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Junior Seau remembered as football star, civic benefactor

May 11, 2012 |  8:46 pm

The venue Friday night was Qualcomm Stadium, but the memories of Junior Seau were as much about his legacy as a civic benefactor as his 13 seasons as a star linebacker with the San Diego Chargers.

Former Chargers coach Bobby Ross said Seau was "a very special player but a very special person as well."

At an event that drew thousands of fans and other well-wishers, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and others lauded Seau's foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for youth activities including the Boys and Girls Club in Oceanside -- Seau's hometown, which he never abandoned despite earning fame and fortune in 20 years in the NFL.

In a video Seau was shown explaining why he started the foundation in 1992: "I just wanted to do the right thing, to do my part."

LaDainian Tomlinson, a former Chargers running back now playing for the New York Jets, said he began his own foundation to emulate Seau. "He taught me the true meaning of giving back to the community."

In one of the emotional high points of the event, Tomlinson spoke directly to Seau's parents: "Mama Seau, Papa Seau, it's time for you to take a bow.... Don't be sad, be happy, because Junior lives through us."

Dean Spanos, president of the Chargers, announced that Seau's number 55 is being retired. The Chargers sponsored the 90-minute event.

Although the evening was mostly joyous, with playful references to the arch-rival Oakland Raiders and the pranks that NFL players play on each other, former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts interjected a serious note.

"There's no hiding that Junior's passing is a tragedy," Fouts told the crowd, which was suddenly hushed. "The lesson is: If you need help, get help, it's out there.... If you need help or if you recognize the signs that...a friend needs help, do something about it."

Seau, 43, was found dead May 2 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in his home in Oceanside. No note was found, and friends and family members say they are baffled by his decision to commit suicide.

Seau was buried Friday at Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Junior Seau's parents, Luisa and Tiaina Seau, wave to the crowd at a celebration of their son's life Friday night at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Credit: Christina House / For The Times