them every day, teaching about football, and more. "Hard work pays off guys," he tells his young charges. "And that's why I am where I am today."