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Sunday, August 20, 2006

CHOOSING SIDES: Will Junior Seau's 'unretirement' tarnish his legacy?

Sunday, August 20, 2006
Last modified Saturday, August 19, 2006 11:45 PM PDT



CHOOSING SIDES: Will Junior Seau's 'unretirement' tarnish his legacy?

YES

By: MICHAEL KLITZING

Staff Writer

Remember that episode of "Seinfeld" where Jerry and the gang buy a big-screen TV as a wedding present for The Drake, only to have the nuptials get called off? If any Chargers officials are surfing for late-night syndicated sitcoms any time soon, they'll no doubt be able to relate.

Hate The Drake!

Hate The Seau!

Junior Seau played the Chargers and their fans for fools last week by returning from "retirement" to sign with the New England Patriots not even a week after allowing the Bolts to give him a feel-good farewell bash. Instead of riding off gracefully into the sunset, the Oceanside High graduate decided to join an AFC foe that may well face the Chargers in the playoffs.

"I think that would be a delight for Rodney (Harrison) and I," Seau told reporters on Friday when asked about that scenario.

"It would make for a great story, anyway."

Yeah. Great.

Makes you wonder how long this story has been in the works. After welcoming Seau onto the grounds at Chargers Park on Monday, it might be wise for the Bolts to make sure all play books are accounted for.

While I'm sure the team's secrets are, in fact, secure, the Chargers did lose a whole lot of face in this fiasco.

Let's go back to that ceremony. The team brought in Dick Enberg and other dignitaries to toast the once-great linebacker, allowing him and his scores of local admirers to reach a point of closure. Here's guessing many of those same admirers now feel deceived.

The Chargers Hall of Fame even waived its waiting period to induct Seau into its ranks this year. That was supposed to happen at halftime of the Nov. 5 game against the Browns. Maybe now they can book Up With People or that Frisbee-catching dog as a replacement.

It's hard to rip a guy for wanting one last chance at securing a Super Bowl ring, so Seau's decision to take the Patriots up on their offer is perfectly acceptable. But it's the fact that he let the Chargers throw him an elaborate retirement bash when he hadn't ruled out playing elsewhere that is bound to ruffle some feathers.

Common courtesy would seem to necessitate a thank you and an apology from Seau to the Chargers and the fans he allowed to fawn all over him last week. Hasn't happened yet.

Word of warning Junior: Football fans have long memories. So do team executives, who don't take kindly to being made to look foolish.

Hope you enjoyed that ceremony. It'll be the last one you get around here for quite some time.

-- Contact staff writer Michael Klitzing at mklitzing@nctimes.com. To comment, go to nctimes.com.

NO

By: LOREN NELSON

Staff Writer

It's fair to say the sincerity of the hugs and sobs, deep thoughts and heartfelt moments from Junior Seau's retirement party Monday can be questioned when, four days later, he agrees to play for the New England Patriots.

But 10 years from now, 10 weeks from now, 10 days from now, no one will remember or care about Seau's embarrassing end-around.

Seau's legacy will be just fine. All those sacks and tackles and Seau Salutes will stay in the archives.

Seau's plaque at the Pro Football Hall of Fame will not mention his four-day retirement, but it will say something about his intense desire and passion for football. Has anyone loved playing the game more than this guy? Jerry Rice, maybe.

Maybe I'm wrong, but Seau doesn't seem like the kind of kind of guy who spends a lot of time puttering in the garden or building tree forts for the kids. On Monday, he had no plan for life after football, saying only that it was time to move on and, "please pass another piece of that delicious farewell cake."

Before the desperate Patriots came calling, there wasn't a huge demand for the 37-year-old linebacker who has lost a step or two and whose once bulletproof body is starting to break down. New England figures it can coax a few more of those salutes out of Seau, so it made an offer. Of course he was going to say yes.

How many times did Michael Jordan retire? Twice? Three times? Or is he still playing Euro ball somewhere in Croatia? Does it matter? Michael Jordan is still Michael Jordan, no matter if his playing days ended on a gimpy knee with, of all teams, the lowly Washington Wizards.

Athletes retire and unretire all the time. Gordie Howe, Roger Clemens, insert name of any boxer here.

The rare superstar is the one who walks away and resists the tug to come back. Barry Sanders comes to mind. There are dozens of others. The greatest athletes always are remembered for what they accomplished on the field, not for how or when they retired. There is no stat for number of retirements. There's no extra credit for those who can keep it to one.

Through all of this, Seau comes off as a guy about as stable as a wheelbarrow loaded with nitroglycerine.

Unpredictable, volatile, scary to predict.

But really, shouldn't we have seen this coming? When Seau talked about a pursuing a higher calling, we should have guessed he was talking about Bill Belichick's cell phone.

So he's off to New England. To do what he has always done. To do what he loves. To play football.

Seau will retire again someday. Another chance to party with Oceanside's favorite son.

Who's bringing the cake?

-- Sports editor Loren Nelson can be reached at (760) 740-3551 or lnelson@nctimes.com.

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