When someone asks you if you'd prefer to receive an individual accolade or be part of a team accomplishment, there's a safe and easy answer. You choose the team accomplishment. It is considered the moral and selfless choice, and it is what fans want to hear.
LaDainian Tomlinson went the other way, though, when Eric Kuselias asked him on NBC Sports Talk if he'd rather have a Hall of Fame career of a Super Bowl ring.
Would you rather be a Hall of Fame player without a ring or a guy that won a ring, but wasn't good enough to get in the Hall of Fame?
A Hall of Fame player without a ring. Just because I feel like you've got to sacrifice so much individually, just to be good. Now, they draft you -- individually, they draft you. So you gotta back them up and make them right. So I think at the end of the day, even though I didn't win a Super Bowl ring, I felt like I backed them up for drafting me. I backed the San Diego Chargers up.
It's not the safe and easy answer, but it's the right one.
The important part here is the precise phrasing of the question. He's not asking if Tomlinson would trade a Hall of Fame bust for a ring right now. That question might have a different answer.
He's asking him if he'd rather be a lesser running back. One with a ring, yes, but still, a lesser running back. He's asking him if he'd prefer not to be some guy who isn't good enough for Hall of Fame consideration, which means he's asking him if he'd like to not be LaDainian Tomlinson.
He's asking, essentially, if Tomlinson would rather be Willie Parker. Of course he wouldn't.
How could any athlete answer yes to a question that asks him to not live up to his full potential? It seems to me that that's any athlete's first obligation ‒ to do what he can do with what he's been given. If a person has Hall of Fame talent, he owes it to himself to be a Hall of Fame player.
Championships in team sports are too dependent on circumstance. For the overwhelming majority of players that have rings, they don't have them because of how great they were individually. They have them because they ended up in the right mix of players, in the right place, at the right time. Is Brandon Jacobs a world champion because Brandon Jacobs is just that great, or is he a World Champion because he happened to be playing for the Giants when enough of the rest of the Giants were great?
Circumstance. Luck, if you prefer that term.
I would not expect LaDainian Tomlinson to trade a significant portion of his greatness ‒ to go from a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, all the way down to a guy who clearly is not a Hall of Famer ‒ in exchange for that bit of luck. To do so would be a complete betrayal of the talent he was given.