The circumstances around his passing and why it happened the way it did is not what we need to focus on right now. We need to focus on the career of the man who carried the torch of the rich tradition of the middle linebacker position in the NFL.
Growing up, my dad, a coach himself, was an NFL films junkie. Any tapes he came across in stores or yard-sales that had anything to do with the NFL usually ended up in my living room. The result was an early childhood education in the good ol’ days of the greatest game on the planet. “They don’t play the game like they used to,” my father would say numerous times during each tape. Man, was he right.
One of those tapes in particular got plenty of P.T. in the old RCA VCR: NFL Crunch Course. Hit after hit, impact after impact, crunch after crunch. The NFL’s meanest players, hardest hitters, surest tacklers were all there in one glorious collection of competitive carnage. As we watched guys like Ray Nitschke, Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, and Mike Singletary hunt down their prey, I wondered, sometimes aloud, “who would be there to continue all of this as I grew up?.”
In 1990, the San Diego Chargers answered that question when they drafted Junior Seau.
As we all now know, Seau’s impact was immediate. He took the middle linebacking torch that Mike Singletary carried through the 1980’s and charged into the 90’s as the decade’s most dominant tackling machine. He gave the Chargers, who before then had somewhat of an offense-oriented prima-donna image, a new identity. Junior Seau became their identity. You didn’t mention the Chargers without mentioning number 55.
Perhaps his finest season was 1994, when he led San Diego to the Super Bowl on the back of a 19 tackle performance in the AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, they ran into a San Francisco team that wasn’t going to be stopped. The Chargers had never been there before and haven’t been back since.
Seau wore the uniform of two other teams in his career, but in the minds of all true football fans, he remains forever a San Diego Charger, arguably, the greatest Charger ever. The people of San Diego and Charger fans around the world are forever in debt to him for all the great moments and pride he brought to them.
My generation as a whole is in debt to him as well. He was, along with Ray Lewis, one of the last two men to play middle linebacker the way it was meant to be played; with violence as well as precision. It is the glamour position, the quarterback, if you will, of the defense. Any kid in any pickup game in the nation, when on defense, wants to be the middle linebacker. Growing up, every kid on defense, regardless of what team you rooted for or where you lived, wanted to be Junior Seau.
When I finally got to put on a helmet and play the great game, I played middle linebacker. In my mind, I was Seau, roaming sideline to sideline in search of my next ball-carrying victim. I had my own NFL Crunch Course idol to look up to, and only now do I realize how lucky I was. In an era where the violence is being removed from the game, my generation will be one of the last to know just how truly great the game of football, in its purest form, can be.
Thank you Junior, for all that you shared with us. As I write this, ESPN is showing footage of Junior’s mother crying at a press conference. The football world owes that woman a debt of gratitude for sharing her son with us.
Thanks for the memories, 55. Ia Manuia Lou Malaga