Labor of Love
Junior Seau, the consummate pro, pushes on for the lowly Chargers
Linebacker Junior Seau limped off the Chargers' charter late on
the night of Oct. 1, the pain from the hamstring he had strained
earlier that day in a 57-31 loss to the Rams shooting up his left
leg. This was an injury that would sideline most players for two
weeks, trainer James Collins had thought after examining Seau in
St. Louis. But as he left the plane, Seau said to Collins, "See
you at 5:30."
Sure enough, seven hours later Seau was sitting on Collins's
table, his legs extended for a resistance exercise. Collins sat
in front of Seau, cupping his palms under the linebacker's heels
and instructing him to push his feet downward. "Three sets of
10," Collins said.
"No," Seau said. "Till I get tired."
After Seau had done 20 reps on his first set, Collins said, "Are
you sure you're hurt?"
"Let's go!" Seau barked.
They did two more sets of 20, then various other exercises for 70
minutes. Next for Seau came a meeting of the Breakfast Club, the
five players who participate in early-morning weightlifting. This
was Seau's routine Monday through Friday.
On Oct. 8, Seau played the entire game, picking up a team-high
nine tackles in a 21-7 loss to the Broncos. He was back on the
Monday-to-Friday regimen last week as he prepared for the Bills.
Then, after a painful 27-24 overtime loss in Buffalo and a
cross-country journey on Sunday night, Seau would be in the
trainers' room again on Monday, the first day of the Chargers'
bye week. Never mind that San Diego is 0-7. All that matters to
Seau is getting the hamstring right for the next game. "I don't
know if you can understand, or if I can explain, the sheer will
of this man," says Collins. "He has such a love of the game, a
love of competition. He's reaching for something out there,
something he may never reach, but he will use every fiber trying
to get there."
The Chargers, whom Seau led to the Super Bowl at the end of the
'94 season, are a mess, largely because of the questionable
drafting practices of Bobby Beathard, the risk-taking general
manager who retired last April. Beathard repeatedly traded future
first-round picks so he could draft prospects, who didn't pan
out. San Diego's roster now has the feel of an expansion team.
The franchise's woeful condition doesn't have just a
psychological impact on Seau; it has an impact on the field as
well. The secondary is so weak that opponents have no reason to
attack the Chargers' strength, which is defending against the
run, and the ferocious run-stuffing Seau, a nine-time Pro Bowl
player. Witness what happened in St. Louis: Rams coach Mike Martz
called passes on his team's first 18 snaps to put San Diego in a
17-0 hole. "Junior's the best defensive player in the game,"
Martz said. "We were going to do everything we could to take him
out of the game."
Even after 11 years, Seau's hits--like the one he put on Raiders
fullback Jon Ritchie in Week 1--are something to behold. "I jumped
to catch the ball, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Junior
coming," Ritchie recalls. "His helmet came full force under my
jaw, and he hit me like I've never been hit. I couldn't hear
anything out of my left ear for a week. I was deaf. And my jaw
was so sore, I couldn't eat right."
On Sunday in Buffalo, dragging his gimpy leg behind him ("my
broke hamstring," Seau calls it), he put on a clinic. Running
from sideline to sideline, he had a game-high 12 tackles. With
the Chargers ahead 24-21 and 16 seconds left, he stepped in front
of a pass intended for Bills wideout Peerless Price at the San
Diego five. Seau was in position to make the interception, but
Price stuck his hand in at the last second. Steve Christie kicked
a field goal on the next play, then won the game with a 46-yarder
Fifteen minutes after the game the 31-year-old Seau sat in the
trainers' room with a bottle of Gatorade in his left hand, an ice
pack taped to his left hammy and thoughts running through his
head about what might have been. "I've already replayed that
interception in my mind 30 times," he said, his eyes burning a
hole in the floor. "I'll replay it all the way back home. And
there will be no sleep for me tonight. Do you know how close we
When Buffalo receivers coach Charlie Joiner, a former Charger,
found his way into the room, Seau's respect for the game and for
the players who came before him shone through. The two chatted
for awhile about the game and old times, and as Joiner prepared
to leave, the air got thick. "Get well, man. I love you," Joiner
said, enveloping Seau in his arms.
"I love you," Seau replied, returning the hug.
After Joiner had left, Seau looked ahead, then back down at the
floor. "That's what the game's all about," he said, adjusting the
ice pack. "The corporate game, the media game, I know that's a
game we have to play. But you know what this game's all about?
Respect. The respect you can earn only between those white
Seau got so choked up he had to stop. Finally, he sighed and
said, "The game is still hitting. It's still blocking. It's
still...it's still about courage."
