|Former Chargers coach Bobby Ross remains one of Junior Seau's greatest fans. (Getty Images)|
Years ago an old friend of Bobby Ross told the former coach what people want to hear at funerals and memorial services, and it's that old friend who's speaking to Ross now.
"Tell the stories," Ross keeps hearing him say. "Don't let people forget."
So Bobby Ross will tell the stories of linebacker Junior Seau at Friday's "Celebration of Life" at Qualcomm Stadium. He'll tell how he first met the guy, how passionate Seau was about playing and practicing, how he would sometimes ask Ross if he could deliver pre-game speeches and how he always, always gave all that he had.
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"What I remember most is his love for the game," said Ross, "like no player I've ever coached at any level. I can remember post-game when he'd be so tired and so exhausted they'd have to cut his jersey off. He was so tired and had expended himself so much he couldn't raise his arms.
"A lot of people have asked what his best game was, and it's hard to say because he was as consistent as you'd want a guy to be. He never really had a bad game in my time there."
Ross coached the Chargers from 1992-96 and in 1994 led the club to its only Super Bowl appearance. His teams won their division twice and made the playoffs three times, and, yeah, it had something to do with quarterback Stan Humphries and running back Natrone Means, but mostly it had something to do with Junior Seau.
There was not a better player on the team.
It's that guy Ross will extol Friday when he gives a five-minute address to what is expected to be an overflow audience. Admission is free, and the Chargers say they're expecting a crowd of 50,000, but if you understand the hold Seau had on the city and its fans you know that estimate is conservative. There will thousands more, with Seau admirers waiting on speakers like Ross to tell them the stories they want to hear.
"One of the really significant things about Junior," said Ross, "was his consistency. In season, we'd have weigh-ins every Thursday, and, if I recall correctly, there was one time in all the five years I was there where Junior weighed less than 255 pounds. He was always 255 right on the dot. Only there was one day where he was 251 or something like that. The guy was remarkably consistent."
"What he's done in the city of San Diego is very, very evident -- with the money he raised from the [Junior Seau] golf tournament for the young kids in the city. I mean, there were times during Christmas time he would actually take kids with him and buy them gifts. Then, I didn't know this when I was there, but after a ballgame he'd go over to his restaurant and meet and greet people.
"I never saw him not upbeat. The only time I ever really saw him in any way down was when he missed one game for us, and that was in Indianapolis (1992). He'd been having trouble with a stinger the whole season, and we were afraid to play him. He took a warmup, felt good and said he could play. But we didn't let him. But he got over it and was just as animated on the sideline not playing as he was playing. Just a tremendous, tremendous human being."
Or even this.
"He loved to go to practice," said Ross. "He would be out there catching punts every day before practice, and I'd blow the whistle to start, and he'd come up to me and say, 'You know, coach, I can return punts.' And I said, 'Yeah, I know you could. But I'm not going to let you.'
"He could do anything. I personally think he was one of the five greatest players who ever played the game. I mean, there are a lot of great linebackers and there are a lot great defensive linemen and offensive linemen, but, after I left, they played Junior some at tight end. And if they played him there full time he would have been an All-Pro.
"I remember once when there was a game where we were short of 'D-linemen', and I asked him if he would play there. 'No question,' he said. 'Yes, sir. You want me to start practicing there today?' He could've been an All-Pro defensive lineman, too.
"Those are the things that stand out when I think about him. I think about his passion, his upbeat personality and his leadership. Some people lead by what they say, some by what they do. He led by both. He would say it, but he could back it up with how he played. "
Ross hadn't seen Seau since appearing at his golf tournament several years ago, but he heard from him in the past two weeks after Ross, unable to attend this year's tournament, sent a contribution to Seau's Foundation. It was a form letter addressed to Ross, but at the bottom was Seau's signature.
"And then," said Ross, "on the side was written a little note that said, 'Love, you, coach.' That was typical of Junior. Always a smile and always a passion for everything he did. He was a coach's dream. I consider it a privilege to have had an opportunity to work with him."