On Wednesday, May 2nd 2012, former USC legend Junior Seau was found dead at his Oceanside, California home, of an apparent suicide. Just three weeks ago, Seau stood on the sidelines of USC’s spring game, providing insight and inspiration to the Trojans to come in his wake.
Seau was just 43 years old.
There are not enough words to express how devastating of a loss this is to not only his family, but also the Trojan family, San Diego Chargers, and New England Patriots fans alike.
Before he was an NFL Pro Bowler, Junior Seau was a linebacker at USC, terrorizing opponents from the middle of the field. From 1986-1989, Seau donned the coveted No. 55, a number at USC that is synonymous with excellence. He had to sit out his freshman year for academic reasons, but after that it was pretty much game over. He lettered in his final two years at ‘SC, and in the 1989 season he posted 19 sacks. At the end of the season, he was a unanimous 1st Team All-American selection.
Seau left USC after his junior year and was a first-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft to the San Diego Chargers. He was the 5th overall pick, and quickly went to work establishing himself as one of the most popular Chargers of all time. He started 15 of 16 games during his rookie season and was named a 1991 Pro Bowl alternate after recording 85 tackles. In the following season, he had 129 tackles and seven sacks, and was named to the ’92 Pro Bowl. In 1994, he helped lead the Chargers to their championship appearance against the San Francisco 49ers.
This was the first of ten consecutive Pro Bowl appearances for Seau.
In 2003, Seau was traded to the Miami Dolphins. He started 15 games for Miami and had 133 tackles on the season. The next year though, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was limited to eight games. After that, he suffered an Achilles injury, and was put on the injured reserve.
In 2006, Seau announced that he would retire from football altogether, but just four years later he was back, and would be playing for the New England Patriots. He would end his illustrious career with the Pats, and in 2007 was even named one of the seven team captains.
At the end of his career in 2010, Junior Seau had racked up an incredible amount of accolades: 12-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro selection, two-time AFC champion, AFC Player of the Year (1994), UPI AFC Player of the Year (1992), NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1992), NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year (2003), 1990s All-Decade team member, San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer, and he was named to the San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary team.
Junior Seau was actively involved with giving back to his Oceanside community through his self-named foundation, and was generally adored and revered by many.
Just two years ago, Seau briefly made headlines from driving his car off of a cliff. At the time, he insisted that he had merely fallen asleep at the wheel, and that he was not trying to hurt himself. In hindsight, that very easily may have been Seau’s cry for help.
We don’t know—and we can never know, for that matter—what motivated someone so highly regarded, so decorated, so beloved by the Trojan Family and Chargers Nation alike to take his life. Many will speculate however that it may have had something to do with sustaining repeated head injuries over the course of his careers. This has been the case for many a retired athlete; just last year for Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest, and requested to have his brain donated to the NFL for research. Seau too shot himself in the chest, after texting his wife and children that he loved them.
As much as we as Americans love our hard-hitting, bone-crushing football, it is heartbreaking stories like this that should make us all take a step back and wonder, is it worth it?
Junior Seau was surely not the first Trojan to don No. 55, but he was the reason that so many Trojans who came after him wanted to share the honor. Without Seau, there would be no Keith Rivers or LaMar Dawson. Heck, there probably would never be a Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, or Rey Maualuga either. Seau’s game play inspired a generation of Trojan linebackers, and for that, all of us in Troy Land are forever grateful.
We can only hope that going forward, more athletes come forward with the demons they are facing so that things like this do not have to tear apart the lives of loved ones, friends, and fans.
Rest In Peace, Junior Seau. We hope that you find the inner calm that so evaded you here on earth.
Fight On Forever.
Junior Seau (Jan. 16, 1969-May 2, 2012)