The death of Junior Seau from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 43 rocked the NFL to its foundation — particularly a generation of players and coaches that worked and played with and against Seau during his 20-year career.
Broncos coach John Fox was the Chargers’ secondary coach in 1992 and 1993, when Seau was already an All-Pro. He would eventually earn that designation 10 times between 1991 and 2000.
“Junior was an incredible leader who played with great passion,” Fox said through the Broncos’ Twitter feed. “Coaching on a defense that included him has been one of the most memorable experiences of my career. We had a great relationship. I have an enormous amount of respect for him as a player and a person.
“I offer my sympathies to his family.”
Quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in the NFL in 1998 in time to feel the brunt of Seau’s force, when the linebacker was still in his prime.
“When I first got into the league in 1998, the two most dominating defenders I played against were Junior Seau and Bruce Smith,” Manning said in a statement. “Junior was truly a once-in-a-lifetime player. I remember how many times we would be getting ready to play him and the Chargers and someone would say, ‘This is a blitz here.’ And I would say, ‘That’s not a blitz; that’s just Junior Seau smelling something and going after it.’
“He was very difficult to play against because his instincts would always lead him to the right place on defense—or the wrong place for the offense. He and Ray Lewis are the two best linebackers I’ve ever played against, and I know many others would feel the same way.
“I had the great pleasure of playing against Junior but I also had the honor of playing with Junior in a couple of Pro Bowls. Just in those shorts weeks of Pro Bowl practices, nobody had more passion for the game than Junior Seau. His energy and enthusiasm—you could tell how it spread back to his teammates with the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. I also got to attend some charity functions with him and I saw how philanthropic he was in giving his time and money to several worthy causes.
“To me, Junior had a quality of making the people around him feel special and comfortable. It didn’t matter what environment he was in—he had just a great energy and an aura about him that people gravitated to. That’s why he was such a great leader. I always felt good being around him. He was truly a one-of-a-kind football player and a one-of-a-kind person just because of his passion.
“I was honored to call Junior a friend and I was deeply saddened by the news of his passing. I will truly miss him, and I know a lot of people are going to miss him. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family.”