A San Diego Native Remembers Junior Seau….
The great Chargers linebacker, Junior Seau, was one year ahead of me growing up in San Diego, California. Of course, before he was the great Chargers linebacker, he was a standout at USC, and even before that, a local phenom at Oceanside High School.
I was lucky enough to meet him at a football camp in the summer of 1986. It was the "Denny Stoltz Aztec Football Camp" - at the time, Denny Stoltz was the head coach at San Diego State. Junior and I spoke several times, mostly about baseball, actually. We both loved the San Diego Padres, and were both especially Tony Gwynn fans. I remember thinking to myself, that for such a big guy, and such a "super-jock" - he seemed very bright, and certainly was a natural 'leader' on the field.
He was not fake. That emotion that he played with for all those years in the NFL - he played like that back then, too. He PRACTICED like that. He loved football. He loved to win - he loved to dominate. But he mostly loved football. Other than family, there may only be one thing Junior Seau loved more than football.
Junior loved his home town. He loved San Diego. He loved the Chargers. He was proud of his roots. He wanted to be the one that put San Diego on the 'sports' map. And it didn't take him long.
Junior Seau was the; heartbeat, the captain, the very soul - of EVERY GOOD Chargers team in the 90's. He led them to several playoff appearances, and an unexpected Super Bowl in 1994.
In his prime, he was the; fastest, most destructive, most feared, and most schemed against, defensive player in the game. He was the best middle linebacker EVER, at getting into the opposing backfield - and either pressuring the quarterback, or completely busting up the running play. His timing, awareness, and natural instincts, were all incredible.
I try to tell my Minnesota friends how important Junior was to us, in southern California. When I try to explain the impact of his death on the people of San Diego, I have said,"Imagine if Kirby Puckett was from the Twin Cities, when he passed away. Or what if right now, Paul Molitor, or Joe Mauer, took their own life? How bad would that hurt for the true, hardcore Minnesota fan?
Well, imagine that times 1,000 - that is what Junior Seau meant to the community that he grew up a part of, and always remained a part of. Like everyone, he made his fair share of mistakes in life. But Junior had a big, loving, and forgiving heart.
It is impossible to get into another person's mind. It is even harder to understand why a person with; wealth, a beautiful family, and millions of fans, would take his own life.
When I heard the news I cried for a long, long time. But I'm done crying now, and I'm going to remember Junior Seau for all of his electrifying play on the football field.
At football camp, he called me "Pretty Boy" - and I'm sure he didn't mean it as a compliment! Fourteen years later, I saw him at an event and started to approach him. Before I even got to him, he through his hands up and yelled,"Pretty Boy, is that you?"
He remembered me. I can't tell you what that meant.
Junior Seau will always be a legend in southern California - and is an absolute lock to be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
And when that day comes in a few years in Canton, Ohio - I will be "front and center" with my Chargers #55 jersey on - explaining to my son why Junior Seau was so important.