I worked in the deli (Plaza Deli) of the Tremont Plaza Hotel in downtown Baltimore on St. Paul Place. The Tremont Plaza is a low key, but well-known hotel establishment where the rich and famous stay for privacy. The Tremont Plaza was, and probably still is, a host hotel for professional athletes who were going to be honored for the Ed Block Courage Awards.
This respected, annual award is given to one player, voted by his teammates, from each of the 32 teams in the NFL who demonstrated courage and sportsmanship through a difficult time.
For celebrities, the Tremont Plaza’s policy was not to initiate any conversation with their special guests nor ask the honored clients for anything to capitalize on for personal gain – like an autograph. The Tremont Plaza’s management, respectfully, wanted all their guests (especially celebrities) to have a quiet, peaceful stay without being harassed.
I have seen and met countless celebrities, and when they initiated conversations, it was acceptable by management to interact with the special guests. One day, I broke one of the Tremont Plaza’s policy rules, regarding guest celebrities. While I was headed towards the front desk to receive an order called down from a guest, there he was, the Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, standing outside the revolving door.
I knew the Tremont Plaza’s policies and standards, but that was Junior Seau, who I considered the best middle linebacker in the NFL at that time. I knew I was not going to play in the NFL and covering sports was just a dream that I thought would never come true. So, this was my only chance to meet and greet a player I thought I would never see again.
As I walked towards Seau, I looked around, hoping anyone from management was not present to witness my inappropriate action.
This was the first time I initiated a conversation with a celebrity, understanding that my job maybe on the line despite being employed at the hotel since high school.
I approached Seau with my heart beating rapidly and my hands shaking. I was extremely scared, praying that this great linebacker, who was a mountain of a man, would not reject me.
Not knowing what to say, I quickly remembered Seau signing an extension with the Chargers shortly before he came to Baltimore for the Ed Block Courage Awards, as he was the team’s honoree for that year.
“Congratulations on your new contract, Mr. Seau,” I said nervously stumbling over my words. “How did you find that out,” said Seau with a smile. I was instantly relieved knowing Seau was kind and he did not reject me. I quickly looked around for management again. No one was around, which confirmed this was the perfect opportunity to talk to one of the greatest NFL players of all-time. I went onto say how much of a fan I was of his and wished him the best throughout his career, and he replied “Thanks little buddy” with a cool embrace.
That was a short, but proud moment of my life 12 years ago. In hindsight, my one-on-one conversation with Seau helped me to have the confidence to approach any professional athlete, whether high profile or not.
To this day, I honestly think about Seau before I question and interview a professional athlete – and coach.
This is my personal story regarding the great man in Seau who killed himself last Wednesday morning in his California home.
Unfortunately, I will not get the chance to meet Seau, due to his untimely death. In addition, Seau will not get to witness his glorious day of being enshrined into the Hall of Fame to be immortalized forever.
However, Seau has already been immortalized in the hearts of strangers, such as myself, his friends and colleagues.
Here are some of the reactions and comments from NFL representatives and colleagues of Seau, who knew the legendary linebacker much better than me – via press releases. These comments are long, but well worth the read.
Chargers’ President Dean Spanos:
“I can’t put into words how I’m feeling right now. I’m shocked and devastated. Junior was my friend. We all lost a friend today. Junior was an icon in our community. He transcended the game. He wasn’t just a football player, he was so much more. He was loved by everyone in our family, our organization and throughout the NFL. This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine. My prayers go out to Junior’s family. It’s heartbreaking.”
Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner:
“I have no words to describe the passing of Junior Seau. It is a sad, sad day for not only me, but for the whole sports community. I worked with Junior here and later in Miami. I can tell you no one had more character and true leadership ability than Junior. He brought passion to the game of football that was unmatched. His commitment to charitable causes in the community was inspiring. It was an honor to know him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Miami Dolphins’ CEO Mike Dee:
“We are stunned and saddened at the passing of Junior Seau. During his time with the Dolphins he made a unique contribution to the team and the South Florida community. Junior was a fierce competitor whose passion and work ethic lifted his teammates to greater heights. His enthusiasm for the game was infectious and he passed that on to everyone who was around him. He loved the game so much, and no one played with more sheer joy.”
“Beyond his accomplishments on the field, though, he was as well known for his charitable accomplishments to help those less fortunate than himself, especially kids. Whether it was in San Diego, South Florida, New England or everywhere else in between, Junior loved putting a smile on a child’s face during his ‘Shop with a Jock’ program or during one of his countless school visits. He made a difference to so many people in so many places.”
“Junior was one-of-a-kind. The league will never see anyone like him again. He will be missed, and on behalf of the Miami Dolphins we want to extend our condolences to his family.”
