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Since Junior Seau died, I've been wondering about our part in all of this. The media's part, the hero-creating part, the Seau-as-superhero part. Did we lionize Seau for his toughness to the point where it was impossible for him to even consider asking for help? Superman never asks for help.
I've been replaying a scene from a Sunday in 2000 in my head over and over. It was an October afternoon in Orchard Park, N.Y., in the small trainers' quarters of the visitors' locker room, after the Chargers' 27--24 overtime loss to the Bills. The defeat dropped San Diego to 0--7. Seau was crestfallen, sitting on a trainers' table, his left hamstring getting mummified in ice, taking slugs from a bottle of Gatorade. "My broke hamstring," he said quietly.
He broke it—severely pulled it, actually—chasing the Greatest Show on Turf all over the field two weeks earlier in a humbling 57--31 loss to the Rams in which St. Louis threw on its first 18 plays. "Junior's the best defensive player in the game," Rams coach Mike Martz said that day. "We were going to do everything we could to take him out of the game." All of that intense sideline-to-sideline running popped the hammy, but Seau would not sit. Nor would he sit the following week in Denver or here in Buffalo.
After the game against the Bills, I described this in my piece for SI.
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 team plane [upon arrival in San Diego that night], 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.