As I looked down at the notification on my phone I couldn’t believe what it said: “Ex-NFL linebacker Junior Seau found dead.” I thought that this had to be a mistake, but it was a notification from USA Today; they wouldn’t just send something like this out unconfirmed. I was devastated to say the least. Growing up in Southern California and being a lifelong USC fan, I idolized Junior Seau. The way he played the game, the fire and passion that he played with, is something that I aspired to do. I can still see him flying all over the field, playing sideline to sideline. I can still see his big arms waving in the air as he called out defensive keys and audibles. He was animated like few others. This is the way that I choose to remember an all-time great, a legend that few can claim to rival.
Tiaina Baul Seau Jr., came to USC out of Oceanside which is located in the San Diego area and began to make is mark his junior year. That year he was named a unanimous first team All-American and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year after accounting for 19 sacks. He would forgo his senior year and declare for the 1990 NFL Draft. His hometown team, the San Diego Chargers, would pick him with the 5th pick of that draft.
Seau would leave a legacy of extremely high expectations for whoever put on his #55 jersey. Make no mistake about it, Seau was the charter member of Club 55. Many mistakenly believe that Jack Del Rio started this legacy, but Del Rio wore 52 while playing at Troy and did not wear 55 until he played with the Dallas Cowboys. Del Rio certainly falls into the legacy of great USC linebackers but Club 55, that was started by Seau.
His number would go on to be worn proudly by Willie McGinnest, Israel Ifeanyi, Chris Claiborne, Markus Steele, Keith Rivers, and Lamar Dawson who currently wears the number. McGinnest, Claiborne, and Rivers would go on to be high draft picks and make their marks in the NFL. However, no one wore 55 better than the founding father of Club 55.
After leaping to the NFL, Seau still wore his number 55. He would go on to be selected to 12 straight Pro Bowls. He is tied with Ray Lewis for number of Pro Bowl selections by an inside linebacker. He was one of the most dominate forces the NFL has ever seen, playing with tremendous instinct, intellect, and amazing athleticism. Few defensive players have become the face of the franchise like Seau was for the Chargers. In an NFL career that spanned 20 years, Seau would also play in two Super Bowls, once for the Chargers and once for the Patriots.
I don’t know what Seau was dealing with that would cause him to allegedly end his own life. Some have speculated that it could have been related to concussions that he sustained over his career. By all accounts he seemed himself on the USC sideline for the spring game. After hearing his ex-Chargers teammate, Marcellus Wiley discuss Seau on NFL Live yesterday, it seems that if Seau was dealing with something he wouldn’t show it. Wiley recalled how Seau wouldn’t get treatment in the team facilities because he didn’t want the other guys to see him at his worst. Instead he would bring in his own medical staff and get treatment in his room. This could give insight as to why no one saw this coming.
Regardless of how or why he died, Seau will always be a special player to me. He will always be in Trojan and NFL lore for how he played on the field and how he treated others off of it. For Lamar Dawson and anyone else that his special enough to but on that 55 jersey, you have a lot to live up to both on and off the field.
The founder of Club 55 will always be in our hearts. Fight On!