It might be said that the only thing Junior Seau loved more than surfing was football. The 43-year-old linebacker, who ended his life last week, always came back to the community of Oceanside, Calif., to get in the water and re-connect with his home. Just two days before his Wednesday suicide, Seau was in the water with his board. As a tribute to Seau's life and legacy, hundreds of surfers paddled out into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday afternoon in a ceremony to remember the future Hall of Famer.
The surfers hit the water with their hands, dropped leis in the water, raised their open hands to the heavens in a "five-five" tribute to Seau's jersey number, and chanted Seau's name in an hour-long memorial steeped in Polynesian tradition. Still more fans and friends stood on the rocky shore, chanting Seau's name.
One of those board-heads in the water was very well-known -- former San Diego Chargers and current New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
"Junior always cared so much about his teammates," Brees told the NFL Network. "He always wanted to know how you were doing, how [he] could help you. That's what I'll remember most about Junior -- just the smile on his face, his attitude and his infectious personality. We were in the water where I know Junior loved to be. It was a beautiful day because Junior is present here with us."
Brees, selected by the Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft, played with Seau in his first two NFL seasons. He signed with the Saints before the 2006 season as a free agent. Kicker John Carney, who played with Seau from 1990 through 2000, was also a part of the ceremony, as was fellow former teammate Darren Bennett.
"So many people out here have a story about when he told them a joke, or bought them a meal, signed their jersey or encouraged their child," Carney told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We're all grieving the loss of a great man who had so much positive impact on San Diego."
Seau was born in San Diego, and he was thrilled when his hometown team took him fifth overall in the 1990 draft following his outstanding career at USC. He played for the Chargers through the 2002 season, and went on to six more NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots in a career that spanned 20 seasons. But no matter where he went, the San Diego area was home for him, and that was reflected in the thoughts and recollections from his community.
"He stands for the heart of this place," Rodney Hall of Chula Vista said, when asked about the meaning of the ceremony. "It's this togetherness. It's like we're surrounding him right now. Even though he is not here, he is. It's like a big hug."
Cory Whitlock of Carlsbad used to surf with Seau all the time. "He was happy out there, he was stoked," Whitlock told the U-T. "In the water he didn't care about football. He didn't care about anything. He just wanted to surf with his friends."
Whitlock then looked out upon the open ocean. "Out there, there are no problems."