Hall of a career? Junior Seau retires after 13 seasons
SAN DIEGO -- Junior Seau ended his NFL career as only he could, with a news conference that was part revival meeting and part standup comedy. And he offered a straight-ahead reason why he's leaving after 16 seasons, all but three spent with the San Diego Chargers.
"It's pretty easy. When a team doesn't want you or need you, retire buddy," the 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker said to laughter from a crowd of about 300 at Chargers headquarters that included family, friends, players and team executives.
Seau didn't pump his fists like he used to after practically every tackle and sack during his remarkable career. He didn't cry, either, although his voice cracked momentarily as he offered a closing prayer.
"Don't think you're going to come here and get a press conference where I'm going to cry," he said. "Listen, I win. I'm not going to cry. You know what? I won."
Seau was the live-wire leader of his hometown team from 1990 until being unceremoniously jettisoned in the spring of 2003. He played three less-productive years with the Miami Dolphins, who released him in March.
He was one of the NFL's greatest linebackers and helped the Chargers reach their only Super Bowl.
Before the news conference, Seau, 37, said he feels fine after injuries cut short his last two seasons with Miami.
"I'm healthy, I can play and there are teams out there that had interest, but they just didn't need [me]," Seau said. "They wanted me, but they didn't need me. I'm not a player than can play by just wanting to play the game. I'm a guy that needs to win, and they go hand in hand."
Junior Seau is one of four players to make 12 straight Pro Bowls since the 1970 merger. The others: Bruce Matthews (14, 1988-2001), Reggie White (13, 1986-1998) and Randall McDaniel (12, 1989-2000). The next-longest streaks by linebackers are 10 seasons by Mike Singletary (1983-1992) and Lawrence Taylor (1981-1990).
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During the news conference, Seau both quoted from scripture and offered a message to the current players.
"You probably thought you were going to hear about football. It ain't about football anymore, all right? I'm going to tell you the truth: Respect the game. Love the game. Stop pushing the game away, youth. Because you know what? The game is going to go anyway. The game's going to leave you anyway. So why not embrace it? I loved that game."
Then, he quipped: "I almost cried."
"So please, understand when I say this," Seau added, "I'm not retiring. I am graduating. Today is my graduation day. Retirement means that you'll just go ahead and live on your laurels and surf all day in Oceanside. It ain't going to happen."
Seau was noncommittal about his future, whether it be coaching or broadcasting.
"It could include evangelism or the 9 o'clock slot on Comedy Central," said master of ceremonies Dick Enberg.
"That was his finest hour," said coach Marty Schottenheimer, who fancies himself as a skilled orator. "He captivated everybody." Schottenheimer coached against Seau for nine seasons in Kansas City, then coached him in his final year in San Diego.
"He's one of a kind," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who asked a serious question so his younger teammates could hear how Seau prepared himself for games.
Seau ragged on long snapper David Binn for having an easy job, noting that the 13-year veteran will break his record for most games played with the Chargers.
Binn responded by asking, "Can we get our discount at Seau's The Restaurant?"
Seau didn't go out the way he always figured he would -- as a Charger. The team wasn't able to clear a roster spot to allow him to sign a one-day contract before retiring.
Seau said he had no remorse he wasn't able to finish with the Chargers. He mentioned players such as Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana and Joe Namath, who didn't finish with their original teams.
"That's the business of the game. I'm not the only one and I won't be the last," he said.
"There's nobody that loved playing more than Junior," former Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard said. "Any organization should be as fortunate as the Chargers were to have Junior."
Seau grew up in suburban Oceanside, starred at Southern California and was Beathard's first draft pick as Chargers GM, taken fifth overall in 1990.
Seau knew only one speed -- as fast as possible.
"He brought something to the game that very few people have brought to the game -- he made people around him better," Beathard said. "He's got the passion that is unlike anybody else. He's just incredible. Besides being a great athlete, it's the intangibles that some guys have, but a good percentage don't have. He's unique in that sense."
In helping the Chargers upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1994 AFC championship game, Seau spread his 16 tackles from the first play to the next-to-last one despite a pinched nerve in his neck. His interceptions and fumble recoveries sometimes led to reckless returns, and one of his wildest was a pickoff of John Elway that saved a 37-34 win in the 1994 opener at Denver.
Seau, who used to refer to his teammates as "my players," will be inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame on Nov. 5.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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