|Dean Spanos, owner and team president, officially retired the number 55 in honor of Junior Seau during the Celebration of Life for Junior Seau ceremony on Friday. “No one has worn 55 since Junior Seau,” Spanos said. “No one will ever replace him in this community.” (US PRESSWIRE)|
On Friday evening in Qualcomm Stadium, Junior Seau's "Celebration of Life" was exactly that. There were no long faces, but fond remembrances of, in the words of San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, "the most charismatic" athlete the city had ever seen.
Seau, who played 20 NFL seasons, died nine days ago of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. More than a week later, the loss is still difficult for former coaches, players, and fans to comprehend. A recurring theme from the night: Seau was beloved and revered for his passion, his loyalty and his commitment, not only to football, but to his family, friends and teammates.
Former Chargers head coach Bobby Ross called Seau more than "A very special player, but a very special person as well."
"Many words describe Junior," Ross began. "Passion -- for life, for football, for the Chargers, for the people of San Diego, and for people in general. Always positive, upbeat, and always a smile -- I'll never forget that smile. He was compassionate. He cared about people. … I don't believe there has ever been a player in the NFL … that has done more for that city than what Junior Seau has done for San Diego. … Your spirit and passion will always be with us."
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One of the most popular players in Chargers history, LaDainian Tomlinson, spoke eloquently about his former teammate. "He had an infectious style about him that made everybody want to be like him," Tomlinson said. "… He taught me the true meaning of giving back to a community … it was all because of him -- he was so special that he encouraged me … and to this day I'm doing the same thing because of him."
The evening truly was a celebration, and between the fond memories and high praise for what Seau meant to those he came in contact with, this was also a gathering of Chargers' faithful, which meant that any mention of the Raiders was promptly met with vociferous boos.
Mayor Sanders joked that "Perhaps the highest compliment of all, (Seau) was always the object of the loudest, nastiest, stupidest chants from the knuckle-dragging hoard of subhumans otherwise known as Raider fans."
And coach Ross told this story: "When we played the Raiders in Oakland, they always had the fans very close to the field. They had this one guy who would put on shoulder pads, helmet, all this sort of thing," Ross said. "We get into the pregame warm-ups and (quarterback) Stan Humphries is throwing nothing but long balls. And I'm saying, 'Stan, what the hell's going on? Quit throwing those long balls.'
"He said, 'I gotta tell you coach, Junior told me that if I hit that guy in the stands, he'd give me $1,000.'"
Dan Fouts, arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Chargers, celebrated Seau's life, but he delivered perhaps the most important message of the night.
"I know this is an evening of celebration," he said, "but there's no hiding the fact that Junior's passing is a tragedy. It's a tragedy for his family, for his countless friends, for his teammates and coaches. A tragedy for the community of San Diego, for Charger fans and football fans everywhere.
"And with all tragedies, there are lessons to be learned. Lessons that must be learned by all of us. The lesson here is: if you need help, get help. It's out there. All you have to do is swallow your pride and ask for it. We all need help at times. We can all do a better job of helping each other."
Finally, the words of Tomlinson: "Mama Seau, Papa Seau, it's time for you to take a bow. … (Junior) is still in everybody he touched because of the things you taught him. Don't be sad today, be happy, because he lives through us. He lives through us."
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