By now, everyone's heard of the tragic loss of Junior Seau earlier today. While he finished his career with the hated Patriots, that doesn't tarnish what he accomplished. Seau was one of the greatest players we've ever had the pleasure to watch in the NFL. Some of you may be too young to remember him in his prime, as arguably the most dominant LB of his generation playing for the Chargers in the '90s. But what I remember most about Junior was his attitude - always smiling, always patting guys on the back, always calling everyone "buddy." He wsn't just a phenomonal athlete, but a great man, both on and off the field. Junior was never accused of taking cheap shots, trying to willfully hurt another player, he never pouted or held out for a bigger contract - and he never ran afoul of the law off the field. If only each and every player could hold themselves to the Seau standard, the world might be a better place.
Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the good guys that have come out of the NFL in recent years have died tragically young. Reggie White and Steve "Air" McNair come to mind. Maybe they weren't perfect - McNair cheated on his wife, Reggie made some pretty controversial comments about the gay community and minorities in general - but compared to a lot of players in the NFL today, they were model citizens. And any player who was ever privileged enough to share the field with one of these men had nothing but good things to say about them. They consistently went above and beyond to give back to their community and help those less fortunate.
Last, but certainly not least by any measure, is Walter Payton. Walter was "Sweetness" by every definition of the word - those of us priviliged enough to watch him play saw a passion that, like Seau, may never again be equaled in the NFL. The first Super Bowl I ever saw was the '85 Bears (I was 7) and I instantly became a Walter Payton fan for life. Not just the player, but the man. It's not often you get to see a legend in his own time - and to know, even before he hangs up the pads, that this is in fact one of the greatest there will ever be.
These men exemplified something that is becoming more and more rare in not just the NFL, but all of professional sports today. In the days of free agency, outsized contracts, and the desire to put onesself before the time, it's hard to find an athlete who is plays truly "for the love of the game." Vince Lombardi once said "Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It's something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success." These men made that commitment, they used that heart power, and they succeded in life, not just on the field, but everywhere and with everyone who's lives they touched. So I guess it's true - only the good die young.
Rest in Peace Buddy.