Statement From Former Dolphins Linebacker and Friend Zack Thomas:
“I have never been around a man with more love and passion for the game of football than Junior Seau, and he lived life the same way. Junior was always fun to be around, always positive and made every person who knew him feel like he was their best friend. You never heard one negative word come out of his mouth. Junior just had this energy that followed him around wherever he went, almost like theme music. It was like he never had a bad day.”
“As a young linebacker, Junior was my hero growing up and once I had the opportunity meet him I saw that he was everything I hoped he would be and more. Getting the chance to play alongside of Junior Seau, the greatest linebacker to ever play the game, made my dreams come true. I am absolutely devastated to hear this news. Today I lost my hero, my friend, my buddy.”
Former Dolphin Great and Friend Jason Taylor:
“I’m shocked and saddened. Devastated, really. Junior was one of the most positive, uplifting people I have ever known. He was always full of life and energy and had an infectious spirit that lifted everyone around him. Junior called everyone “buddy” and treated them like he had known them forever. It would be easy for me to say he was a great friend and teammate, and a tremendous competitor, but that would be selling Junior short.”
“Junior Seau was an individual of great honor and integrity, a leader of men and someone with a deep rooted passion for giving of himself to make the people, the community and especially the children around him better. This is an immeasurable loss for so many. My heart and prayers go out to Junior’s family, Gina and their children. I’m going to miss you buddy.”
Former Charger Quarterback Stan Humphries:
“The first thing is just the energy, the excitement that he had every day. I don’t think he could wait to get to the facility every day to practice, to watch the game tape, to get on the practice field, to get in the weight room. I know when I came there he’d been in the league for two years and when I first got there, you heard about Junior but when you actually saw him, the youth that he brought out in you was what stood out.”
“I looked at that team back then with guys like Gill Byrd, Gary Plummer, Leslie O’Neal, veteran guys, but then you see this guy with all the youthful energy and I think he gave a lot of the older guys a little fire and brought a little of that youthfulness back to them as well.”
“He played the game instinctively, he studied the film and did some things on his own just off film study that allowed him to make huge plays. I remember times playing with him and also times flying home on the plane with him, just getting to know him as a person. I feel bad for his kids and his family. At that young of an age, it’s just horrible.”
Former Chargers Fullback Lorenzo Neal (Via Twitter):
“Today the world is not a better place we lost one of our legends. Sad to Hear about my good friend and brother Junior Seau Passing. He was a great man to his family and the community he was a great example of sportsmanship and he had such a big heart for everyone he was someone i could talk to I’m at a loss for words this one really hit me hard. I Love you and will miss you my dear friend .To His Family i love you all and you are in my Prayers One Luv Lo Neal.”
Former Chargers Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson:
“I don’t know what to say. I’m hurt. It’s hard to put to words how I feel right now. I learned how to be a pro because of him. I learned how to start a foundation and work in the community because of him. I learned how to relate to people because of him…fans…signing autographs. I’m just hurt. He’s an icon I looked up to my entire life before I got to San Diego. Even to this day. It’s a numb feeling in my heart right now.”
Former Chargers GM Bobby Beathard (Beathard Drafted Junior in 1990):
“Junior was one of the two players we drafted that I thought if you ever drew a player up that was the complete package, it would be Junior and Rodney (Harrison). Junior was such an incredible football player, and as far as being just a great person, I just love Junior. I’d see him in the summer when I’d go up to Oceanside to surf (and) we’d get together. He was such a big thing for the community. I think a lot of the people that came to our games were there to see Junior.”
“You never had to motivate Junior. He motivated everybody else. He had energy. He played like you hope every player would play. He practiced the same way he played. I haven’t seen…the whole time I was in the NFL…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody like Junior…that had it all. Just a great guy. He loved playing the game. He loved his teammates. He loved life. For the life of me I certainly can’t understand what went wrong or what happened. But I love Junior as a player and as a friend. You always look in the Draft when you’re getting ready to draft and think, ‘could we every be fortunate enough to get someone like Junior?’ Doesn’t happen very often.”
Former Chargers kicker John Carney:
“I’m shocked and heartbroken at the news. Being a friend and teammate of Junior’s was a highlight of my career. The positive influence he spread among teammates, coaches, fans, and even opposing teams is unmatched. He’ll be greatly missed.”
Former Chargers Head Coach Bobby Ross:
“I’m totally shocked and very, very saddened by the whole thing. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, to his children and to his parents, and all of those very, very special people there. Junior, to me, was the epitome of what a football player was. The words that come to me are passion for the game. Passion for life. Intensity for the game. Intensity for life. Team player. One of the best I’ve ever been around in that respect. Tremendous team player. Tremendous leader. Tremendous leader on our football team. Love for the game. He was always the first to arrive and the last to leave each and every day of practice.”
