SAN DIEGO — Bobby Ross was a rookie NFL head coach in the spring of 1992 when linebacker Junior Seau turned and watched a pass sail downfield during a passing drill in the last practice of the San Diego Chargers’ minicamp.
“I said, ‘Repeat the play; Seau loafed,’” Ross said.
The words hit Seau hard.
“He turned on me real fast: ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘You didn’t run to the ball, Junior. What if the ball was tipped? With your speed, you might have gotten an interception.’”
Ross took Seau into his office after practice and showed him film of the play.
“He turned to me and said, ‘That will never happen again.’ It never did.”
Seau committed suicide Wednesday at age 43, stunning the city of San Diego and the football world.
In the following days, Ross and others fondly remembered their favorite moments with the star linebacker, a homegrown superstar who played 13 of his 20 NFL seasons with the Chargers.
• Darren Bennett, who made the transition from Australian Rules Football to star punter, remembers nervously lining up to punt during his first Pro Bowl.
“It’s not funny as Dermontti Dawson goes to snap the ball, Junior and Greg Lloyd were betting who was going to get to the punt returner first,” he said.“… The two wing guys were arguing over $500 –‘I bet I get to the return man first,’ and Lloyd was yelling back. No one in the stands knows this crazy stuff is going on.’”
Then there was a poor punt during Bennett’s first minicamp with San Diego.
“Junior says, ‘Listen, kangaroo leg, man, you’ve got the biggest leg I’ve ever seen. Let’s get to work.’”
• Stan Humphries, the only quarterback to get the Chargers to the Super Bowl, thinks back to the 1994 season opener at Denver, which San Diego rallied to win 37-34. John Elway and the Broncos had the ball at the San Diego 3-yard line with less than a minute left.
“I think they were going in to score and Elway sprinted out to the right or something. He was going to throw it in the back of the end zone and I don’t know if it slipped out of his hand or what but it popped in the air and Junior got it and it sealed the win.”
• In 2002, Marty Schottenheimer was finally on Seau’s side.
“Of all the players I’ve coached, he had the most natural, innate instinct about how to play the game,” said Schottenheimer, who had been coach of the division rival Kansas City Chiefs from 1989-98. “And I remember watching him and thinking, ‘Where in the heck is he going?’ And all of a sudden he made the play and I thought, ‘That’s a heck of a play.’
“He was a terrific, terrific player.”