FOXBORO - The last time Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau prepared to play for the AFC Championship was in 1994 as members of the San Diego Chargers.
"In '94, I was in my hotel room in Pittsburgh, they were filming a lot of those Super Bowl shuffles around us, yellow flags, yellow towels everywhere," Seau told the press this week as his current team, the New England Patriots, ironically prepare to play against Seau's hometown team, the San Diego Chargers in Sunday's AFC Championship game. "We had no chance. We had no chance there, and we came out with the win. That was probably one of my fondest memories of being with San Diego."
Seau was one of the most popular players on the Chargers and he played in 12 straight pro bowls during his 13 seasons as a member of San Diego. In every season with the team, he was the leading tackler. In 1991, he created the Seau Foundation, which raises money for drug awareness, child abuse prevention, and college scholarships. Seau also owns a clothing line, Say-Ow, as well as Seau's The Restaurant in Mission Valley, San Diego. His roots run deep in San Diego.
"San Diego is my hometown, number one," said Seau. "To start off with San Diego, with the Spanos family and everything there being in my hometown, it was definitely a treat. It was definitely a treat. Going through the grind
helping build that organization and getting to a point where we can be effective, number one, but more importantly win in this league, and going to the Super Bowl with Coach [Bob] Ross and everything. There's so much that I can touch on, but we just don't have enough time."
Harrison first played with Seau in 1994 when he was a rookie and played in 15 games and all three post season games for the Chargers that year. He led the Chargers with 20 special teams tackles and had a fumble recovery in his first year and would become a two-time pro bowler with the Bolts.
Both Harrison and Seau lost the Super Bowl against the 49ers that first year they played together, but never returned. Although Harrison did win two championships as a member of the Patriots, Seau has never returned to a championship game until now with Harrison and the Patriots.
Harrison, who has played 11 seasons with Seau, said winning it all with Junior would mean something special.
"It would be tremendous," said Harrison to the media this week. "For a guy like me, who has played with Junior for so many years, actually seeing the sacrifices that he's made, to see how hard he has worked, to see everything - his leadership. He's been in the league 18 years. That would definitely mean a great deal."
Harrison said no one deserves a championship more than Seau and since being in New England, Seau has earned the respect of his teammates in the locker room.
"A lot of guys respect Junior," said Harrison. "They respect what he brings to the table, just his consistency, his hard work, the commitment to just one goal and that's to win each and every day. One thing that he says is that he didn't come here to practice, but the guy practices harder than anyone I've ever seen. [He's] just a guy that's a consummate pro and a guy that probably is the most influential person in my career."
Patriots' coach Bill Belichick said both Harrison and Seau have made a huge impact on the Patriots. "[Harrison has] done a great job for us in all aspects of the game - defense, special teams, leadership. He's an outstanding communicator and worker on the field, and he's a real pro. He's a great example for all of us to look to, not just the younger players, but the veteran players, the coaches - everybody. He has a great attitude, a great work ethic - As does Junior, who's had a shorter time here and unfortunately that was cut short about two-thirds of the way through the season last year, but he's been awesome.
"It's been awesome to have both of those players. It's been a privilege for me to coach them, to have the opportunity to coach them," said Belichick.
On March 6, 2006, Seau was released from the Dolphins and announced his retirement on August 14th after signing a one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers at an emotional press conference. He called his retirement a "graduation." and said that he was merely moving on to the next phase of his life. However, he returned to football just four days later, signing with the Patriots.
Unfortunately for Junior, he sustained a broken forearm while tackling Cedric Benson of the Bears in the tenth game of the year. Seau was placed on the IR of the Patriots.
Seau was not ready to graduate just yet. All throughout the off-season, Seau's locker remained in tact as he left it in the Patriots locker room at Gillette Stadium. Seau returned to the team this season and in September, he was named one of the Patriots' team captains.
"Junior is one of those guys that his personality transcends everybody on the team," said Belichick. "He just has a great way of blending with everybody, in a really good and positive way."
Much like Seau, Harrison had to battle back from a difficult injury plagued year in 2006. More than 10 months after his season-ending injury in 2005, Harrison returned to Patriots practice for the first time in August 2006. Harrison started the first seven of the Patriots' games, totaling 23 tackles and one sack. However, while making a tackle on Marvin Harrision against the Colts in November 2006. Harrison injured his right shoulder and missed the next six weeks of the season. He returned for the Patriots' last game of the season against the Titans, but his season was ended after a low block from Bobby Wade injured his right knee.
Junior Seau prepares for a drill in front of the watchful eyes of Bill Belichick (Kevin Saleeba/PatriotsInsider.com)
So far this season, Harrison has played in every game. "Rodney's had a huge impact," said Belichick. "He's been here since '03 and he's been a part of championships and certainly a lot of victories. He's been with us since day one this year, through all of the spring camps and so forth, training camp and everything, which he wasn't a part of last year. I think that's made a big difference for him, just being here from day one. He's certainly one of the most respected players on this team, obviously, in the league, and has great camaraderie with the players on the team."
Seau said he doesn't regret leaving San Diego. "Obviously Rodney [Harrison] and I left together and there was a change going on, and we knew that. You could actually feel the change come. Being there 13 years and not having a Super Bowl ring
"This is a long journey," he said. "If you want to look at my career being a part of the National Football League, I am fortunate - very fortunate - that the New England Patriots gave me a chance. That's the best blessing that I received - being a part of the National Football League, allowing an 18-year vet an opportunity, a chance to come and perform what he believes that he can do on the field. And that's all it was. When I first came here, my decision was based on going to an organization where you have a chance. Well, this organization, the New England Patriots, they have such a culture here that all you can ask is to belong to an organization and establishment where you have a chance in life. And that goes for anyone. It doesn't matter if you're rookie or a five-year vet or an 18-year vet. In life, all you want is a chance, and that's what they gave you here."
Harrison and Seau missed playing in the AFC Championship game with the Patriots last season because injury. They might have made a difference against the Colts in the team's loss in last year's AFC Championship. With a win against their old team Sunday, both Harrison and Seau will still have a chance to win a Super Bowl ring together.
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