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His fist-pumping days for Seau come to end

SHARE His fist-pumping days for Seau come to end

SAN DIEGO — The Seau punch has finally run out of juice.

Junior Seau retired from the NFL on Monday after 13 seasons as the live-wire leader of his hometown San Diego Chargers and three less-productive years with the Miami Dolphins.

The 37-year-old Seau celebrated practically every tackle and sack with a trademark fist pump during a career in which he established himself as one of the NFL's greatest linebackers and helped San Diego reach its only Super Bowl. During his best years he seemed to cover more turf than a groundskeeper's tarp, and was rewarded with 12 Pro Bowl selections.

"There's nobody that loved playing more than Junior," former Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard said Monday. "Any organization should be as fortunate as the Chargers were to have Junior."

Seau starred at Southern California and was Beathard's first draft pick as Chargers GM, taken fifth overall in 1990.

In a sign of the intensity to come, Seau was thrown out of his first NFL game, an exhibition against the Raiders, for fighting with guard Steve Wisniewski.

Seau knew only one speed — as fast as possible.

Beathard said he was surfing recently and ran into Seau, who was working out on the beach in Oceanside with some cousins and neighbor kids.

"He brought something to the game that very few people have brought to the game — he made people around him better," Beathard said. "He's got the passion that is unlike anybody else. He's just incredible. Besides being a great athlete, it's the intangibles that some guys have, but a good percentage don't have. He's unique in that sense."

Seau often referred to his teammates as "my players."

"He was the same in every practice as he was in every game," Beathard said. "You couldn't relax if you were on offense because he'd knock your head off if you thought he was going to go half-speed."

In helping the Chargers upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1994 AFC championship game, Seau spread his 16 tackles from the first play to the next to last despite a pinched nerve in his neck. His 15 career interceptions sometimes led to reckless returns, and one of his wildest was a pick of John Elway that saved a 37-34 win in the 1994 opener at Denver.

But Seau played in only six postseason games, three of them wins. After the Chargers were humiliated by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl following the 1994 season, they limped into the playoffs in 1995, were embarrassed at home in a wild-card loss to Indianapolis and never made it back to the postseason during Seau's tenure.

Seau's short playoff resume was hardly his fault. The Chargers had only three winning seasons during his time in San Diego, offset by plenty of ugly years, such as 1-15 stinker in 2000.

While Seau was scheduled to end his career with a news conference at San Diego's headquarters, he didn't go out the way he always figured he would — as a Charger.

The Chargers jettisoned him in 2003 because he was getting older and a step slower. That spring, the team informed his agent that he was free to shop for a trade.

When Seau held a news conference to discuss the end of his Chargers' career, it was at his restaurant a few miles from Qualcomm Stadium. His pride was clearly bruised.

"I never saw myself wearing another jersey," Seau said that day.

When a fan asked him to do his trademark fist pump, Seau replied: "You want to see the Seau punch? Right now it's out of batteries."

The Dolphins got him for a fifth-round pick in the 2004 draft.

In the fall of 2003, a countdown clock at Seau's restaurant ticked away in the days leading to his anticipated return to San Diego for a Monday night game against the Chargers. But his homecoming never happened because wildfires forced the game to Tempe, Ariz.

Seau dominated in helping the Dolphins to a 26-10 victory, but said it was "the hardest game I've had to play."

Seau was sidelined with a season-ending injury when the Dolphins won at San Diego on Dec. 11. He was released by the Dolphins in March after missing 17 games the past two years. He finished both seasons on injured reserve.

"I only had one year experience with the guy," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. "But you really hold people like Junior Seau in high esteem, not only for the character he has as a person but the competitive character he played this game with for a long, long time."

AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.