Remembering Junior

Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy with San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau before the 1993 NFL Pro Bowl played on February 7, 1993 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

It is a sad day, indeed, with the news that Junior Seau is dead.

The reports out of San Diego and Oceanside, Calif., are that the former 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Chargers’ body was found at his home in Oceanside this morning by his girlfriend and police are investigating the death as a suicide. Seau was 43.

But to me and those on the Seahawks who played against him twice a season from 1990-2001, he will always be 55 – his uniform number. If you were to select the Seahawks’ all-time, all-opponents team, Seau would be the middle linebacker. And a unanimous choice. He also played for the Dolphins (2003-05) and Patriots (2006-09) during his 20-season NFL career, but never as well as he had played for the Chargers.

In 23 games against the Seahawks as a Charger, when the teams were in the same division, the hyperactive, ever-present Seau averaged seven tackles, collected 6½ sacks, batted down six passes and blew up countless plays with one his trademark, last-second dives into a gap just as the ball was being snapped.

It didn’t matter whether the games were played on AstroTurf at the Kingdome, natural grass at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego or on FieldTurf at Husky Stadium, Seau’s performance was always worth the price of admission.

In case you can’t tell, Seau was one of my favorite players to watch since I began covering the Seahawks in 1979. You also can count Chad Brown among those who admired Seau’s ample game – and even admitted being jealous of the way the Chargers allowed him to play the game.

During Chargers week, Brown and I would have a Seau discussion at some point.

I still remember Brown, a Pro Bowl linebacker in his own right, saying on a couple of occasions, “Just once, I wish they’d let me play the way the Chargers let Junior play.”

Which was, free to read and react without worrying about covering the tight end or making sure a certain area of the field was covered or a certain gap was plugged. The Chargers would “cover” Seau with another player who did not possess the instincts and explosiveness to exploit things that usually only Seau saw before the snap.

“I’m not taking anything away from Junior’s game – because he does have game, obviously,” Brown would offer. “I’m just saying that it would nice to have that kind of freedom.”

Brown also was teammates with Seau on the AFC Pro Bowl squad, as were several more of the best players in Seahawks history – Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, fullback John L. Williams, running back Chris Warren, defensive end Michael Sinclair, quarterback Warren Moon, cornerback Shawn Springs and tackle Walter Jones.

I knew of Seau before I ever saw him play. In the fall of 1973, I was working for a newspaper in Oceanside, Calif., and covering the high school football team. Seau played at Oceanside High before becoming an All-American at USC. Just the mention of his name would create a silence of reverence in the locker room, especially from the players of Samoan decent. Whenever coach Herb Meyer needed an example while discussing a current player, he would evoke memories of Seau.

Unfortunately, that’s all any of us are left with – our memories of Tiaina Baul Seau, Jr.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll never coached Seau at USC, but today he tweeted, “So saddened by the news of Junior Seau’s passing. The hearts of the Trojan family go out to his relatives and friends.”

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