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Playing Out the String
Peter King
December 22, 1997
In San Diego on Sunday, the AFC West-leading Chiefs predictably pounded the Chargers 29-7. This is the first time since 1991, Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau's second season, that the Chargers (4-11) are playing for nothing but pride in December. In the days leading up to the K.C. game, Seau took it upon himself to jack up the energy level at practice by offering to reward special teams players with cash for outstanding plays. "I wake up hurting more on Sundays when we're on a bad streak like this," Seau says. "But I still take every play personally." On game day, we monitored Seau's moves from start to finish.
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December 22, 1997

Playing Out The String

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In San Diego on Sunday, the AFC West-leading Chiefs predictably pounded the Chargers 29-7. This is the first time since 1991, Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau's second season, that the Chargers (4-11) are playing for nothing but pride in December. In the days leading up to the K.C. game, Seau took it upon himself to jack up the energy level at practice by offering to reward special teams players with cash for outstanding plays. "I wake up hurting more on Sundays when we're on a bad streak like this," Seau says. "But I still take every play personally." On game day, we monitored Seau's moves from start to finish.

First half: Before the Chiefs' third play from scrimmage, Seau works the crowd into a frenzy. Defensive end William Fuller responds by sacking Rich Gannon. Seau jumps on his teammate and screams, "Way to be a pro!" Disaster strikes on San Diego's next defensive series. Leapfrogging a blocker in an attempt to get to Gannon, Seau hyperextends his left knee, and he hops off the field in pain. He tosses his helmet into a trash can, but he's not done. He walks around, stretching the leg, then, having missed only a few snaps, retrieves his helmet and jogs back onto the field without saying anything to the coaches. Seau calls plays and limps through the rest of the half.

Second half: "You could see him fighting it," K.C. tackle Dave Szott says. "He's got as big a heart as anybody I play." On one pass attempt Seau overpowers guard Will Shields, who outweighs him by 50 pounds, and pressures Gannon into an incompletion. As Seau limps back to the huddle, he and Shields bark at each other. Late in the third quarter Seau runs down Marcus Allen from behind and holds the back to a two-yard gain. On the next snap Allen loops out of the backfield and, hearing Seau's footsteps, pulls up to avoid getting leveled. The pass falls incomplete. "Thought you were gonna get me," Allen says. Seau pats his opponent on the rear and replies, "I won't do you like that." With the game out of hand, Seau misses the last two series, his left knee encased in ice. Totals: two tackles, two assists in 45 plays. As he leaves the field, he flings his jersey, his baseball cap and his gloves into the crowd. "I wish I could give 'em more," he says. "They don't deserve a 4-10 team."

The record is now 4-11. If the knee allows, Seau will play in the finale, against the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, because that's what he does, no matter how the standings read. "I'm playing every down like it's the most important I'll ever play," Seau says. "If I can't be that player, no matter what the record is, believe me, I'll hang up the helmet."

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