Thousands sport Junior Seau's No. 55 at memorial service
Hours after Junior Seau was buried in his hometown, thousands of fans got their chance to cheer one more time for the hard-hitting, fist-pumping linebacker at the stadium where he starred for 13 seasons.
A crowd estimated at 20,000 attended a public memorial service at Qualcomm Stadium. Many wore Seau's No. 55 jersey —in Chargers blue, Southern California cardinal and gold and Miami Dolphins aqua and orange. One of Seau's cousins wore a jersey combing the colours of all three of his pro teams, including the New England Patriots.
Former NFL safety John Lynch led a shout-out of "Buddy!" — Seau's greeting to friends and strangers alike.
"I love it," Lynch said.
"He was a good and loyal friend," said former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson, who drew some of the biggest cheers of the night as he spoke of Seau. "Notice the words I said: good and loyal."
Chargers president Dean Spanos made official what many had known since Seau left after the 2002 season, that No. 55 will never be worn by another Chargers player.
Among those attending were Seau's parents, his ex-wife and their children, several current and former Chargers, and former rival John Elway. Elway, who now runs Denver's front office, was accompanied by new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and coach John Fox, a former assistant with San Diego.
Seau's No. 55 was painted at midfield.
Seau committed suicide on May 2 at his Oceanside home. He played parts of 20 seasons in the NFL.
After a private funeral earlier Friday, Seau was buried at Eternal Hills cemetery.
Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell opened the service with a prayer.
"Junior, we don't know if you can see this down here, but tonight's your night."
Said Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts: "Our paths never crossed on the field, but boy could we have used him with the offence of Air Coryell. I'm also glad I never had to play against him. I could just imagine the thought of him sacking me, then standing over me and dancing all over me."
Someone yelled, "Ask Elway!"
Fouts called it a "classy move" for Elway, Manning and Fox to attend, and the crowd cheered.
Seau didn't leave a suicide note.
"No doubt this is a tragedy," Fouts said. "A tragedy for the community of San Diego, for Chargers fans and football fans everywhere. And with all tragedies, there are lessons to be learned, lessons that must be learned by all of us. The lesson here is, if you need help, get help. It's out there. All you have to do is swallow your pride and ask for it. We all need help at times. We can all do a better job of helping each other."
Former teammate Billy Ray Smith, a fellow linebacker, told the crowd: "I want to make sure you know, Junior Seau loved you guys; loved you all. I'm real sure that you loved No. 55 as well. Is that correct? He was a great friend a great teammate and I will miss him forever. Rest in peace."
Bobby Ross, the only coach to get the Chargers to the Super Bowl, told a Seau "bounty" story from the 1990s, when Stan Humphries was throwing long passes during pregame warmups near the stands. One of the Raiders fans was dressed up in a garish football outfit that included shoulder pads and a helmet.
"I said, 'Stan, what the hell's going on?"' Ross said. "And he said, 'I've got to tell you, coach, Junior told me if I hit that guy in the stands, he'd give me $1,000 US."'
Ross recalled Seau's many charitable contributions to the community.
"I don't believe there's a player who played in the National Football League who has done for a city what Junior Seau has done for San Diego," Ross said.
"Junior, we know that you're with our maker, up there with our heavenly father," Ross added. "We know that. Look out for our guys who have also left. Look out for our guys."
Ross then mentioned the other seven players from San Diego's 1994 team who have died: David Griggs, Doug Miller, Rodney Culver, Chris Mims, Curtis Whitley, Shawn Lee and Lew Bush, as well as former equipment manager Sid Brooks.
Tomlinson recalled how impossible it was to block Seau during practice, and how it inspired him to lift weights.
"But lucky enough, he was on my team," Tomlinson said to loud applause.
Tomlinson spoke directly to Seau's parents, telling them: "Mama Seau, Papa Seau, it's time for you to take a bow. Why? Because of everything that you instilled in Junior, and taught him and told him to go out and be happy and do happy, he did that. He instilled in everybody he touched, the things you taught him. So don't be sad today, be happy because Junior lives through us every day in everything he's touched."
Then, reciting the names of Seau's children, who were seated in the front row, Tomlinson said: "Go make your father proud. He'll live through you. Thank you, Junior."