When Tim Brown slips into his gold dinner jacket at his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, one of his five fellow inductees will be missing.
Junior Seau won’t be there because he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest – a suicide since conflated with revelations that the sideline-to-sideline linebacker lived his last years in the fog of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Seau’s death on May 2, 2012, in his Oceanside home at age 43 shocked Brown as much as anybody. Two days before Seau turned a gun on himself, Brown – the former Raiders wideout whose speed, moves and hands earned him a long-awaited bronze bust in Canton – put on a charity golf tournament that Seau attended.
“He was the life of my golf tournament,” Brown said during a conference call two days ago. “He had everybody laughing. The guys in the group that played with him (said) he was the most affable guy they’d ever met. They were devastated after this happened.”
It will be interesting to see what happens in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 8 when Hall of Famers and NFL administrators gather to honor Seau, an eight-time All-Pro who tackled 1,849 ballcarriers over a 20-year career of constant collision, with induction.
Football people don’t like to talk about brain damage, especially when it’s implicated in the death of a star like Seau. They like to talk about it even less when the family of the late player is pressing a wrongful death lawsuit, as Seau’s is.
But even as the CTE issue swirls around and is a source of consternation for the NFL, it won’t be on the agenda at the induction ceremony for Brown, Seau and fellow former players Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley (a former 49ers pass rusher), Will Shields and Mick Tingelhoff, as well as former NFL executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
San Diego attorney Steve Strauss’ office confirmed Friday that the Seau family will not be allowed to speak at the ceremony, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman said the program will be focused on the four points of the organization’s mission – honor the heroes of the game, preserve its history, promote its values and “celebrate excellence everywhere.”
“So that’s what we will be doing throughout Hall of Fame weekend,” the spokesman, Pete Fierle, said in an interview Friday. “We’ll be honoring Junior Seau as a hero of the game, and we’ll honor him in the same way we’d honor the entire class. It’s a celebration of what he’s achieved throughout his entire career.”
Seau’s family members ripped the NFL in an interview with Showtime that aired in January. His oldest son, Tyler, told Showtime’s Armen Keteyian that the league has taken “no ownership for what they’ve done.”
“They’re still hurting, man,’ Brown said in Thursday’s teleconference. “This is not something that has gone over, even with the time that has passed. All we can do at this point is to support them, make sure we uplift them.”
Brown said Seau “was the one player that during my career I hated to play against, more than any other player.”
“He was such a destructive force,” he added.
Brown caught 1,094 passes for 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns in his 16 years with the Raiders and one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he recalled one Sunday against Seau and the Chargers when he couldn’t accomplish much of anything.
“Towards the end of his time in San Diego, I had been having a pretty good season, and they had decided that no matter what, Tim Brown wasn’t going to beat them,” Brown recalled. “I was playing 90 percent slot receiver, and they just decided they were going to man Junior up on me and put him out on the slot, and do as much as he possibly could to hold me on the line of scrimmage.
“Now Junior’s 6-3, 240, one of the best athletes I’ve ever played against, and me at that time being under 200 pounds, it was not too much of a battle. I tried going in short motion, cross motion – it didn’t matter where I went, if I ended up being in the slot, he was right on my head, and I had probably one of the worst games in my career.”
When Seau’s career ended, his ex-wife and kids reported that he drank and gambled heavily, that he grew distant. He drove his car off a cliff. If it was a failed suicide attempt, his gunshot to the chest sure wasn’t. His survivors suspect football-related CTE caused Seau’s life to careen off course.
Brown said he and other players such as Hall of Famer and former Raiders teammate Marcus Allen “knew (Seau) he had a problem.” Whether it was brain damage or substance abuse or bad behavior, they figured they were in position to do something about it. They discussed double-teaming Seau about intervention, Brown said. They were supposed to take their shot at Brown’s golf tournament, but Allen couldn’t make it, so they decided to wait a couple of weeks until Marcus’ tournament.
“Obviously,” Brown said, “we didn’t get that chance.”
2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame
- Induction: Aug. 8, 4 p.m.
- Class: Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Junior Seau, Jerome Bettis, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
- HOF Game: Aug. 9, 5 p.m.
- Who: Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh