The Bungalow on Zeiss Street in the east-side neighborhood of Oceanside, Calif., was an oasis for Junior Seau and his family. There the Seaus disappeared into their own world to escape the violence that surrounded them. They spoke no English while at home, and they strictly adhered to their Samoan customs. Tiaina Seau dressed his three sons in wraparound skirts called lavalavas, and his wife, Luisa, sewed beautiful floor-length dresses, called muumuus, for the couple's two girls. The boys learned the Samoan slap dance, and the girls were taught the hula.
Twice each day, before breakfast and after dinner, Tiaina gathered his brood to pray on straw floor mats in the living room. A deacon at the First Samoan Congregational Church in Vista, Tiaina read to his children from the Bible and led the singing of Samoan hymns while banging on an old piano.
"Dad taught us about morals, values and goals," Junior recalls. "Having a tight-knit family was important to him. The one question he always asked us was, 'How do we protect the Seau name?' "
Today, Seau, the Pro Bowl linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, brings much honor ID the famih name. "I'm afraid of being average," Seau says. "I have a real fear of being just another linebacker." There is little chance of that. After only three seasons in the NFL, he is already considered the game's best inside linebacker, and before he is done he could become one of the best ever at his position.
Last season San Diego, under new coach Bobby Ross, started out 0-4 but finished 11-5, the biggest in-season turnaround in NFL history. The Chargers finished first in the AFC West and made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. The defense was the fourth best in the league, and Seau was the soul of that unit. At his urging, players linked hands in the defensive huddle. When the Charger offense scored, Seau would bolt into the end zone to offer congratulations.
At 6'3" and 250 pounds, Seau is an awesome specimen. He runs a 4.61 40, bench-presses 500 pounds, squats 670 and has a 38-inch vertical leap. In his off-season workouts Seau can easily outsprint his two dogs—Trojan, a golden retriever, and Heisman, a rottweiler—while running sets of 100-yard dashes. During games it is not unusual for him to rush a quarterback and suddenly reverse direction to chase a receiver and tackle him as far as 45 yards downfield. Against the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991, Seau came from behind to catch wide receiver Sam Graddy, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 4 x 100-meter relay and a silver medalist in the 100 meters.
And his competitive fire burns white-hot even during practice. At minicamp in May, in a drill pitting running backs against linebackers, Seau jammed Eric Bieniemy hard at the line and pushed him outside the cones. That disqualified Bieniemy, according to the rules of the drill, but the running back kept his balance and raced downfield to make the catch anyway. Seau was enraged at Bieniemy for not following the rules and at himself for giving up on the play before it was over.
"Come on back for more, Eric!" Seau yelled, butting in front of linebacker Gary Plummer, who was next in line for the drill. "Get over here!"
Bieniemy shook his head.
"No, Eric! Do it right!" Seau screamed. "Do it fair! We're going to do it again!"