There was another long pause. "That's why," Seau said, his eyes
still fixed on the floor, "I can't wait till next Sunday."
Ravens' Touchdown Drought
Banks Struggles To Find Game
If you had to pick one play from Baltimore's 10-3 loss to
Washington to illustrate the increasingly dreadful performance of
Ravens quarterback Tony Banks, the obvious choice would be the
interception that Banks threw on first-and-goal from the
Redskins' one-yard line moments before halftime. It was a
momentum-killer that cost the Ravens a chance to take the lead
and their best opportunity to end a touchdown drought that now
stretches 186 minutes and 39 seconds, or three-plus games.
Less obvious but even more telling was a play Banks made, or
didn't make, earlier in the second quarter. On first down at the
Ravens' 39, Skins tackle Dana Stubblefield jumped offside. Flags
flew, leaving Banks a free play as two receivers ran downfield
routes. But rather than take a shot at a big gainer, Banks threw
an awkward pass in the left flat that fell incomplete at running
back Jamal Lewis's toes.
Banks showed promise early in the season, throwing eight
touchdown passes while getting picked off only three times as
Baltimore started 3-1. However, in the last three games, two of
them victories in which the Ravens got by on field goals, he has
completed just 51 passes in 100 attempts with two interceptions.
During that stretch Banks has averaged a paltry 4.59 yards per
attempt. Moreover, the offense couldn't have been much worse when
it mattered most, converting only 14 of 44 third-down attempts
while failing to score a touchdown in seven red-zone
"Maybe I've been pressing, but I'm fine, confidence-wise," Banks
said after completing 16 of 27 passes for 135 yards against
Washington. "I just can't lose my focus."
Trent Dilfer is waiting in the wings, but even before Ravens
coach Brian Billick could be asked the question, he announced
that Banks would start this Sunday's critical AFC Central game
against the Titans. Should Banks continue to falter, though,
Billick risks losing not only more games but also the respect of
his players, particularly those on a defense that ranks among the
league's best. --Josh Elliott
Martz Has Plan To Keep It Intact
St. Louis coach Mike Martz should be able to keep his
intergalactic offense from getting ravaged in free agency.
Quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, wideouts
Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and nine offensive linemen are
already signed through at least 2003. The Rams hope to lock up
third wideout Az Hakim, who is eligible to become a restricted
free agent after this year, with a long-term deal before the
season is finished, while Martz has told 32-year-old Ricky
Proehl, a valuable possession receiver who made the winning catch
in the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay last January, that
he wants him to retire a Ram.
Holt may be the toughest to retain. He is going to put up big
numbers in the next two years, thereby driving up his price.
"It's up to the Rams," says Holt, a 1999 first-round draft pick
whose contract runs through the 2003 season. "I'd love to stay
here my whole career, but if I'm only here two or three years, I
can tell you they'll be the best two or three years of my life."
Look for St. Louis to push to sign Holt to an extension--but only
if the team can't re-sign defensive end Kevin Carter.
And talk about the rich getting richer. The Rams could have three
first-round picks in next April's draft. They'll have their own,
will probably get another by dealing backup quarterback Trent
Green and could acquire a third by putting the franchise tag on
Carter if he refuses to sign, then trading him before draft
Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
Owners are leaning toward adopting a balanced schedule when
Houston enters the league in 2002, meaning the idea of so-called
rivalry scheduling--giving each team one game a season against a
natural rival--will be shelved. The owners who are against rivalry
scheduling say they don't have a natural interconference rival.
But certainly it's better for the Vikings and, say, the Seahawks
to develop a rivalry than it is for the Giants and Jets or the
Redskins and Ravens to meet only once every four years.... Niners
quarterback Jeff Garcia (19 touchdown passes, four interceptions)
is turning into a very good player. Garcia leads the NFL in
red-zone completion percentage (75.0) and has the league's
second-best fourth-quarter passer rating (128.9).... One reason
Eagles running back Darnell Autry put his acting career on hold
is that he got turned down last year in a casting call for the
part of a pro football player. He was told he didn't look like
one. Autry started against Arizona on Sunday, carrying 20 times
for 64 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 28
yards.... Nice weekend for Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
Woke up on Saturday with the flu. Spent the day in the hospital.
Flew to New Orleans to play the league's top-ranked defense.
Sacked six times, once getting forearmed in the face so badly
that on the next play he was bleeding from the nose "like a
faucet," said fullback William Floyd. Lost 24-6. "He's the
toughest guy I've been around," says Beuerlein's backup, Jeff
Lewis.... The Eagles, 1-23-1 in their last 25 road games entering
this season, have won three of four away from home.