“The hardest hit I’ve ever experienced was the hit I put on Bo Jackson,” the mellow voice said on the other end of the phone. “And I think I got the worst of it!”
In 2009 I had the opportunity to interview Junior Seau, and the one question that stayed on the tip of my tongue throughout the entire conversation was what the greatest hit he ever laid on a ballcarrier was. To hear him laugh while talking about how Bo Jackson once got the best of him is forever embedded in my memory.
Seau graced the television screen every Sunday throughout the fall while I was growing up. He was one of the best the game has ever seen and he left an impression on those of us that had the privilege of watching him play. He didn’t play for fame or glory. He wasn’t out there because he had to “get paid” or because he was simply blessed with terrific athletic ability.
Seau played the game hard because that’s what he was about and he knew that his teammates relied on him. In our chat, he told me that after 20 seasons what he loved most about the game was the locker room camraderie. He said, “You have to realize that we have 53 different cultures, different mentalities, and different personnel. And we have to find a way in two months to put it all together when we’re all fighting for the same purpose. That was exciting.”
There was nothing fake about Seau. The man took the field every Sunday dripping in passion and raw energy. As kids we tried to emulate his big hits by always running full speed, but something I didn’t realize until much later in life was how prepared he always was. He was smart, he was instinctive, and he was aggressive because he anticipated every situation. Everyone marveled at the end product (i.e. his bone crushing hits) but looking back the thing that was most impressive was how he got to the ballcarrier. He simply knew the game.
Junior Seau committed suicide on Wednesday. He was 43 years old, which is much too young for anyone to die. Whether or not he was another victim of neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions like Dave Duerson is a topic for another day. Today is about remembering the player that used to make us all say “ow” on Sundays.
Seau will go down in the annals of football lore. That’s what 12 Pro Bowls, 1,849 tackles and 56.5 sacks will do for a player. I can also say from experience that he was a standup individual and someone you wanted to be around regardless of his athletic career.
“You don’t plan on something like this,” Seau once said. “You go through your journey and you hope that one day you earn a little love back and some respect.”
You’ve earned many people’s love and respect, Junior. May you rest in peace.