Saturday, March 15, 2003

Chargers allowing Seau to seek trade

LB not in team's plans for fixing its struggling defense

By Bernie Wilson
The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO - Standing at a podium between the sushi bar and pizza counter of his restaurant, Junior Seau said goodbye to San Diego's pro football fans.

His fist-pumping days in San Diego may be over, but the star linebacker said he's not through playing in the NFL even though his hometown team, the Chargers, have told him he's free to pursue a trade.

Seau, the Chargers' heart and soul for 13 years, said he's lobbied the team to release him so he can seek a free-agent deal.

"San Diego has always been my home and always will be," Seau said at a news conference Friday afternoon. "I just have to leave for six months as a professional athlete and entertain another community."

Seau's comments were carried on a speaker system at the restaurant and were broadcast live on San Diego television stations. At times it seemed like a political speech, with Seau, dressed in a blue suit, blue shirt and red tie, drawing applause from patrons, who put down their silverware and listened to him speak.

Seau, who's under contract through 2005, took the first few questions from fans, many of whom were wearing No. 55 jerseys.

"Am I going to the Raiders?" he said, repeating one question, speaking above boos and catcalls.

"That was a great Super Bowl wasn't it," Seau replied with a smile, rubbing it in to a team he's hated from the start of his career. The Raiders were routed by Tampa Bay on Jan. 26 just a few miles from Seau's restaurant.

Seau was thrown out of his first NFL game, an exhibition against the Raiders, for fighting with guard Steve Wisniewski. He went on to establish himself as one of the NFL's greatest linebackers, being named to the Pro Bowl 12 times.

Seau came close to breaking down a few times, but otherwise kept his composure.

Although he said he doesn't hold a grudge toward the Chargers, he had a few pointed comments.

"I never saw myself wearing another jersey," Seau said. "Because I'm forced to, I hope and I know the city of San Diego understands that I love this game. ... I've sacrificed so much for this game that I'm not ready to go. If you question my talents and my abilities, watch."

Seau, 34, grew up in suburban Oceanside and was San Diego's first-round draft pick in 1990, the fifth pick overall, out of Southern California.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer refused to say whether the Chargers' decision was motivated by money or an unhappiness with Seau's play.

"We approached it on middle ground, where we'd involve Junior in the process of exploring a trade," Schottenheimer said. "We sought to try to address what was in the best interests of both parties, to keep our options open. It's a difficult situation."

Schottenheimer said it's possible that Seau could return next season.

Seau doesn't think so.

"I'll cross that bridge when it comes," Seau said. "Obviously I don't have that answer. Right now I have to deal with the present and the present is to seek employment elsewhere and I was forced to do that. We're going to enjoy doing that."

Seau said he hoped to play two or three more years, "with two ankles." An ankle injury limited him this year and postseason surgery cost him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Seau's most recent Pro Bowl selection was a surprise to many, especially since he wasn't as dominant as he had been in previous seasons and he was only the team's third-leading tackler. He hasn't led the Chargers in tackles since 1999.

"We don't think he's finished as a player," Schottenheimer said.

"Sure he's lost a step, but Seau at 80 percent is still better than most players in the league," said Billy Devaney, a pro personnel scout with San Francisco who used to be San Diego's assistant general manager.

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