Originally posted on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 5/12/12

San Diego said farewell to a hometown hero and legendary football player honoring the late Junior Seau, officially retiring the number 55. Seau, passed away on May 2nd from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was buried in his hometown, Oceanside, on May 11th. The San Diego Chargers honored Seau at Qualcomm Stadium with approximately 20000 fans in attendance.

Guest speakers included former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts (who never actually played with Junior), former linebacker and team mate Billy Ray Smith, former coach of the 1994 AFC champion Chargers Bobby Ross, former NFL safety John Lynch, who grew up near Oceanside in Encinitas, and former team mate Ladainian Tomlinson.  Also in attendance were Seau’s mom, dad and children, also  John Elway and Peyton Manning were sitting next to each other.

Dan Fouts enlightened the crowd by saying he was happy he did not have to play against Seau, but could ask Elway how it felt to get hit by him. Fouts added advice, “If you need help, get help. Swallow your pride.”

The San Diego Chargers have been known for the great offensive players they have had in the 50 plus years of the franchise. From Lance Alworth to Antonio Gates, former coach Don “Air” Coryell changed the game with spread offenses and downfield passing attacks. Fouts pointed out that his team’s could have used Junior Seau. Seau was without a doubt the best defensive player the Chargers have ever had. The NFL HOF named Seau to the 1990s All Decade First Team Defense.

Few athletes get the opportunity to play for their hometown team. Most boys’ dream of playing professionally for their local team, for those that are athletically gifted enough, playing professionally anywhere is an honor. For the five best collegiate athletes, even a top ten selection, ecstatic to play for whoever selects them first. Junior Seau was a very gifted athlete, played quarterback in high school and had a large Samoan family spread all over San Diego County.

Seau played collegiately for the USC Trojans, remaining in Southern California. In the 1990 draft, Seau was selected fifth overall by the Chargers. San Diego has had a flurry of NFL talent play high school football like Heisman winners Marcus Allen, Rashaan Salaam, Ricky Williams and Reggie Bush. Seau was able to return home and take his team to its only Super Bowl appearance. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they played the San Francisco 49ers, one of the best teams ever assembled.

Seau was Mr. San Diego in football, much the same as Tony Gwynn was Mr. San Diego in baseball. Gwynn attended San Diego State, excelling in baseball and basketball. Unlike Gwynn, who only played for the Padres, Seau was traded away in 2003 to the Miami Dolphins, despite making a 12th consecutive pro bowl in 2002. Second year coach Marty Shottenheimer claimed the team wanted to get younger, the following season, the Chargers were last in points allowed.

For conspiracy theorists, Seau was traded to Miami one day after the late John Butler passed away from lung cancer. New GM A.J. Smith took over control of the team. The Chargers owned the 15th overall selection, but Smith traded down to the 30th pick, this unsettled some Charger faithful that would have wanted another Samoan from USC, named Troy Polamalu. Dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb. Smith’s first pick as Chargers GM was cornerback Sammy Davis from Texas A&M. In hindsight, next pick by the Raiders was corner back Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Chargers got younger and finished with the worst record in the NFL in 2003. The most lasting impression of Seau in another uniform for Charger fans was in 2008, the AFC title game between the Chargers and New England Patriots. The Chargers had the ball in the third quarter on New England’s 4 yard line, it was 3rd and 1 and the Pats led 14-9. Backup tailback Michael Turner took the hand-off and was dropped for a two yard loss by Junior Seau, Seau raced through the Chargers line untouched. The Chargers settled for a field goal to make the score 14-12, and would go on to lose 21-12.

It’s amazing how hall of famers can still play up in the game’s biggest moments on the game’s biggest stages. 38 year old Tony Gwynn was limited to just 127 games for the Padres due to knee pains. Yet, in the World Series against the New York Yankees, the Padres were swept 4-0, but Tony Gwynn batted .500 (8 for 16).

The Chargers had a stout defense in 2007 with help from outside pass rushers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, but I can’t help to think that the leadership of Junior Seau wouldn’t have helped the Chargers reach at least one more Super Bowl with offensive weapons like LT and Antonio Gates.

No Charger has worn number 55 since 2002, and no Charger ever will. Junior Seau’s career, much like his life, ended far too shortly in San Diego. 

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