I met Junior Seau once. The story can be found here. I loved him, and reading this oral history brought me to tears more than once. Rest in Peace, Buddy.
The Man Who Loved to Hit
Jay Michael Auwae (friend): I once asked Junior what the biggest hit was that he could recall. He said, "Buddy, it wasn't in a game. It was in practice. Natrone Means was talking trash; I was talking trash. I said, ‘Bring it on!' " Junior said Natrone hit him so hard, and he hit Natrone so hard, that they both were knocked out.
It says so much about football that that is simultaneously the saddest and best part of the entire oral history. I would pay money to be at this practice, where two massive humans that did nothing better than they did hit other people letting it all out for one ferocious collision. This is old school football at its best and, yet, the fact that both men were knocked out also makes it old school football at its worst.
Aaron Taylor (Chargers guard, ex-teammate, friend): I personally watched him take multiple injections, because he was in front of me in line for them. The 'Caine sisters: Marcaine, lidocaine. Toradol and steroidals to calm down inflammation. I can't say for certain what it was he took, but I would imagine they're not going to give him anything different than what we would've gotten for similar injuries. It was what you did.
This is terrifying. We've all heard about the nearly superhuman lengths that NFL players go to in order to suit up every Sunday, but wow...this is a scary procession of really, really powerful drugs.
Warren Moon (NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, friend): One thing I read that was peculiar to me-he had never been diagnosed with a concussion. That tells me he wasn't reporting what was wrong with him. For a guy that played linebacker for twenty years, somewhere in there he would've had a concussion.
That's the rub, isn't it? Junior didn't report a single concussion throughout his entire twenty years in the NFL. You'd like to think that nowadays the new player safety protocol would have intervened at times, but the culture of the NFL is displayed in another quote from the history:
Taylor: You cannot show vulnerability in the locker room. It's despised. Who wants to be a bitch?
"What Do You Do with Your Day Now?"
Taylor: The amount of adrenaline and endorphins that is released into our bodies when we run out of a tunnel or make a great play-there's nothing that can replace that [after we retire]. But it doesn't mean that we don't try-and that's where we get into trouble.
I can't get over the rush I felt from a high school and college "career." I have no idea how an NFL athlete used to being watched by literally millions of people could ever be persuaded to hang up the cleats.
Dale Yahnke (Junior's financial adviser): I'll just put it this way-he was very generous. I can't comment on the other side. I have opinions on it, but I can't comment on it.
Taylor: He was a guy from the hood who had made it. He was an icon, and I think because of that, he had a hard time saying no.
I had no idea that despite making millions of dollars in his playing days, Junior ended up nearly destitute by the time it was all said and done.
Yahnke: I think deep down, Junior was lonely. He had a lot of what he would call buddies, but I don't think there was anybody that he could truly open up his soul to.
This is heartbreaking. Hundreds of thousands of San Diegans (and eventually Miamians and New Englanders,) loved Junior. It's awful to speculate, but you just wish Junior had found someone he could have opened his heart to the way that fans seemed to do to him.
From Ali to Urkel
Taylor: He was a beaten-down man. His confidence was gone. He seemed worn-out. It was hard for him to articulate coherent thoughts. There was a degradation of the dude that I remember playing with. I played with Muhammad Ali, and I had lunch with a guy that showed up with the machismo of Urkel. He looked like a crackhead walking in off the street. He said, "I need help. I don't know what to do. I'm an addict of a lot of things. Tell me what to do, man."
I...have nothing to say. I've read this quote at least ten times in the last five minutes, and I can't help but tear up every single time.
Taylor: We went to a meeting of a twelve-step program. He introduced himself as an addict and shared where he was at. I knew how much courage it took, because I know how hard it was for me, and I was a nobody as a player. Everybody in San Diego knew what happened with his car. I was very encouraged. But pretty quickly after that, he went dark.
I cannot even begin to fathom the courage it must have taken Junior, a pillar of the community and a beacon of hope to the youth of Oceanside, to attend a meeting. To me, that courage is what we should all take from Junior. There's help out there if you need it, and are courageous enough to stand up and say, "I cannot do this alone."
The Life and Afterlife of Junior Seau
Means: I remember when I left San Diego in 1996 and went to Jacksonville. I was thinking, "I guess every NFL team has a Junior Seau linebacker." I'm out there that first day of practice, I'm looking around, I'm like, "Okay, where's the Junior Seau at?" You see a lot of guys who look the part, but I'm like, "Naw, that's not the one.... No, that's not the guy...." That's when it really hit me: "Oh shit. Okay, now I get it."
Remember Junior. If his struggles help anyone that needs it, then at least something good can come of this tragedy.
Rest in peace, Buddy.
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