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Matt Slater remembers Junior Seau as a passionate leader and icon of the game of football

05.03.12 at 12:53 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As a football-loving kid growing up in Southern California, Matt Slater had two categories of football hero: his father Jackie, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Rams and Junior Seau. Then, there was everyone else.

‘€œJunior Seau was a legend,’€ Slater said Thursday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œBack to his time at USC, to his time with the Chargers. I grew up idolizing Junior.

‘€œIf you were a kid who loved football in Southern California, Junior Seau was right at the top of the list. He meant so much to the NFL in general, but to Southern California, he had a huge impact on that region.’€

Slater had the unique opportunity to live out a dream — after he was drafted out of UCLA by the Patriots in 2008, he spent part of two seasons as a teammate of Seau.

‘€œAnd then having a chance to play with him for two years and seeing how he was off the field — the type of man he was,’€ Slater said. ‘€œHe was a leader that was second to none.’€

Seau was found dead on Wednesday, a shocking and sad end to football life that touched thousands of people, particularly for those who knew him like Slater.

‘€œHe was so full of life and it just comes as a total shock,’€ Slater said. ‘€œYour heart really goes out to his family. You know, you saw his mom’€™s response. No mother should have to bury her son, so I just think we’€™re all in a state of shock right now.

‘€œIn here this morning, we’€™re just kind of … the guys who knew Junior and played with him are just sharing our experiences and memories of him. I know some of the Southern California guys, we’€™re just remembering his time at USC, and at the Chargers.’€
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Ted Johnson on D&C: ‘Sick’ over the passing of Junior Seau

05.03.12 at 10:40 am ET
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Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson joined Dennis & Callahan Thursday to discuss the death of NFL great Junior Seau. The former Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots linebacker committed suicide Wednesday, which has brought about questions of whether Seau was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative disease common with athletes who have dealt with multiple head injuries.

Johnson said he is “sick” over the passing of Seau, but that there’s no denying that head injuries extend well beyond the game.

“It’s hard to quantify all the hits and what they mean in your life and the decisions you make, but there’s obvious evidence out there that hits to the head can cause problems,” Johnson said. “‘€¦ It affects your mood, it affects your decision-making. It’s really hard for a lot of guys, especially when they retire, to handle stress-related things. It’s a lot more difficulty to kind of sift through things in life that maybe earlier you could handle.

“People are making judgements as far as perhaps there’s a link to it, and there might be. They’ve done 36 autopsies of former athletes that have had concussions, and 35 of them come back with signs of CTE, which is particularly in guys that have had multiple concussions. You have to think that Junior, if hopefully they can do an autopsy on his brain, will show the same effect. It’s a serious issue.”

Johnson estimates that he himself suffered between 100-150 or more concussions during his 10 years in the NFL. Seau shot himself in the chest, suggesting he may have wanted to leave his brain to be studied. Given that, Johnson noted that “if there’s a tipping point for this issue, this puts it over the edge.”

“There’s this idea that we’re bigger than life, that we have no [weaknesses]. We are football players, we are gladiators, this is what we do. People don’t want to hear about the other stuff,” Johnson said. “I think people are going to find out that there was a lot more demons that Junior had to deal with.

“To link it back to concussion stuff, there’s no question that when your head takes that many hits, that physiologically there’s a shift in your brain. Something changes that you have to deal with and Junior was obviously at a point where he had no other options in his mind other than doing what he did.”

Johnson remembered Seau as a “pro’s pro,” but noted that the perhaps Seau had another side that he kept shielded from teammates and the public eye.

“Somebody who feels life that much who is just that passionate — and the highs, you see him so up and so pumped, and that’s how he was — the thing about it, conversely is the depths he must have gone to,” Johnson said. “He must have dealt with things and gone to levels emotionally on the lowest end that I think are going to come out, that he didn’t want anyone to know about. I wasn’t completely shocked, but at the same time, it makes you think about your own mortality, too.”

Johnson retired during training camp prior to the 2005 season. In the years that followed his retirement, he claimed that part of his concussion problems were the result of Patriots coach Bill Belichick making him practice after suffering a concussion. Johnson said that he has since lost touch with Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.

“It bums me out a little bit,” Johnson said. “When I came out with my story about what happened in ’02 to the [New York] Times and the [Boston] Globe in ’07, I just think, from what I was told, that put a bad taste in Mr. Kraft’s palate. I feel horrible, because it wasn’t about trying to get back at Belichick and Mr. Kraft.

“I owe so much to football. Football saved my life in a lot of ways, and the Krafts, and even coach Belichick and I were able to work things out, but this issue was so much bigger than that. Unfortunately, they took it more personally than I wish they would have. Honestly, I haven’t had any contact with them, and I don’t know. I just feel bad about it, but that’s just the way it is.”

Read More: CTE, Junior Seau, Ted Johnson,

What the return of Jabar Gaffney means for the Patriots’ passing game

05.02.12 at 11:02 pm ET
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With the news the Patriots are ready to bring wide receiver Jabar Gaffney back into the fold, it gives the New England passing game another familiar face and brings one of the most dependable No. 3 receivers the Patriots have had in nearly 10 years back to Gillette Stadium.

The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons for the Patriots while operating almost exclusively as the No. 3 receiver in the New England passing game. While others struggled in that role, Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

It was also clear that even though he departed New England for Denver following the 2008 season, he maintained a great affection for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, it was clear that Gaffney still had a great affection for Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œHe pretty much ‘€¦ he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ recalled quarterback Tom Brady the week before the Patriots met the Redskins earlier this year. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

Gaffney should still be able to have an impact on the New England passing game. He is coming off the finest year of his career, as he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947), and tied his career-best with five touchdown receptions, all for a Washington passing game that finished in the middle of the league in most major statistical categories. The fact that he can still get up and down the field at a good rate, his previous knowledge of the offense and his excellent rapport with Brady all figure to make him a favorite to make the final roster.

