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Gone Fishing

Chargers gave up on Seau and sent him to the Dolphins. They'll soon find out how it feels to face him.

August 01, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Vaughn Parker stood near the San Diego Chargers' practice field in Carson recently and talked about filling the leadership void left by former teammate Junior Seau.

The veteran offensive tackle spoke about the linebacker's charitable ways; about how he used to share his huge stash of snacks with anyone who came knocking at his dorm room during training camp.

Then Parker began discussing the team's new freedom with the locker room stereo and he couldn't help but smile.

For 13 years, Seau was not only the heart and soul of the Chargers; he also was dictator over the stereo.

"He would pick one song and play that same song, over and over and over again for an entire season," said Parker, who played nine seasons with Seau. "It used to drive us crazy. One year, it was Puffy's tribute to Biggie Smalls; another year, it was Shaggy. That's all we would listen to when he was in there."

Added defensive end Raylee Johnson, who played 10 seasons with Seau: "Man, do I remember those songs. There was this one song by Toni Braxton."

Then Johnson starts to sing: "I ... I get so hot" while snapping his head from side-to-side.

"Oh my gosh, that song ... It's still in my head like it was yesterday and that's been at least two years ago. He had so many."

Seau, a native of Oceanside in San Diego County, always envisioned himself retiring a Charger. But after the Chargers lost seven of their last nine games last season and finished with an 8-8 record, management decided their star linebacker was expendable.

The fiery competitor who played 200 games for the Chargers -- tied with Russ Washington for the most in franchise history -- was traded to the Miami Dolphins for draft choices.

To some, the move made sense because many NFL executives believe that the wear and tear of 13 seasons at linebacker caused Seau to lose a step.

But to others, former teammates mostly, Seau's stellar play -- he was chosen for the Pro Bowl 12 times -- was only part of his value.

"Junior's leadership was just unbelievable," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "Not only did he lead on the defensive side of the ball. He led from the whole team standpoint. He was able to pick up the offense just with a few words of encouragement. His leadership will be missed."

One of Seau's traditions was what became known as the "Breakfast Club."

"It's a deal that Junior started his rookie year," said former UCLA linebacker Donnie Edwards, who will move into Seau's position this season. "He would get a group of guys and get them to get up at 6 in the morning and work out before practice, before everything.... Anyone that's been a Charger defensive player for the last 13 years, I guarantee you he made it to the breakfast club at least once."

A couple of Chargers, including Edwards, have worked out in the mornings before the start of camp since the team has been in Carson, but it's not organized.

"That was Junior's deal," Edwards said.

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It's no secret how Seau feels about being shown the door by his hometown team. Contacted recently at Miami's training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Seau refused to talk about the Chargers.

The trade caught Seau -- and just about everyone else -- off guard when the Chargers first contacted his agent, Marvin Demoff, and told him that it would be in the best interest of both sides if a trade was explored.

"It is true that the San Diego Chargers have advised my agent and I to seek employment elsewhere," Seau said at a news conference. "Not by choice, my agent and I are doing so."

That was one of the last things Seau has said publicly about the Chargers -- other than to tell Miami reporters that he had 18 painkiller shots in his ankle in the last 13 weeks of last season, trying to get ready to play.

Seau, 34, will make about $6 million this year -- a $1-million base salary, plus a $3-million signing bonus and $2 million from the Chargers from another bonus he was owed. Of his new team he said, "Junior Seau needed the Miami Dolphins more than the Miami Dolphins needed Junior Seau."

Charger management said significant changes were due after last season's spiral.

"[Two or three years ago] I think our goal was for Junior to finish his career here," President Dean Spanos said, " ... but you can't predict the future. It happens all around the league."

Said first-year General Manager A.J. Smith: "The most disturbing thing is that we had two complete total collapses with two separate coaching staffs the last two seasons. We studied it really hard and felt that the difference was attitude and players."

"We just felt that in building this team, we needed a change on defense. We also looked at how much time a player had left. In other words, will Junior be around for another five years? Is he on the upside? Or the downside? What did he do for us the last two or three years, production wise?"

*

Soon enough, the Chargers will see for themselves whether Seau's play has slipped any. Miami travels to San Diego for a Monday night game Oct. 27.

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