Junior Seau was a great football player. Growing up in San Diego as a Charger fan himself, Seau embodied the lightning bolt. He seemed to have twice as much energy as everyone else on the field. He was exhilarating to watch.
When news of his death hit last week, my mom sent me a text message that read, “Brings back so many memories of when you were young worshipping the Chargers.”
I really did worship them. Before every game, I would set up a shrine in our living room. Clothing, cards, memorabilia, even my trash can. I don’t know if it brought them good luck, but I did it every week.
In 1994, the Chargers made it to the Super Bowl. They were underdogs throughout the playoffs, especially in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That game came down to the final seconds. I was on the edge of my seat. Would my shrine fail me now? My heart was pounding. I just wanted the clock to tick faster. Come on, guys. You can’t let the stupid Steelers beat you.
The Charger defense prevailed, and we were Super Bowl-bound! My family and I were screaming and running around the house.
“We’re going to the Super Bowl!” There may have been dancing involved. I can remember my mom answering a phone call from her sister with, “Super Bowl headquarters, how may I help you?”
Super Bowl headquarters, indeed.
That night, we drove to Jack Murphy Stadium to welcome the team home from Pittsburgh. It was a Sunday night, a school night. My parents could have kept us home and made us go to bed. But this was so much bigger than school. Bigger than doing the responsible thing. This was the first time the Chargers were ever going to the Super Bowl. Forget about school, get in the car, we’re going to The Murph!
I remember the car ride there, blue towels hanging out our windows to mock those terrible Terrible Towels from Pittsburgh. I’m surprised my sister and I didn’t lose our arms, we were waving our towels so hard. My dad joined in the chorus of honking horns. Traffic was at a gridlock, but we didn’t care. In the packed stadium, some of the players addressed the crowd. They thanked us for our support and talked about what they would try to do in two weeks. They gave us the hope that we might win the biggest game in football.
I don’t remember what I learned in school the next day. I think I slept through most of my classes.
Two weeks later, the day of the big game came. The Super Bowl. And….
We lost. No, we got annihilated. The 49ers scored their first touchdown barely a minute into the game. I can still see it. Steve Young lofted a gorgeous pass right into the sure hands of Jerry Rice. No Chargers defender was even close. It was a foreshadowing of things to come, as Young threw a record six touchdowns that day.
In the end, the 49ers destroyed the Chargers 49-26. It’s funny, because I will always remember the score. I guess it was burned into my brain right alongside anger, sadness, frustration, and wonderings of why. Why did we have to lose? Why did we have to lose so badly? Why did they have to be so stinking good, with their Steve Young and their Jerry Rice? Why were we so overmatched?
You see, sports fans are funny. We attach ourselves to organizations, teams, and players. If “we” don’t win, we are devastated. If “we” do, we are elated. We make up excuses as to why “we” lost, sometimes hanging on to those excuses for years. We always want “us” to win.
The fact that “we” lost, and lost so big, really seemed to matter then.
It doesn’t anymore.
My mom didn’t say that Junior brought back memories of them losing the Super Bowl. He brought back memories of me.
That made me step back and realize that even though “we” lost big time, we still witnessed some awesome moments that year. Natrone Means bowling people over. Tony Martin sprinting down the sideline after catching a bomb from Stan Humphries. Andre Coleman returning kicks for touchdowns, including a 98-yarder in the Super Bowl. John Carney making seemingly every field goal he attempted all year. Alfred Pupunu and his coconut-drinking dance after touchdowns. Junior Seau perfectly timing the snap count and sacking the quarterback before he even knew what happened. Kurt Gouveia slapping the ball away in Pittsburgh to send “us” to the Super Bowl.
Long after we are gone, people will forget the day-to-day details of what we did. No matter our profession, no one will remember the insignificant setbacks we encountered along the way. They will remember the kind of people we were, and the impact we had on others.
My mom didn’t remember the Super Bowl blowout. It was insignificant. Instead, she remembered her son’s ridiculous shrine to his team. She remembered the effect that team had on others, the effect Junior Seau had on me. And that’s what I’ll always remember, too.
Your team doesn’t always have to win.
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