Most people are going to remember Junior Seau as the great football player he was. Understandably so. He was brilliant, a combination of speed and power that makes me think he might have missed his calling running the ball on the offense.
But that's not the enduring memory I have of Seau, who fatally shot himself in the chest on Wednesday morning.
Things are a bit grainy because my memory's going back further than his NFL domination with the Chargers or NCAA domination with USC.
Seau played for Oceanside High in the 1980s, and at the time, I worked at what was then called the Oceanside Blade-Tribune. This afforded me the opportunity to see a game—I think it was against rival El Camino. A basketball game.
Without the pads, without the helmet, one could see Seau in the rawest form. And he was a man. The Man. Among boys.
He looked like he belonged in the NFL even then as he moved up and down the court and stopped players in their tracks. He was the most muscular high school player I had ever seen—or have seen since. He had the intensity of a linebacker, which wasn't surprising, but I seem to recall his patting the referee on the shoulder in crunch time.
He had broad shoulders that stretched well beyond his mullet. I believe it was a mullet; like I said, I'm a little hazy, but his hair wasn't the most memorable aspect of his appearance.
Big, fast, strong. He ripped the ball away from an opponent and I was just left shaking my head. He was an extraordinary athlete. Orange County fans might remember Tony Gonzalez of Huntington Beach, who excelled at football and basketball. That was Junior Seau, except Seau was buffer and tougher in the paint.
Any success he had beyond Oceanside High was completely unsurprising to me. There are some guys who are special. You just know they have big things ahead of them.
Seau was one of the special ones. That was apparent even when he was still a boy which, today, is how I remember him.
It's how I usually remember him.