My first memory of Junior Seau has nothing to do with NFL football. One day back in 2001 (I was seven years old at the time), my dad came home with a brand new copy of the computer game (yes people used to play PC games back then) Backyard Football 2002. I eagerly unpacked the game and installed it on my computer. After a few clicks, the opening previews came on and cheesy video game music began to play. I started a new file in the season mode and decided to play with my hometown New England Patriots. Then, the select-a-team menu disappeared and a crowd of kids appeared on the screen, sitting on a virtual bleacher, waiting to be placed on a team. Among them was a tall, light-skinned, curly-haired kid wearing a San Diego Chargers jersey. His name was Junior Seau.
Back then, my love for football was just beginning to blossom. My New England Patriots were fresh off a Super Bowl win, and my dad took me to see my first game that year. As a souvenir of that game, my dad bought me a Tom Brady jersey. Ever since then, I have been hooked on football. Nevertheless, the attention span of a seven year old can barely handle an entire football game, let alone more than one. So, although I watched the Patriots every Sunday, I knew very little about any of the other teams. I may have seen Junior Seau play in his heyday with the Chargers once, maybe twice, but I cannot remember those games very well. Its a shame, because according to what I have heard from the former NFL players who spoke in remembrance of Seau, I missed something special.
Just about every dedicated football fan knows Seau’s story, how he grew up in the city of Oceanside, California, and went on to star for the University of Southern California Trojans, and later the San Diego Chargers. Seau was a hometown hero for San Diegans, much like Derrick Rose is to Chicagoans, a kid who grew up within miles of their team’s home stadium. They know his accomplishments: Former first round NFL draft pick, 12 time Pro-Bowler, 10 time All-Pro, Former AFC Player of the Year, Captain on the 2007 New England Patriots, member of the 1990’s all decade team, future hall-of -famer. The list goes on and on. Many would contend that in addition to being a special player, he was an even more special person.
Teammates and former foes alike of Seau speak of him only in reverential tones. Each and every one of them mentioned his brilliant smile, which he flashed day in and day out. They all mentioned his passion for football, how he played every game with the eagerness of a small child playing catch in the backyard. Former teammates such as Marcellus Wiley and Troy Brown mentioned his friendliness and willingness to help others. They both remembered the relationship he had with them and his other teammates, how he called them both “buddy”. That’s what his teammates were to him. They were more than his co-workers, they were his buddies, and so were his fans.
Seau was known for his generous philanthropy as well. He founded the Junior Seau Foundation whose mission is “To educate and empower young people”. The foundation has raised over four million dollars to this date for those purposes. Less than two months ago the foundation hosted its annual Celebrity Golf Classic fundraiser. The foundation’s Scholars of Excellence Scholarships helped pay college tuition for gifted students who could not afford it. “I’ve never met some one so talented, so good, that took it to the next level to become a better person”, reflected Wiley. “He challenged me daily, no matter how many accomplishments may come, no matter how far I may go in any endeavor to make sure to take it to the next step like Buddy (Seau) did and become a better person”
Police are currently investigating Seau’s death as a suicide. From what I have heard from former players and analysts that knew Seau well, Seau would be just about the last person you would ever expect to commit suicide. He seemingly had it all, money, success, a loving family, health. Why would someone that blessed throw it all away? Perhaps it was the wounds of his 2010 divorce which were presumably still fresh at the time of his death. Later in 2010 he drove his SUV off of a California cliff, which many labeled as a suicide attempt. He categorically denied that he tried to kill himself and insisted that he fell asleep at the wheel. Yet, here we are two years later, despite his denials, mourining what could very possibly be a suicide. We lost “one of the smartest and most dominant NFL linebackers to ever play the game”, said Brown.
The only year I truly remember seeing Seau play regularly, was 2007 while he was with the Patriots. I may not have watched much during his prime. I might not have proper appreciation for his greatness as a player. I do remember him though, as two things. I remember him as a character in one of my favorite childhood video games, and as a captain of the greatest football team to ever take the field, the 2007 New England Patriots. Although he was known as a west-coast icon, he served as a memorable player that I will remember for years fondly from 3,000 miles away in Boston, Massachusetts.