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Thank You, Junior Seau

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Today, perhaps the greatest San Diego Chargers of all time gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thanks for the memories, Junior.

Harry How/Getty Images

The first Chargers game I ever went to was on September 14, 1997.  I was five years old and the Chargers were playing the Carolina Panthers. It was morbidly hot and my dad had brought a little Chargers booster seat for me to sit on - though I spent the entire game standing on it, peering over the horde of people in front of me to try and catch a glimpse of what was going down on the field.

Back then, my dad and I had season tickets in Field Section 6 which meant our seats were at about the 38-yard line and behind the opposing team's bench and thus, we spent the of the afternoon baking in the sun, getting jeered at by Panthers fans. By game's end my legs ached, my face was sunburnt, I was drenched in sweat - and the Chargers had lost 26-7.

I was hooked.

Amid watching Stan Humphries try and complete passes to the likes of Freddie Jones and Bryan Still when not handing the ball off to Terrell Fletcher, there were moments in between that weren't so painful - for me at least.

Junior Seau was a missile masquerading as a football player. He roamed the field tenaciously, unpredictably. He ran through the middle of the offensive line, brought down running backs, blew up fullbacks, and when he intercepted Kerry Collins late in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand, and wildly returned the ball 26 yards, I cheered harder than when Erric Pegram put the Chargers up 7-0 with a six-yard touchdown run.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Junior Seau was from my hometown  of Oceanside, maybe it was because I was wearing his No.55 jersey - a tiny, itchy thing, so old it was made by Starter - but Junior Seau became the reason I love football that day.

I can't really separate being a Chargers fan from being a fan of Junior Seau.

I was always going to be a Charger fan - my dad's been a season ticket holder since before I was born and if you can cover it in blue and gold and lightning bolts, it's probably somewhere in our house. Sure, I jumped and yelled and screamed as a toddler when the Chargers made a Super Bowl, but I was too young to remember any of that.

For me it all began with Junior.

I have two little Junior Seau action figures, a binder full of Junior Seau football cards, and my first ever Chargers jersey was that Starter jersey, I assume made out of sandpaper. Wearing that on hot Sundays at Qualcomm Stadium, baking in the sun, sweat pouring sweat, was miserable.

Watching Junior play was not.

Up until the Chargers drafted LaDainian Tomlinson in the Spring of 2001, getting the chance to see Junior Seau play football was the only thing that made watching Chargers games remotely stomachable. He was unpredictable, unbridled, and at times, unstoppable.

As I grew older and gained a greater understanding of the nuance involved in the game, I in turn developed a greater appreciation for what Junior Seau did, and could, do. There might not be a better linebacker in the history of the NFL that was better at blitzing the A gap. Junior could time the snap so well, explode between the guard and center with such ferocity and relentlessness, it made you pity the poor running back or quarterback who would inevitably come face-to-face with Junior - the offensive linemen weren't going to touch him.

But what made him truly great, what made him a hero to me, and Chargers fans like me, isn't so much what he did, but how he did it.

Junior brought a ferocity, a passion, and an appreciation for the game few have had. The way he ran around the field before the snap, the way he relentlessly pursued running backs, and the way he stomped his feet and nodded his head and pumped his fist - that's what it was to be a football player.

This has been a tough week. From the whole Sydney Seau fiasco to the Hall of Fame putting Junior in a Patriots jersey - I nearly threw up writing that - seemingly nothing has gone the way it should in honoring perhaps the greatest San Diego Charger of all time.

Of course, Junior not being here to enjoy and celebrate the moment that he so rightly earned, makes it all the more tough.

But now that this day is finally here - bittersweet as it is - I'm going to choose to remember Junior the way I did when I was five: unencumbered, unyielding, free.

So it doesn't matter what jersey they show Junior in, because it certainly can't replace the memories he gave all of us on and off the field for so many years.

Just like you can never replace him.

Congrats, Junior.