The first time I saw Junior Seau's name was a San Diego Union-Tribune story on his Oceanside High basketball team when I was playing the sport. He was notorious in San Diego county for being a monster on the court. Every person who ever saw him play knew he was going to be a professional athlete. And nobody ever had a bad thing to say about him personally.
Seau would end up making his mark in football at the University of Southern California and later in the NFL. It was a dream come true for Junior and his hometown when the Chargers took him fifth in the 1990 NFL draft.
In 1994 he led the Charger defense and the rest of the team to their only Super Bowl appearance. He would be traded in 2003 to the Miami Dolphins on a sad day for the city. Seau came out of retirement in 2007 to play for the New England Patriots and made a trip back to the Super Bowl by making a tackle keeping the Chargers out of the New England end zone.
He was a role model in the San Diego community. His Junior Seau Foundation has been a resource for youth since 1992. He also was the owner of a popular restaurant not far from Qualcomm Stadium that serves up some of his mother's recipes.
A short lived show, Sports Jobs with Junior Seau, gave Junior a chance to show off his personality. There was nothing quite like seeing him help turn over the TD Garden in Boston over from hockey to basketball.
All was not rosy for the future Hall of Fame linebacker. He went through a divorce in 2002. In 2010 he mysteriously drove his car off a cliff and took a 100 foot plunge. It was after being arrested for domestic violence against a girlfriend. This morning Junior Seau was found dead in his beach front home from a self inflicted bullet wound to the chest.
The city of San Diego is in mourning over losing a hero. Those of us who grew up at the same time as Junior are in mourning as well. My facebook page lit up with sadness from my high school friends.
There is sometimes an assumption that men like Seau must be happy. They have money. They have popularity. They have the reward of being able to help others.
The speculation has already begun. There has been talk that the harsh game of football can cause neurological damage and may be responsible for suicides that are happening.
There is also the story of the 1994 San Diego Charger Super Bowl curse. Seau is the eighth player from the 53 member team to pass away. An amazing number since most of those players are now in their forties.
Football is a dangerous game that takes a toll on the body. The temptations of money can never be underestimated. And even the best of us can have personal failures in life. We may never know what pushed Junior over the edge.
Seau should be remembered as a hero. He lived his life admirably. His tale should also be one of caution for all of us. No matter how great things may appear on the outside it never hurts to pay close attention to those around you and ask.
It turns out that even a man as accomplished as Junior Seau may have demons he can not escape. In the end his struggles may be no different than a teenager in the Alaska Bush.
And if you are the one thinking about it, ask for help. There is no shame in admitting it.