Junior Seau, A True Southern California Legend

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You can cruise Southern California’s freeways on a day with no traffic, and pass each of the three venues where Junior Seau built a football legacy that might never be matched.

Just off the 8 in San Diego lies Qualcomm Stadium, the venue Junior Seau called home for 13 seasons. No pro sports figure in San Diego is as beloved as Seau, save the late Tony Gwynn. Former Charger Shawne Merriman probably capture Seau’s aura best:

Drive up the 5 about half-an-hour, and you’ll pass John Carroll Stadium, which sits just above the main artery between San Diego and Orange Counties.

John Carroll Stadium is the home of the Oceanside High School Pirates, a perennial championship contender in the California Interscholastic Federation’s San Diego Section. O-Side’s tradition of excellence started with Seau in the 1980s and continues today.

Junior Seau’s name is prominently plastered around Oceanside’s football facility, but the former All-Sectional player isn’t merely a famous alum. Oceanside has one of the highest Samoan populations in the United States and, as Louis Bien details in this excellent SB Nation feature, Seau’s impact on the Samoan community was profound.

This past January, John Carroll Stadium was host to the Fifth Annual Polynesian All-American Bowl, where high school stars of Polynesian descent showed off their skills — and an awesome rendition of the Haka.

After Seau’s days wreaking havoc at John Carroll Stadium — then Simcox Field — he took the quick jaunt up the 5, to the 405 and off the 110 to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In the same way Junior Seau is revered at O-Side, his legacy at USC is indelible.

USC can argue with its counterparts in Coral Gables, Columbus and Happy Valley over the name Linebacker U. thanks to the standard Seau set.

His 1988 and 1989 seasons are two of the best by a linebacker ever in college football history, pacing the Trojans to back-to-back Rose Bowls. Though Jack Del Rio is sometimes credited as the originator of The 55 Club tradition — wherein leaders and captains at linebacker earn the right to wear No. 55 — Keith Rivers credits Junior Seau as lighting the torch.

Like Rivers, Willie McGinest donned No. 55 for the Trojans. He shared his memories of meeting Junior in Los Angeles and later being teammates with the New England Patriots via The Players’ Tribune.

McGinest offers terrific insight into just who Junior Seau was off the field.

Seau’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend elicits memories like those McGinest shares of the polite Dr. Jekyll who contrasted the hard-hitting Mr. Hyde we watched on Saturdays and Sunday.

His name returning to the headlines, three years after his suicide, has also sparked renewed focus on football’s concussion problem.

Because his name carries so much weight, the tragedy of his death could be a catalyst for much-needed reforms in the sport. In a life in which Junior Seau impacted so many, it’s only fitting he can continue to have profound impact after.