The next afternoon Seau asked Ross for permission to address the team, and just as he started to apologize for letting everybody down, he was overcome with emotion and began sobbing. "It'll never happen again," he said through his tears. Ross and Plummer had to put their arms around Seau to console him.
"People don't hold themselves accountable for what they do," Seau says. "I wanted to stand up and say, 'It's my fault. Let's not play guessing games. Don't talk behind my back. I'll take the blame. O.K., now, let's go on.' "
Says Plummer, "He's the last person anybody would blame for a loss. Junior expects perfection out of everybody, but especially himself."
Seau learned that from his parents, who were born on the island of Aunuu in American Samoa. In 1964, when their oldest child, David, was four, he developed a lung disease, and the family decided to move to San Diego, where Luisa's sister and brother-in-law were stationed in the Navy, to seek expert medical treatment. As a gesture of love to the family they were leaving behind in Samoa, Tiaina took his paternal grandmother's last name, Seau.
Though neither Tiaina nor Luisa knew much English, Tiaina took a job on the assembly line at a rubber company (he is now a school custodian), and Luisa found work in the Camp Pendleton Marine commissary and in a laundromat. They earned enough to pay for lung surgery for David, but money was always tight, especially in '69, when their fifth child, Tiaina Jr., who would be called Junior, was born.
The bedroom for Junior and his three brothers was the family's one-car garage, with its concrete floor, leaky roof and lack of insulation. The beds were wedged between a dishwasher, cleaning supplies and piles of Polynesian floor mats. Portable heaters kept them warm on chilly nights, and Motown oldies—"garage tunes," Junior calls them—kept them happy.
"My two sisters, who lived inside the house, always bragged that they had a carpet in their bedroom," recalls Junior. "But we'd say, 'So what? We have the biggest door in the whole place.' "
On many mornings, before his brothers were awake, Junior would climb out of bed and quietly lift dumbbells in front of a mirror in the garage. At day's end he would flop on the floor for hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups, and for good measure he would trek out to the backyard for a dozen chin-ups, dangling from the limb of a big maple tree.
While Junior worked to shape his body, Tiaina, whose grandfather had been the chief of a village in Pago Pago, educated his son in other ways. Tiaina was not averse to raising a hand to his sons. "There were a lot of spankings—with sticks, shoes, whatever was laying around," says Junior's older brother Savaii. "If we even thought about going to the right after he told us to go to the left, we got our whippings."
Says Junior of his father, "He has killer eyes—one goes one way, the other the other way. You don't know if he's looking at you when he's speaking to you, and when he's sitting to your side, one eye follows you. It's intimidating. My friends used to be so afraid of him that they'd stand in the middle of Zeiss Street and call for me to come out and play."