About 20,000 fans flocked to Qualcomm Stadium Friday night for a public memorial for former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who was buried Friday morning in his native Oceanside.
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Several former Chargers shared stories at the "Celebration of Life" for Seau, who was found dead in his Oceanside home last week of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was announced during the celebration that Seau's No. 55 was retired.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson said he had looked up to Seau since he was a child. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts called Seau "the ultimate leader, the ultimate teammate." Linebacker Billy Ray Smith, who told the crowd that Seau "loved you guys, loved you all."
Smith reminisced on a time Seau charged flowers for the female members of the team's staff on Smith's credit card after he stuck Seau with the bill for a linebackers' steak dinners.
"He was a great friend," said Smith, who played for the Chargers from 1983-92. "He was a great teammate and I will miss him forever."
Fouts told the crowd, which included Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, coach John Fox and former Broncos quarterback John Elway, that Seau's relationship with Chargers fans was "one of a kind," but also that Seau's passing was a tragedy and a lesson could be learned.
"If you need help, get help," said Fouts, who played for the Chargers from 1973-87. "It's out there. All you have to do is swallow your pride and ask for it.
"We all need help at times. We can all do a better job of helping each other. We must do a better at communicating, at sharing our feelings, our doubts and our fears."
Tomlinson said Seau taught him what it meant to give back to the community.
"I gave back to this community because Junior did," said Tomlinson, who played for the Chargers from 2001-2009. "He was so special that he encouraged me to give back as much as I can, and to this day I'm still doing the same thing because of him."
Other speakers included Bobby Ross, who coached the Chargers to their lone Super Bowl berth; former Tampa Bay and Denver standout safety John Lynch; and Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Sanders said Seau's legacy would include his Junior Seau Foundation which donated millions to help teens and young adults. He said Seau would be remembered not only for what he did on the football field, but for the enormous force of his personality.
"Of all San Diego's most accomplished athletes, Junior was the most charismatic, the one that had the biggest impact on a room simply by walking into it," Sanders said.
Sanders said perhaps the highest compliment of all was Seau was "always the object of the loudest, nastiest, stupidest chants from the knuckle-dragging hoard of subhumans otherwise known as Raider fans."
Miles McPherson, former Chargers safety and senior pastor at The Rock Church, spoke and served as master of ceremonies and Shawn Mitchell, senior pastor at New Venture Christian Fellowship also was part of the program.
During the "Celebration of Life" event, there was laughter and tears over the man who made the No. 55 jersey so famous.
"He was a good person and he never acted like a star," one fan said.
The Rodriguez family says watching Seau was a family affair and now they have lost one of their own.
"Just realizing I will never get to hug him or anything
I never got the chance to meet him," said fan Jessica Rodriguez. "He just brought a lot of happiness to all of our family. He was the Chargers."
Augustine Rodriguez added, "Ever since she was little, we brought her to the games and so she grew up with Charger football and Junior, so it was more than just a celebrity
he felt like family."
Fans also left messages for Seau and his family on surfboards.
One fan wrote, "RIP #55, there will be no other." Another wrote, "We love you Junior! You'll always be my hero."
"He meant a lot to the community and San Diego, period," said a fan outside the stadium. "It's going to be a big loss."
Seau's private funeral was held Friday morning at Calvary Chapel in Oceanside. Members of Seau's family, including his children, ex-wife Gina, friends and former teammates packed the 2,000-seat church before his body was take to Eternal Hills cemetery in Oceanside.
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