For 13 years, there was a lightning bolt on the side of Junior Seau's helmet. As the logo for the San Diego Chargers, the bolt was there to symbolize energy, electricity, and light.
The bolt decal seemed to fade when it was on Seau's helmet, though, because he was energy, electricity and light. It was like putting a pair of headlights on the sun.
If those were the qualities you were looking for, your eyes made their way to Seau on their own. He had unbounded energy on the field; so much that you couldn't help but notice him. Before the snap, Seau looked like he was caged by the line of scrimmage. All this energy was bursting forth from the 55 on his chest, and if he didn't get to attack the offense in the next few seconds, it seemed like we'd see a supernova explosion right there between the tackle and the defensive end.
For years at a time, Seau was the only thing about the Chargers worth looking at. He was there in '90 and '91, when the Chargers were trying to overcome Billy Joe Tolliver and John Friesz. He was, of course, there in '94 when Bobby Ross had helped right the ship and the Chargers became AFC Champions. He was there through Kevin Gilbride and June Jones. He was there when the Chargers pinned their hopes to Ryan Leaf. He was there for 1-15.
Through all of this, Seau's energy level never changed. He didn't play any harder on January 29, 1995, when 83.4 million people were watching him in Super Bowl XXIX, than he did on December 24th in 2000, when the 1-14 Chargers had to play out the string against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Seau's trademark energy and electricity were there on every play, in every game, whether a world championship was on the line, or one of Craig Whelihan's two career victories. It never felt like Seau played for anything he might've gained from an outstanding effort — it looked like he played simply because there was football to be played, and if you get to play football on a given day, why not pour your entire being into it?
That's what Seau was to the Chargers organization — the one thing they knew they could be proud of, no matter what else was happening under the lightning bolt banner. Seau was the light — often, the only light — in the organization. From 1990 to 2002, it never flickered.
Seau was even there, quite literally, at the organization's lowest point. At the nadir of the Chargers' shame — Ryan Leaf's infamous "Knock it off!" tantrum — Seau was the one to step in and herd Leaf away before he could do something truly heinous. Seau was there, like he always was, to do the right thing for the organization. To do what had to be done. It speaks to Leaf's absolute irredeemability that he couldn't succeed despite the presence of Seau, who went above and beyond to welcome Leaf and make him a part of the team.
It wouldn't be true to say that Seau kept the Chargers respectable at all times, because the Chargers were absolutely not respectable for long periods of time. You can't blame Seau, though — he made superhuman efforts in that direction. It's depressing to even consider what the Chargers might have looked like through the Kevin Gilbride/June Jones/Mike Riley years if Seau hadn't been around.
He finished up his career with the Dolphins and the Patriots, but Seau belonged to sothern California and San Diego. He lived just north of the city. His restaurant was there. He's on the Chargers 50th anniversary team. He's in their Hall of Fame. His number will be retired there. He'll go into the Hall of Fame, posthumously, as a Charger.
And for a lot of Chargers fans, he'll be the best thing that's ever happened to the organization.
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