San Diego County has produced four Heisman Trophy winners.
One of them, Marcus Allen, even won a Super Bowl MVP award. But most football fans will tell you neither Allen, Ricky Williams, Rashaan Salaam, nor Reggie Bush is the greatest football player to come out of San Diego.
That honor belongs to Junior Seau.
Seau went from Oceanside to the University of Southern California, then was the first round draft pick of his home town Chargers in 1990.
He played 20 years in the NFL, 13 of them for the Chargers. He helped the Bolts reach their only Super Bowl, in 1994, when Seau made 154 tackles, an astonishing 123 of them solo.
"He was the heart and soul of our franchise," said Chargers president Dean Spanos. "Just an incredible individual, great team leader. His roots are here. Even when he left and played back East, his home was here. He never forgot about San Diego."
Seau played three years in Miami, then four in New England. He helped the Patriots reach the 2007 Super Bowl, less with his statistics but more with his leadership. New England issued the following statement:
“We were fortunate to have had Junior join the Patriots in 2006 and are thankful for his many contributions to the team over the next four years. He had a legendary NFL career and his unrivaled passion for the game quickly made him a fan favorite here in New England. This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his many friends who will mourn this loss.”
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said he and other who knew Seau were grieving the "loss of the ultimate teammate and friend."
“One of my fondest remembrances as a professional football player was looking across the locker room after playing my last career game with the Chargers and knowing that I had shared that moment with one of the greatest teammates and competitors the game has ever known," Harbaugh said in a written statement. "The moment moved me to get off my stool, approach Junior and ask him to trade jerseys. It’s the only time I had done that in my career.”
Click here to read how fans, friends and teammates responded to the news of Seau's passing.
Seau's impact on his home town was felt well beyond the football field.
“Everyone in the Padres organization is deeply saddened by the news of Junior Seau’s passing,” said Padres President Tom Garfinkel. “He was a great San Diegan and an inspiration, not only on the playing field, but in how he positively impacted people's lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Seau family, friends and the Chargers organization during this difficult time.”
Junior Seau is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's tragic that he won't be able to see his bust in Canton, Ohio.