The following year, he made the first of his 12 consecutive Pro Bowls. But the Chargers had only sporadic success during his time with them, posting non-winning records in 10 of Seau's 13 seasons. The franchise did make its only Super Bowl appearance, however, when he was on the team, losing to San Francisco in January 1995.
Seau's career with the Chargers came to a close in April 2003, when the team traded him to Miami for a conditional draft choice. He wound up starting 15 games for the Dolphins and made 133 tackles. But the following year, he was sidelined for eight games with torn biceps. That was only one fewer game than he had missed in the previous 14 seasons combined.
The time away from practices and games took its toll.
"I'll tell you what, there are a lot of minutes in the day," he told reporters in Miami in 2005. "I know that now. I definitely got a little taste of what it's going to be like when the game is done. It's something I'm not ready for."
The next season it was an Achilles tendon injury that ended his year, and in August 2006, he retired after signing a ceremonial one-day contract with the Chargers. His playing days were not over, however. Just four days later, he signed with New England and wound up playing the better part of four seasons with the Patriots.
Tiaina Baul Seau Jr. was born Jan. 19, 1969, in Oceanside to Tiaina Baul and Luisa Seau, natives of American Samoa. One of six children, Junior Seau spent several years with his family in his parents' homeland, but most of his youth was spent in Oceanside, where his father was a high school janitor.
He enrolled at USC in 1987 determined to escape the kind of street violence that swirled around others in the Samoan community. A 16-year-old cousin was killed in an apparent gang shooting in 2005.
After retiring from football, Seau remained in the public eye: appearing at his sports-themed restaurant in San Diego, raising money for youth groups through the Junior Seau Foundation and playing in his annual charity golf tournament.
"As great a football player as Junior was, he was a greater human being," the Rev. Shawn Mitchell, the Chargers' chaplain for 28 years, said Wednesday.
In October 2010, Seau drove his sport utility vehicle off a 30-foot coastal bluff in Carlsbad in the hours after an argument with his girlfriend. He told police that he had fallen asleep while driving; he was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries and released.
Oceanside police arrested Seau on suspicion of domestic violence, but the San Diego County district attorney's office declined to file charges.
Former Chargers General Manager Bobby Beathard, who drafted Seau, was among those shocked by his death. "The whole time I was in the NFL … I don't know if I've ever seen anybody like Junior … that had it all," Beathard said. "Just a great guy. He loved playing the game. He loved his teammates. He loved life. I certainly can't understand what went wrong or what happened."
Perry reported from Oceanside, Farmer from Los Angeles.