“So?” I asked one of the editors in the San Diego Union sports department.
“No, say-ow,” he corrected me.
This was in the 1980s, when I was a relative newbie in Southern California, and still working the twang out of my accent. I was asking about the proper way to pronounce “Seau,” the last name of that linebacker phenom at Oceanside High. Understand that even then, Southern California was quite the melting pot, and that the north part of San Diego County was home to a large contingent of Samoans. And who says men don’t ask for directions?
It was my first and only real contact with the fellow who went on to stardom with USC and later was the soul of the only San Diego Chargers team to reach a Super Bowl. But those types of contacts are the ones I remember the most, kind of like those junior golf stories the San Diego paper would run about golf phenom Phil Mickelson during the same era.
So the news Wednesday really hit home, when I read that Seau apparently had shot himself to death in that same Oceanside community where he rose to fame.
To a lesser extent, it raised some eyebrows when I heard this week that the son in law of a family friend died in his 40s of a heart attack. The son in law was a former University of Alabama football player.
And of course, my own father, a former college football player, never made it to age 50 before being taken out by cardiac arrest.
I’m not all-knowing, but such things aren’t normal. You have to be a good athlete to get a college football scholarship, but something has to be wrong for someone not to live to age 50. In these cases, there was no traffic accident, terrorist attack, or other cause inflicted from outside.
You’re not going to get an answer here, but you’re going to get some thoughts.
John Elway had a long NFL career, but he didn’t have to butt heads on every play with 250 pounders. You gotta have guys to clear the way for the stars, but after the glory goes, those grunts don’t get any endorsements. The spear carriers still have to fend for themselves in the real world.
That’s why it was so difficult to hear about Seau. He was a cut above the usual banger. He was able to leave USC after just two years to join the NFL. A 245-pounder with speed, he was a celebrity in San Diego, a provincial area that loves its local sports teams. Understand that the Chargers paved the way in that area; the team dates to the early days of the old AFL. If there had been no Chargers, there would have been no Padres.
Seau had a huge restaurant in Mission Valley, the heart of the city, during his glory days, and it was indeed a cool place. There were all those “Say Ow” souvenirs. Also, he tweaked the Chargers by holding his “retirement” announcement there instead of at Chargers HQ when he was not completely satisfied with the situation. As emphasis, he later turned up with the New England Patriots.
So there was plenty of money in those days, but the aches and pains of playing days sometimes never go away.
Know that I still am grappling for reasons why such a thing happened.
So RIP, Junior Seau. And all you others. You made it look easy. Obviously, easier than it really was.