Labor of Love
Junior Seau, the consummate pro, pushes on for the lowly Chargers
Linebacker Junior Seau limped off the Chargers' charter late on the night of Oct. 1, the pain from the hamstring he had strained earlier that day in a 57-31 loss to the Rams shooting up his left leg. This was an injury that would sideline most players for two weeks, trainer James Collins had thought after examining Seau in St. Louis. But as he left the plane, Seau said to Collins, "See you at 5:30."
Sure enough, seven hours later Seau was sitting on Collins's table, his legs extended for a resistance exercise. Collins sat in front of Seau, cupping his palms under the linebacker's heels and instructing him to push his feet downward. "Three sets of 10," Collins said.
"No," Seau said. "Till I get tired."
After Seau had done 20 reps on his first set, Collins said, "Are you sure you're hurt?"
"Let's go!" Seau barked.
They did two more sets of 20, then various other exercises for 70 minutes. Next for Seau came a meeting of the Breakfast Club, the five players who participate in early-morning weightlifting. This was Seau's routine Monday through Friday.
On Oct 8, Seau played the entire game, picking up a team-high nine tackles in a 21-7 loss to the Broncos. He was back on the Monday-to-Friday regimen last week as he prepared for the Bills. Then, after a painful 27-24 overtime loss in Buffalo and a cross-country journey on Sunday night, Seau would be in the trainers' room again on Monday, the first day of the Chargers' bye week Never mind that San Diego is 0-7. All that matters to Seau is getting the hamstring right for the next game. "I don't know if you can understand, or if I can explain, the sheer will of this man," says Collins. "He has such a love of the game, a love of competition. He's reaching for something out there, something he may never reach, but he will use every fiber trying to get there."
The Chargers, whom Seau led to the Super Bowl at the end of the '94 season, are a mess, largely because of the questionable drafting practices of Bobby Beathard, the risk-taking general manager who retired last April. Beathard repeatedly traded future first-round picks so he could draft prospects, who didn't pan out. San Diego's roster now has the feel of an expansion team.
The franchise's woeful condition doesn't have just a psychological impact on Seau; it has an impact on the field as well. The secondary is so weak that opponents have no reason to attack the Chargers' strength, which is defending against the run, and the ferocious run-stuffing Seau, a nine-time Pro Bowl player. Witness what happened in St Louis: Rams coach Mike Martz called passes on his team's first 18 snaps to put San Diego in a 17-0 hole. "Junior's the best defensive player in the game," Martz said. "We were going to do everything we could to take him out of the game."