Tribute to Junior Seau and the ‘State of Football’

RIP Junior Seau, 1969 to 2012. He defined a West Coast Era of football.

#55, he was the X Factor  – This post comes as great sadness is upon me.  I graduated high school in 1990 here in California; I’ve followed every level of prep, college and pro football religiously.

The region of SoCal, the civic portion at least, to this NorCal guy, was never my ‘cup of tea.’ LA with way too much attitude, hot and dry, and too many people. But there is one enclave, south of the Orange County, the area of Oceanside & Vista, that I always liked a lot, I visited 4 times in the 1980s and a few times later. Not an extension of the LA megalopolis but a balmy, colorful place with big ocean and a variety of people. Folks with personality and a weight to them; keeping their feet on the ground yet simple and very real.

As a football fan, there have been a few players to come out of Cali’s ‘deep south,’ but one player, #55 Junior Seau from Oceanside, who played for the USC Trojans and later the San Diego Chargers, that almost everyone my age who follows the sport knows all about during this very special era. And everyone who played with him considered a brother

Seau passed away today, of a self-inflicted gunshot, ending an era in my life (and our lives I hope). I am not a thin kid anymore with the luxury of being in my early twenties, I am just over 40 like he was.  I worry about bills, a child to rear among many other relationships.

Seau was reportedly a poor kid growing up, but one who had a great family, a hard drive, and the athletic make-up, enough to become the perfect linebacker of the special era. A linebacker that only that our time could produce.  This is defined as a time when football caught its rising star, reached so high in popularity due to ESPN, the Web and the characters are created with it. It seems unreal compared to where the media and Internet was in 1990 (yeah that was Prodigy service at 9,400 kbps).

The Man: Seau was and is an ‘Islander’ –a Samoan who was not white and not black nor mixed– he certainly was not conventional. In sport, be it right or wrong, we assign what we expect from a player to their race, either on or off the field–compared to what we have seen and experienced before with others of the same race  (The sole reason why people thought Rick Mirer would be a good quarterback in 1993). But you couldn’t really do that with #55.  Nobody created a mold for Junior Seau and he certainly didn’t break the mold of anyone else. A rarity.

In a sentence, Seau was super-charged, super-fast, super strong and intimidating, yet he a remarkably friendly look in his eye. An undeniable substance about him; one that would lead to a Hall of Fame type career in the NFL with 12 pro bowl seasons and 268 games played, second to only Clay Matthews.

In the 1990 NFL draft, after Junior had dominated the Pac 10 for a few years as the perfect Trojan terror, he would be a top 5 player selected in that April’s draft. And I always remembered one aspect, that there was this other outside linebacker coming out that year, Keith McCants of Alabama who had the nearly the same size and was the higher rated ‘East Coast’ player, who was likely tracked much more closely by the recruiting powers that be

But when some nasty draft rumors began to fly about Mccants just a few days ahead of the draft concerning his work ethic and apparent lack of strength, suddenly McCants didn’t seem so perfect. Thus the cat quick Junior quipped to a sportswriter — “Maybe Superman lost his cape?”  It really meant something that Seau would take a stab at a fellow player verbally, but it was only because he knew better, he saw right through the hype and couldn’t resist.  McCants, #52, was still the 4th overall pick in the draft by Tampa Bay and Junior Seau went one single pick later to the San Diego Chargers. Fate would have it that way.

It was his perfect fit, his home town and turf, an ideal fit for Calfornia’s emergence in the much wider ‘State of Football.’

As for Keith McCants, he didn’t last long (as many overrated draft picks don’t). He flamed out after just three years.

But by that time, 1994, Junior Seau was just hitting his stride as the fiercest defensive player in the league. Seau’s impact was profound in so many ways.  Due to him, ‘islanders’ were suddenly getting a lot more attention in prep recruiting circles, California players were becoming known for more than just chucking passes.

Seau was “as imposing a football player I’ve that every played against” said former Pittsburgh Steeler fullback Merrill Hoge <just now on TV> It makes sense because the very second someone saw #55 flashing across the TV screen, It was obvious.  Seau made the  pro bowl a number of times, played in a Super Bowl (1995 against the 49ers) and had a stellar career, even a stellar life up until now.

I don’t know why Seau may have taken his life today  (May 2nd) but at this point it doesn’t matter. We have to relish his memory, across our imaginations, our old magazines, on Youtube channels and through posts and articles like this (pride of Oceanside).

Hats off to you Junior Seau, #55, you greatly affected thousands of us with your skill and determination.  I hope you’ve found an even better place. California (and) the ‘State of Football is better because of you.

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