The football world was rocked on Wednesday by the news that retired linebacker Junior Seau, who spent a dozen years with the San Diego Chargers, followed by stints with the Miami Dolphins, as well as the New England Patriots, died at just 43 years of age in what is being investigated as a suicide. Seau was found unconscious by his girlfriend, with a gun nearby – he appeared to have shot himself in the chest.
Seau is the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers team, which lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXIX, to die at a young age, and certainly the most notable player of that dubious group. Seau also was denied a Super Bowl ring in 2008, when the Patriots’ perfect season was extinguished by the New York Giants.
Due to the tragic and confounding nature of Seau’s death, ESPN and NFL Network devoted time to it on their air Wednesday. One of Seau’s teammates in his latter years with the Chargers organization was Marcellus Wiley (2001-03), an ESPN NFL analyst who just happened to be on the air co-hosting the midday program with Max Kellerman on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles when the news broke. (Podcast is here; skip to around the 18:00 mark.) Upon Kellerman relaying the news, Wiley says, “Junior… was easily the most talented, and the best person in one package that I ever met on the football field.” Wiley also called Seau ” the most likeable” teammate, and bore “that personality” where he was “everyone’s buddy.”
“I don’t want to believe it,” Wiley continued on the radio. “I also don’t want to accept that somebody who was that gregarious, that full of life, that this is the result.”
Wiley also appeared on ESPN television’s “NFL Live” to share more thoughts about Seau, including the last time he spoke to him. “Junior didn’t tell me anything that showed any cries for help… I remember the last time we talked, after we got off the phone, Junior texted me… Junior being the great player, the great person… my last text from him, is ‘I love you, Dat Dude…’ It doesn’t make sense, man. I just know how great a heart this guy had.
“Today is the worst day,” declared Wiley, holding back tears.
During ESPN’s coverage, they were continuously replaying an emotional reaction from Luisa, Junior’s mother, which appeared to have stuck a craw in the folks at Pro Football Talk. “Dear ESPN,” they tweeted, “can you please remove the video of Junior Seau’s grieving mother from the rotation? Thank you.”
I’d be curious to know if NBC Sports Network aired a second of that video on their air – Pro Football Talk is a unit of NBC Sports.
Meanwhile, NFL Network was also remembering Junior Seau, bringing on many of their former players-turned-analysts to respond to the news of his death – including one that was not heard from since around the time he fingered Jeremy Shockey as the Bountygate “snitch.”
That’s right: for the first time in just over a month, Warren Sapp, reportedly being released by NFL Network later this year and currently working on setting up a source of income to ease his creditors by moonlighting as a TV judge, dropped by the NFLN studios in Culver City to reflect on Seau. “Gone way too early,” Sapp said of Seau, calling the circumstances surrounding his death “unbelievable.” Sapp remembered Seau as “a great dude… Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face.
“Such a great dude, you would never think of him being in this situation.”
Sapp frequently referred to the “intensity” that Seau brought to the game. Sapp recalled how when the Buccaneers traveled to San Diego for a game against the Chargers in 1996, teammate Derrick Brooks would tell Sapp, “I gotta watch Junior… that’s the measuring stick by which I’ll be judged the rest of my life.” (Incidentally, Sapp, Brooks and their 2002-03 teammates would win a Super Bowl in San Diego.)
While Seau didn’t pursue a career as an NFL analyst, he did star in a reality series in 2009-10, “Sports Jobs with Junior Seau,” which ran on Versus (now known as NBC Sports Network); it lasted for ten episodes. Already, there are comments on this YouTube video of the show reading, “RIP Junior.”