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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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