NFL Hall of Fame election preview: Junior Seau

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TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 22: Linebacker Junior Seau #55 of the San Diego Chargers gets set for play during the game against the Arizona Cardinals on September 22, 2002 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. The Chargers won 23-15. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — On Saturday, four San Diegans hope to hear their name called for enshrinement in the NFL’s Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the most likely is the late Junior Seau. Junior Seau played 13 of his 20 NFL seasons with the Chargers. He made 12 pro bowls and ranks fourth all-time with 1,524 tackles.

U-T San Diego columnist Nick Canepa serves as one of the 46 Hall of Fame panelists who will meet on a Saturday to vote in at least four and no more than eight members to the Hall of Fame.

“I think of his class, Junior’s a slam dunk,” Canepa said.

He believes Junior Seau belongs – and he also believes he won’t have to campaign very hard.

“Great player, 12-time pro bowler. At one time, he was almost the consensus best player in football,” Canepa said.

Seau played linebacker for 20 seasons in the NFL, but really, his former teammates and coaches say that he played all over the field, running down ball carriers from sideline-to-sideline.

“The reason why he was as good as he was is that he really knew the game,” said Darren Carrington, Seau’s teammate from 1991 to 1994. “He really studied the game and he knew the game and it would frustrate quarterbacks and running backs. They knew that when they were getting the ball, and he’s yelling dive, dive, trap, trap. Watch the reverse. And they are about to run those plays. All of those encompassed in one guy, he was an incredible player and an incredible athlete.”

“Even when I was coaching for the Chargers, the first person I watched was Junior Seau,” said James Lofton, Hall of Fame wide receiver. “I am supposed to be watching something else, but Junior had such a presence and he’s moving around and not where he’s supposed to be, because he already has a feel for where the ball was going to go. He was so instinctive, that he almost threw you off as an offensive player.”

Seau grew up in Oceanside where he graduated from high school in 1987. He moved on to USC and then joined the Chargers as the fifth overall pick in the 1990 draft.

He also played parts of three seasons with the Miami dolphins and four seasons with the New England Patriots.

The son of Samoan parents, he not only made Chargers fans proud, but also fellow players who share his Polynesian heritage.

“I think Junior going into the Hall of Fame as probably our first Polynesian and to coincide with our first Heisman Trophy Winner, we’re at an all-time high as far as Polynesian football,” said Jesse Sapolu, former NFL offensive tackle.

“For him to be a finalist in the Hall of Fame is well-deserved,” said Kewin Mawae, former NFL center. “There’s nobody who I can think of that played as well as he did that doesn’t belong in there as much as he does. I’m just proud to say that I shared the field with him at one time.”

“We can’t wait to go out to Canton and support Junior and his family and it’s something that we are very, very proud of,” said Jesse Sapolu, former NFL offensive tackle.

The downside to this happy occasion: Seau, who would have turned 46 years old on Jan. 19, won’t get to enjoy the moment in person.

“For my parents, it means a lot to be able to finish the chapter in what he was doing,” said Annette Seau-Sooto, Seau’s sister. “Unfortunately, he’s not here to enjoy it. At least he’s able to enjoy it from above.”

“If Seau goes into the Hall of Fame Aug. 8, he won’t go in as a Charger…or as a Miami Dolphin or a New England Patriot.

Unlike the baseball Hall of Fame, the pro football Hall of Fame does not assign each inductee to a team. Rather, it lists all of the players’ accomplishments.

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