However, it was already a crowded field before the Patriots made their bid to bring back Gaffney. Now, they have 11 receivers on the roster, not including seventh-round draft pick Jeremy Ebert: Gaffney, Wes Welker (presuming he signs his franchise tender), Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Matthew Slater and Britt Davis. At least one veteran of note won’€™t make it to opening day.

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Vince Wilfork is No. 81 in NFL Network’s ‘Top 100′ poll

05.02.12 at 10:27 pm ET
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On Wednesday night, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork checked in at No. 81 on the NFL Network’s “Top 100 NFL Players of 2012.” Wilfork is the first New England player on the list, which is counted down from 100 to one, and is voted on by players. Wilfork drops 46 spots from last year’s list, which had him at No. 35 overall. To watch the video of Wilfork’s segment, CLICK HERE.

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Robert Kraft issues statement in the wake of the death of Junior Seau

05.02.12 at 9:20 pm ET
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement Wednesday night in the wake of the death of former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau:

‘€œEvery day, Junior Seau greeted his teammates and coaches with an energetic ‘€˜Hey, Buddy!’€™ It was genuine, enthusiastic and backed by his radiant smile. For four seasons, after every game he played, he would always find me in the locker room just to give me a big hug and squeeze tighter than anyone I remember. It was one of the many things I enjoyed about him. He was passionate about football and always spoke with great conviction. He may have been one of the most charismatic Patriots player in franchise history. I loved listening to him when he addressed an audience. I will never forget presenting him with his AFC Championship ring at Seau’€™s Restaurant in San Diego before our game against the Chargers in 2008. It was a memorable moment shared by both Patriots and Chargers fans, who that day celebrated pregame together as Junior Seau fans. He was beloved in his hometown of San Diego and quickly became a fan favorite in New England. Today, the fans of the teams for which Junior played ‘€“ San Diego, Miami and New England ‘€“ lost more than a legendary football player. We lost our ‘€˜Buddy.’€™ My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I extend my sincere condolences to his many friends and former teammates.’€

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In New England, Junior Seau was one of a kind, both on and off the field

05.02.12 at 3:50 pm ET
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As a writer who has covered the Patriots over the last decade, it has become easy to instantly identify who players are as individuals by what they bring into the locker room. When he was in New England, Lonie Paxton, the gonzo long snapper with a sleeve of tattoos down his arm, had a fridge full of Red Bull. Tom Brady has pictures of his children. Logan Mankins has a pair of mud-stained hunting boots.

When it came to Junior Seau, he had a guitar (occasionally augmented with a ukulele), and could often be seen strumming away softly in the corner of the locker room. Seau’€™s guitar playing stuck out for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’€™s odd to see anyone doing anything quiet in an NFL locker room.

But Junior could pull it off. He was a unique spirit, and the Patriots — both the coaching staff and his teammates — regarded him as such, both on and off the field. After all, it took a special sort of individual to be the player who wore No. 55 immediately after Willie McGinest left. Seau not only wore the number (thanks in large part to his USC connection to McGinest), but also wore it with distinction. He also got Willie’€™s locker, a sign of respect that didn’€™t go unnoticed by teammates or the media.

Seau had a rare set of attributes. He was a physical freak, but he combined that with an unmatched zeal. (As strange as that sounds, it’€™s rare combination in the league.) I remember speaking with him over the course of a week in 2008 — when he had come back for another go-round with the Patriots — and coming away amazed. No one loves anything as much as Junior Seau loves football, I remember thinking.

‘€œI haven’€™t coached too many that are any more passionate than Junior is,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in October 2009 after the Patriots signed him for a third time.

Watching him at a podium that morning in the fall of 2009 when he returned, Seau was a preacher for the church of football. He was a relentless advocate for the game, and his press conference remains the stuff of legend. He handled it with the same fervor he always did — like someone caught up in the throes of a Red Bull binge. ‘€œOne thing I know is that you can’€™t coach courage. You can’€™t,’€ he thundered from the podium. ‘€œYou give me an A, B gap, I’€™m going through there, until I break glass. I will go through the A and B gap until I break glass. And that’€™s what I do.’€

As far as the physical, he did things that will never be seen again. Ever. How many 40-year-old linebackers do you see in the league? Who else could sign with the franchise on three different occasions, twice jumping in in the middle of the season? (He did it again in 2009.) The most memorable example I can recall of Seau’€™s remarkable physicality was when he had his arm snapped in half in a game against the Bears in November 2006. It would have sent players 10 years his younger reeling from the game, but he would come back the next year and play 16 games for a team that went 18-1 … at the age of 37.

Seau is almost certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and when people will speak of him, they’€™ll recall his tenacity, his spirit, his high motor and all-out intensity that people will talk of the most. But I have a hard time believing we’€™ll see another guitar-playing, 40-year-old linebacker who loved the game of football so fiercely ever again.

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Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi weighs in on comments from John Harbaugh

05.01.12 at 4:15 pm ET
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Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi took to “SportsCenter” Tuesday morning to comment on the statements from Ravens coach John Harbaugh regarding possible violation of league rules.

‘€œYou want to take a shot, go ahead and say it,’€ Bruschi said. ‘€œWhen I look down at my hand and I see championship rings, I know how much work had to be put in to win those championships. I’€™m very set and secure with all of the victories that we had the work we put in.’€

(Harbaugh has since issued a statement attempting to clarify his comments.)

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