For the past few years, I have had the fortune to live a block from Jr Seau. Being a patriots fan I was ecstatic to learn the legend lived a stone’s throw away. I would always look for him chilling on his balcony, or if I was really lucky I would see him out in the water on his giant stand-up paddleboard, cutting a yellow swath through the waves. He was an icon in the San Diego area; his work with the Junior Seau Foundation educated and empowered young people through the support of child abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs.
His death was a tragedy.
For the four days following Jr’s death, helicopters circled like vultures. The dozen or so TV vans with giant satellite dishes obscured the skyline for blocks surrounding his beach front house with the brick façade. The circus atmosphere created an air of uncertainty and disbelieve. A shrine appeared within hours covering the driveway of his house and spilling into the street. The police were forced to block traffic altogether on the tiny road that ran the length of the beach in Oceanside.
The ambiance this day was one of celebration. The helicopters created a mood of excitement rather than melancholy. People gathered by the thousands to witness an age old Hawaiian tradition of a paddle out. Usually friends will gather on the beach, then a Hawaiian priest will say or chant a prayer and often he or she will have special oils and ti leaves and bless the iwi (bones) for release into the ocean. Then everyone paddles past the break and some words are said and a conch shell is blown.
Surfing is a notoriously competitive sport but today everyone wore a smile. Surfers paddled out by the hundreds to say goodbye to a hero. We paddled well beyond the break to sit and cheer for Seau. At first I was a little perturbed by the lack of organization. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Some spread leis in the water; others chanted “55” or “Jr.! Jr.!”. Others simply sat and contemplated. As disorganized as we were, it seemed appropriate. We were, after all, football fans, not Hawaiian surfers. I overheard one old timer relating to a nearby fan that he had never surfed before and had borrowed a board from a friend. He looked totally uncomfortable in his Seau jersey floating on his faded yellow short board but he wore a huge smile on his face. He, like all of us, simply wanted to be a part of saying farewell and thank you to a man that gave himself tirelessly to the game of football and more importantly to the fans that supported him.
While I was sitting in the mass of people, I turned to my friend and said “I feel like we’re all hanging out here chanting his name so he’ll come surf with us.” This thought made me sad. Because what if we had all gathered here last week to do this? What if it was Jr. standing on his paddleboard in the middle instead of his friend? It’s hard to find answers in this tragedy.
The only thing I know for sure is that you will be missed Jr.