SAN DIEGO (AP) — Bobby Ross was a rookie NFL head coach in the spring of 1992 when linebacker Junior Seau turned and watched a pass sail downfield during a passing drill in the last practice of the San Diego Chargers' minicamp.
"I said, 'Repeat the play; Seau loafed,'" Ross said.
The words hit Seau just as hard as he hit running backs and quarterbacks.
"He turned on me real fast: 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'You didn't run to the ball, Junior. What if the ball was tipped? With your speed, you might have gotten an interception.'"
Ross took Seau into his office after practice and showed him film of the play.
"He turned to me and said, 'That will never happen again.' It never did.'"
Seau committed suicide Wednesday at age 43, stunning the city of San Diego and the football world.
In the following days, Ross and others fondly remembered their favorite moments with the star linebacker, a homegrown superstar who played 13 of his 20 NFL seasons with the Chargers.
Sort of like football eulogies.
Ross remains the only coach to get the Chargers to the Super Bowl. Seau was the fist-pumping, emotional leader, the proverbial heart and soul of the team who set the tone in practice and in games.
Ross coached Seau for five seasons. No particular game stood out over another.
"He was the exact same every game," Ross said from his Virginia home. "He was going to play 100 percent."
Seau led by example and with his words.
Ross recalled that after pregame warmups, he and Seau would walk together up the tunnel to the locker room.
"He'd say, 'Can I have them for a few minutes, Coach?' I would say, 'You sure can.'"
Seau would then exhort his teammates to go out and give a complete effort.
Darren Bennett, who made the transition from Australian Rules Football to star punter, remembers nervously lining up to punt during his first Pro Bowl.
"It's not funny as Dermontti Dawson goes to snap the ball, Junior and Greg Lloyd were betting who was going to get to the punt returner first," he said. "Mentally, I'm having a panic attack that not one of these guys was going to block for me. Sure enough, I shank the punt, but Junior was 20 yards down the field and we got penalized. We had to do it again, and I crushed the punt.
"The two wing guys were arguing over $500 — 'I bet I get to the return man first,' and Lloyd was yelling back. No one in the stands knows this crazy stuff is going on.'"
Then there was a poor punt during Bennett's first minicamp with San Diego.
"Junior says, 'Listen, kangaroo leg, man, you've got the biggest leg I've ever seen. Let's get to work.'"
"Then he says, 'Mate, we're from the islands together. Australia is the biggest island in the world, mate.' All of a sudden, Australia was part of Polynesia: 'We're all islanders, part of the same deal.'
"It gave me an incredible amount of confidence. If Junior Seau could say it, I could do it."
Stan Humphries, the only quarterback to get the Chargers to the Super Bowl, thinks back to the 1994 season opener at Denver, which San Diego rallied to win 37-34. John Elway and the Broncos had the ball at the San Diego 3-yard line with less than a minute left.
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