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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Seau's storied career missing championship

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
The Patriots' Junior Seau was retired briefly before Bill Belichick called and offered him a position in New England. The Patriots' Junior Seau was retired briefly before Bill Belichick called and offered him a position in New England.
WINSLOW TOWNSON / AP Enlarge

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Does Junior Seau need a Super Bowl ring to validate what most would call a Hall of Fame career?

Well, the latter part of the question may serve as the answer.

But the ring wouldn't hurt.

"I don't think he needs a Super Bowl," said New England teammate Rodney Harrison. "I think what he's done, 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, and what he still does says it all. I don't think he really needs a ring. But there's nothing wrong with having one. For him, I think it would just put that stamp of approval on an already successful career."

It was successful and more after 13 years in a San Diego Chargers uniform and three more with the Miami Dolphins. After the 1,700 tackles, 52 sacks, and 15 interceptions. After all those Pro Bowls.

Seau retired after the 2005 season. There had been a Super Bowl with the Chargers, but not a victory, not a ring. It looked as if that's the way it would stay.

Seau, of course, stayed retired for about three days.

"I knew it was a bunch of baloney," Harrison, his teammate for nine seasons in San Diego, said. "I knew he still wanted to play and was looking for the right opportunity. When I talked to him, I told him that if he came to [the Patriots] it would be a special opportunity to come and play and be a part of something special. He seized the moment."

And, now, the moment might seize him. The Pats are on the brink of a 19-0 season. All that stands in the way are the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII tomorrow evening. A ring would be the icing on a career cake.

"Do I need a Super Bowl ring to validate my career? We would all love to have one, and now there's a chance to actually go out and play for one," Seau said. "But I won't be able to answer that question until after the game because it's hypothetical. I am going to embrace it and do all I can to help this team accomplish it, not for me, but for all of us.

"This game is bigger than any of us. This is not about Junior. It's not about [Randy] Moss or the guys who don't have a ring on their finger. This is about history."

In the history of the NFL, there have been few linebackers more respected and appreciated than Junior Seau.

"I don't think there's one person who doesn't want to see Junior attain that ring," said New England player personnel director Scott Pioli. "I know there's no one in our organization that doesn't want to see it happen. The guy is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. You guys [the media] better not screw that up. Get him in on the first ballot."

Seau's enshrinement was delayed when Patriots coach Bill Belichick dialed the phone.

"His words were, 'I have a position for you,'•" Seau recalled. "Other teams were saying they would love for me to be on their team. They gave me a clue that they wanted me, but didn't really need me. Belichick said, 'I have a position for you,' and it changed my life."

Seau came out of his brief retirement and joined the Pats in 2006, but his season ended after 11 games because of an arm injury, and the team's playoff run fell short of the Super Bowl. This season, he often played in a reserve role, but has been the starting left inside linebacker for the last six games and is New England's leading tackler, with 16 stops, in the postseason.

"I think there are probably some players that physically may be able to play longer than they actually do, but mentally they are at the end of the road," Belichick said. "Then there are guys who are mentally ready to play longer, but physically are at the end of the road. Guys like Junior are able to keep it going because they are strong in both areas.

"He's a great physical specimen, trains hard, loves football, and has a lot of energy, as much energy as any player we have on the field. He's one of the most respected players in the league. He has a tremendous amount of respect on our team. The fact he was elected captain this year, when it was only his second year on the team, is a little unusual. So is the fact he got the exact same number of votes from offensive and defensive players.

"If you know Junior, it isn't that surprising because he brings a great professionalism. He's a Hall of Fame player, and it has been an honor to coach him. He is a special one."

Seau played in Super Bowl XXIX with the Chargers in a 49-26 loss to San Francisco and Steve Young, who threw six touchdown passes that day.

"After the first five minutes of the first quarter, we were down 14-0, so it wasn't too good," Seau said of the memory. "We really were overmatched. It was embarrassing because you wished you could go out there and perform at a high level, and when that doesn't happen it's very disappointing.

"It has been 181 games since then, I'm told. When you're young you always think you're going to have another opportunity. I would never have thought it would be this long. It has been a journey. Now, it's the chance of a lifetime."

Seau, said Harrison, "has endured and persevered. It has just been a tremendous story. Now we need to go ahead and finish it off on Sunday and make that story even sweeter."

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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