Junior Seau: A Look Back at USC LB's Historic Trojan Legacy

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IMay 3, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 21:  Junior Seau #55 of the University of Southern California Trojans walks the field during the NCAA game against the University of Notre Dame fighting Irish on October 21, 1989 in South Bend, Indiana The Notre Dame won 28-24.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Junior Seau's impact goes far beyond football. He understood life was about more than that, and he worked to improve the lives of those around him.

Seau, 43, was reportedly found dead on Wednesday morning with a gunshot wound to his chest, according to ESPN. Police are investigating whether his death was a suicide.

His death in Oceanside, Calif. came as a complete shock to the local community and the world. Seau, who was known for his outgoing, genial personality, seemed like the last person this could happen to. But there the news was, in plain sight, and overwhelming sadness and heartache followed, from his family, to his former teammates, to his fans, to anyone who followed his life.

As legendary a football player as Seau was, you don't talk about his career before you talk about who he was as a person and what he meant to the community and those who got to know him.

Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood told the North County Times on Wednesday:

He was a local hero—he certainly gave back to the community and to the youth through his Junior Seau Foundation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Seau created the Junior Seau Foundation in 1992. The foundation's mission statement reads: "To educate and empower young people through the support of child abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs."

The foundation had just celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Junior Seau Celebrity Golf Classic from March 10-12.

Perhaps what was so shocking about the news on Wednesday was that Seau always seemed so happy, so energetic and so full of life. He inspired an entire generation of young football players, and his reach extended to young children in need. He was a beacon of hope for a lot of people, and a friend to many. He called those around him "buddy," and there never was any pretense. 

According to ESPN, over 100 people showed up at Seau's doorstep just hours after the announcement. People brought flowers and wore San Diego Chargers jerseys in his honor. The scene outside his home was heart-breaking.

Seau will always be known as the original No. 55 at USC, a number worn by other Trojans linebackers, including Jack Del Rio, Chris Claiborne, Willie McGinest, Keith Rivers and Lamar Dawson. He was the man who began a movement that saw countless USC linebackers enter the NFL. He also inspired "Club 55." Every season, USC coaches carefully select which incoming freshman linebacker will wear the prized number, expecting excellence out of anyone who wears it.  

Seau's legendary status at USC began in the 1989 season, when he posted 19 sacks en route to an unanimous first-team All-American selection. He led the Trojans to an undefeated Pac-10 season, culminating in their Rose Bowl victory against No. 3 Michigan. Led by Seau, USC held the Wolverines to just 11 first downs in the 17-10 triumph.

But not even Seau's stats and accomplishments in 1989 did him justice. He was virtually unblockable, and he simply wanted it more than anybody else on the field. His heart was unquestioned, and it burned on throughout his life. His impact at the linebacker position at USC may never be matched.  

Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL, and he was the leader of the Chargers for 13 of them. He racked up 1,849 tackles and 56.5 sacks in his career. On the football field, he may best be remembered for playing through a pinched nerve in his neck in San Diego's 17-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995's AFC Championship game. He recorded 16 tackles in that game.

On Wednesday, he became the eighth member of the Chargers' lone Super Bowl team who had died, all before the age of 45.

Seau was a 12-time Pro Bowler and a legend at USC, but he will mostly be remembered for how he treated those around him.

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