You mention his name, you remember his number, and you have such mixed emotions.
If I mention #55….you know what I am referring to in San Diego. Much like when I mention #19.
They gave us such great joy, they left us too early. The smiles they possessed, the swagger they showed, will forever be San Diego.
Much like standing in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and looking at the light shining on the Gold Plaque for Tony Gwynn, this weekends Hall of Fame induction in Canton for Junior Seau, when they unveil that bust, will forever be something to remember.
And sadly, we cannot forget how it all ended. The cancer that ravaged and took away Gwynn’s life. And how horribly it ended with the suicide by Seau.
The debate will forever rage, why Gwynn could not kick the chewing tobacco habit, especially, as smart as he was, knowing full well what it had done to other modern players, and the players he grew up following. Tony knew about Nellie Fox and Bill Tuttle and so many more.
The debate is not to be over either about the NFL concussion crisis, the head injuries, the degraded health, then the deaths that followed. Tackles, Interceptions, Sacks and fumbles have now been replaced in the conversation by things like CTE, Tao protein, Alzheimers, Dementia, ALS.
We never knew how sick Seau was, nor how hurt he ever was. It’s assumed he went outside the circle of Chargers-Dolphins and Patriots doctors to get treated for possible concussions.
And then it was over, his normal life. Sleep disorders, depression, mood swings, anger, erratic behavior. It is disturbing those closest to him, family and inner circle friends, didn’t see this, or try to do something about it. Of course, we will never really know, because Seau was his own man, and may have fought any type of intervention, professionally or personally.
I will remember Seau for his enormous athleticism. He was Ray Lewis before there was a Ray Lewis. He was a violent version of Dick Butkus. A charismatic version of Mike Singletary. He was a Jack Lambert sideline to sideline.
He had that ‘fist pump’ lightning bolt signature after a sack. A terror to jump the gap, beat lineman, and bury running backs. Vaulting tall building tackles, leaping onto quarterbacks, he could come at your from any direction. He played like Superman.
He was a wildman in practice. Coaches knew an undisciplined Seau could make plays, might screw up your scheme, but would blowup the other guys play call.
I close my eyes, and I see him jump a gap, tackle Seattle running back Chris Warren, whom he thought had the ball off play-action, and then run Warren right over his own quarterback Dave Kreig-who had yet to setup in the pocket. It was dominance. It was fierce. It was typical Seau mayhem
It was Seau bolting thru a gap and crushing a Bengals running back. It was Junior showing blitz, backing out into the passing lane and picking one off against the Steelers. It was Seau over the top on a goal line stand, crashing into the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage.
If there was ever anybody ‘all in’ it was Seau. If he was good at USC, he was great in the NFL.
Sadly it had to end this way. Brain injuries always take a toll. This time, Seau took his own life. He shot himself in the heart, but his face will now be attached to the NFL concussion lawsuit for the betterment of those still living and for players in the future.
There will be a pang in my heart come Saturday night. The bronze bust will be spectacular to see, but there will be smiles and sadness too.
Remember the greatness of the player, the dedication of the person, the boyhood love in a grown man. I don’t know that Oceanside emotionally has ever recovered from what happened to him. Chargers fans will never forget either.
His four kids will be there when they unveil the bust. We will be there in spirit too, remembering how much he cared, and what he gave on game-day and his this community with his charities. And even in death, his Foundation yesterday donated 500,000 to Rady Children’s Hospital in the North County for a construction project.
Junior Seau lived to play football. Football took his life. The Hall of Fame bust will give us a chance to remember his specialness forever and forever.