OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Junior Seau, a homegrown superstar who was the fist-pumping, emotional leader of the San Diego Chargers for 13 years, was found shot to death at his home Wednesday morning in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43.
Police Chief Frank McCoy said Mr. Seau's girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest. A gun was found near him, McCoy said. Police said no suicide note was found, and they didn't know to whom the gun was registered.
Mr. Seau's death stunned the region he represented with almost reckless abandon. The same intensity that got the star linebacker ejected for fighting in his first exhibition game helped carry the Chargers to their only Super Bowl, after the 1994 season. A ferocious tackler, he'd leap up, pump a fist and kick out a leg after dropping a ball carrier or quarterback.
"It's a sad thing. It's hard to understand," said Bobby Beathard, who as Chargers general manager took Mr. Seau out of Southern California with the fifth pick overall in the 1990 draft. "He was really just a great guy. If you drew up a player you'd love to have the opportunity to draft and have on the team and as a teammate, Junior and Rodney (Harrison), they'd be the kind of guys you'd like to have."
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Quarterback Stan Humphries recalled that Mr. Seau did everything at the same speed, whether it was practicing, lifting weights or harassing Denver quarterback John Elway.
"The intensity, the smile, the infectious attitude, it carried over to all the other guys," said Humphries, who was shocked that Mr. Seau is the eighth player from the 1995 Super Bowl team to die.
Mr. Seau's mother appeared before reporters outside the former player's house, weeping uncontrollably.
Luisa Seau said her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week. "He's joking to me, he called me a 'homegirl,'" she said.
"I just can't imagine this, because I've never seen Junior in a down frame of mind," Beathard said. "He was always so upbeat and he would keep people up. He practiced the way he played. He made practice fun. He was a coach's dream. He was an amazing guy as well as a player and a person. This is hard to believe."
Mr. Seau's ex-wife, Gina, told the Union-Tribune San Diego that he texted her and each of their three children separate messages: "I love you."
"We're all in shock," she said. "We're beyond sad and beyond shocked. The kids and I are just huddled together at home. There is no way to make sense of this."
Mr. Seau, who played in the NFL for parts of 20 seasons, was voted to a Chargers-record 12 straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times. He also played for Miami and New England.
"We all lost a friend today," Chargers president Dean Spanos said in a statement. "This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine."
Mr. Seau's greatest game might have been the 17-13 victory at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game in January 1995 that sent the Chargers to the Super Bowl. Playing with a pinched nerve in his neck, he spread out his 16 tackles from the first play to the second-to-last.
San Diego lost to San Francisco in the Super Bowl, 49-26.