- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

LA JOLLA, Calif. He has been named to 10 straight Pro Bowls, something no defensive player has topped in the past 30 seasons.

The linebacker was the heart and soul of a defense that helped the San Diego Chargers to their only Super Bowl. Opposing players speak his name with reverence, careful to give him the proper respect so as not to give him any extra motivation on the field.

To save time, the Hall of Fame might as well have Junior Seau's bust chiseled some time this year.

In spite of all these great accomplishments, Seau is proudest of the way he and his teammates persevered through the 1-15 debacle last season. They lost eight games by eight points or less.

"We had a group that built a lot of character and fought the fight," said Seau, the only starter and just one of five Chargers left from the 1994 AFC champions. "I'm more proud of that than I was when we went to the Super Bowl. We faced the adversity of being 0-11, but the guys were still working out, still in the training room trying to get healthy, still enjoying practice. It's easy to go to practice when you're winning and the community support is there. But when everyone's saying that you're a loser and you keep practicing, keep the proper mental attitude, keep the love of the game alive, that's a feat in itself."

Despite the disastrous Sundays, Seau continued his nine-year tradition of working out at the team complex every weekday morning at 6:30. And he studied tape of the opposition so thoroughly that defensive coordinator Joe Pascale said the All-Pro already knew what would be in the game plan when it was unveiled on Wednesdays.

"Junior brings a fervor to the game that's enjoyable," Pascale said. "He really studies the game. And he treats every practice like a game. He wants to get his keys. He wants to get his reads. He doesn't want to get embarrassed. He wants to get it right. And he wants to help the other guys. Without question, Junior's our leader."

Chargers coach Mike Riley said he would like to show practice film of Seau to every high school player so they could see the work ethic that goes into a Hall of Fame career. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Seau is a gifted athlete he was a standout in football and basketball at Oceanside High in suburban San Diego and a unanimous All-American at Southern Cal but it's his determination to excel that always set him apart.

"Junior is one of those types that comes along rarely who not only have the physical tools but also that tremendous passion and burning determination," said Washington coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose Redskins will try to neutralize Seau in tomorrow's season opener.

"There's no secret to success," Seau said. "Your talent might get you in the locker room, but after that, it's how hard you work. I believe in a work ethic, in perseverance, in prayer and in luck. Those are the traits I lean on every day. I'm a guy from Oceanside [not as picturesque a town as its name might indicate] who came into the league in shorts and a tank top knowing there was a great opportunity that I could maximize by doing the right things. That's all I'm trying to do. I love every bit of football. It's the greatest sport in the world. Whenever you get a chance to be a part of the game, to have 10 guys in a huddle waiting for instructions to go to battle, it's the greatest high."

As he has aged, the 32-year-old Seau has come to relish the mental challenge.

"I understand the game more now than I ever have," said Seau, who has made 1,300 tackles and has missed only five of 176 games in 11 seasons. "It's hard to get a feel for the game. Ninety-eight percent of the players in this league don't have it, but once you do, it's special. I can look at an offensive set and know where they're going before the ball's snapped. It's a big high when you know they have nowhere to go but to you. I know the game, and I appreciate it. With all that, the game comes easy.

"I focus on beating the offensive coordinator every day. Norv [Turner, the offensive coordinator and ex-Washington coach,] is one of the best in the league, and we go at it. I try to anticipate what he's thinking. It's a chess match, and I love chess. Norv goes to sleep with a plan to jerk our defense the next day. It's a great challenge because he knows our defense better than we know his offense since it's his first year here. I'll go up to him before practice and say, 'Where's the jerk-me play today?' There's going to be one, and I'm going to find it whether I'm scouting them during the walk-through or by sneaking a peek while he's discussing something with another coach. I'm going to try to find an edge."

Seau knows he's bound for Canton and knows but wouldn't admit that the Chargers are probably going to miss the playoffs for a sixth straight year no matter how well he plays. But the competitor in him won't allow him to slack off for an instant.

"I love to compete," Seau said. "If you and I were driving to a destination in separate cars, I want to beat you there. That's me. I want to be the best. I work to earn respect. Don't give it to me, don't toot my horn, just give me a chance to earn it."

Consider it earned.

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