“Great practice player. One of the absolute best I’ve ever coached at any level. He used to frustrate our offensive coaches from time to time because of intensity at practice and his instincts. A guy that prepared greatly. He was always early in to study film. At the same he was tremendously instinctive. He relied on his instincts. But I believe a lot of those instincts were a result of preparation that he did in film preparation. I don’t know of a player in the National Football League that had a greater effect on the community in which he played, than Junior Seau. The people in San Diego literally loved him. And he loved them.”
“It was unbelievable the way they took to another. I don’t know that there has been anyone that has done that much for their particular community they played in than Junior Seau. He was always upbeat. I never saw him down at any time in my experiences with him. He seemed to be very happy all the time. I think that’s why this is such a shock to so many people because he was such a positive person and such an upbeat person. But I’m sure most of us probably never expected anything was going on in his life. My last experience I heard from him on this golf outing that he recently had. He had wrote me a letter of thanks. His last words were, ‘love you coach.’ I’ll cherish that. I only wish I had been able to be out there with him during that particular outing.”
Former Chargers Center Courtney Hall (Via Twitter):
“Thanks everyone. My thoughts go out to his family and children. This is so heartbreaking. I have not spoken with him directly in a while, but I will always remember his easy smile, big laugh, and loving spirit. The person you saw play with so much emotion on the field is the same personality he displayed off of it.”
Chargers Defensive Tackle Antonio Garay (Via Twitter):
“Words cannot explain the sadness I feel right now for the loss of Junior Seau. My prayers & love go out to his family. Junior was a man that symbolized passion both on & off the field. I pray that everyone can learn to live every moment as passionate as Junior did. You will be greatly missed buddeeee.”
New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees (Via Twitter)
“So sad to hear about (Junior). Junebug. Buddy. The greatest teammate a young guy could ask for. This is a sad day. He will be missed greatly.”
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders:
“Junior Seau was one of the most electrifying athletes in San Diego sports history. He was a passionate figure who gave the game of football – and Chargers fans everywhere – everything he had. His passion for the San Diego region was also felt through his charitable work, which did so much good in so many ways.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:
“All of us are deeply saddened about Junior Seau, a great player loved by teammates who also worked hard to serve his community. Junior and his family will remain in our thoughts.”
NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith:
“The NFL Players Association is saddened to hear of the passing of Junior Seau, a terrific player and teammate. The 12-time Pro Bowler achieved a level of success on the field that is unparalleled and his off-the-field service accomplishments are beyond admirable. The All-Decade Team linebacker’s career spanned an incredible 20 seasons, and Junior Seau’s determination and passion for the game will always be remembered in the hearts and minds of the fans. The NFLPA player family joins with the Seau family to mourn a brother lost too soon.”
Broncos Executive VP of Football Operations and Hall of Fame QB John Elway:
“I had the pleasure of playing against Junior for many years. He played the game the way it was meant to be played. We shared a lot of laughs from our AFC West battles when I saw Junior before he was inducted into the Chargers HOF in November. Junior was a true competitor and a special player. My heartfelt condolences go out to the Seau family.”
Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix:
“I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of Junior Seau. This is such a tragedy and his passing will be felt by many. Junior was a great player in this league for so many years and he embodied that competitive spirit that all the great linebackers possess. My deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to his children and his entire family, his friends, the Spanos family and the Chargers organization.”
Former Broncos Linebacker Eric Olsen (Via Twitter):
“When I was a (freshman) in HS, Junior Seau worked the Jay Fiedler Football camp and at the end of one of the days he challenged anyone to a 1 on 1. Being one of the ‘big’ kids, I was volunteered by my buddies and went up in front of the whole camp to face this monster of a man. Shaking in my cleats, he gave me a wink before a coach gave the cadence. He let me pancake him. And he sold it too.”
“I can’t even tell you how good I felt at that moment; it changed me forever. The whole camp cheered for me, a chubby kid that didn’t know if he even liked football. From then on I was addicted. All thanks 2 this 10 time all-pro that felt like making some snot-nosed kid’s day. Doesn’t seem like much but it meant a lot to me. Sorry for the essay just had to share. RIP Junior I’ll never forget what you did for me.”
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh:
“I, along with the entire NFL family, the San Diego community and those who shared a life with Junior, grieve the loss of the ultimate teammate and friend. I am saddened that I was not there for Junior as he had always been for his teammates and friends.”
“The qualities I most respected in Junior were the caring and respect he showed to all those with whom he came in contact. 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. 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.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Junior’s family.”
Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli:
“I’m shocked and saddened by the tragic passing of Junior Seau. Junior was a phenomenal football player, but more importantly a great man who I considered a friend. He was a player that always reminded us that football should be fun and he was a true joy to be around. This is a tremendous loss for all of those who were blessed to cross his path. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”