junior seau*For those of us who came of age in the 1990s, the suicide of ex-NFL linebacker Junior Seau hit especially hard.

The word “icon” gets tossed around too often, but Seau really was one, an aggressive, tackling and sacking demon on the field and a ubiquitous, mirthful presence off of it.

We might not have seen him often on national TV – given to the Chargers’ usual disappointing seasons – but, as fans of the sport and of the NFL, he was always there, a superstar in mind if not in sight.

There are some parallels we can draw to the career of another famous Junior, the soon-to-be-Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. Like Griffey, Seau was a legend mired in a place that just wasn’t up to the star wattage he provided; as Griffey astonished in the Pacific Northwest, Junior toiled in San Diego, racking up Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro honors for a team that never really lived up to his brilliance. Griffey got to showcase what he could do in that memorable 1995 Mariners playoff run; Seau had his one great postseason moment in 1995, leading an undermanned and unimpressive Chargers squad to Superbowl XXIX, where they were promptly swatted away by the 49ers like a flea on an elephant’s back.

Now, we’re only left with the memories – and the questions. Was the horrible manner of Seau’s death brought about by the relentless pounding his body took over his remarkable career? Was he a victim of the same brain trauma that plagued former Bears guard Dave Duerson or a young University of Pennsylvania football player, both of whom took their own lives?

Columnists will invariably use Seau’s death to discuss the concussion / brain injury problem in the NFL, as well they should. It’s a disturbing development that deserves more attention and study. However, the uproar (and the other bounty-related news that appeared the same day of Seau’s death shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the remarkable legacy Seau left on the football field. He was too great a player and too towering a figure just to be remembered as the latest face of tragedy in the NFL.