In exclusive interview, Junior Seau's parents speak of their love and loss
By Tod Leonard
Mar 30, 2018 | 1:00 PM
It has been nearly six years since the death of Junior Seau, and the pain lingers for his family.
Earlier this week, Seau’s 80-year-old mother, Luisa, went to visit her son’s grave site at Eternal Hills Memorial Park, just a few miles from their home in eastern Oceanside.
She said she was “crying so hard,” and other families who were there visiting came over to embrace and console her.
“I thanked them for coming to see him, for bringing the flowers,” Luisa said.
There were children who asked if they could take some of the pictures of Junior that had been left at the headstone. Luisa gratefully obliged. But she had to keep one for herself. It was of Junior, flashing his familiar smile, playing a ukulele.
“The kids kissed the picture,” Luisa recalled as she sat in her living room. “It is so hard for me.”
Tiaina Seau Sr., 85, and Luisa Seau — natives of American Samoa who have been married for 57 years — live in the two-story tract home that Junior bought them as a Christmas present in 1990, his rookie year with the San Diego Chargers.
They have shunned any public attention, but through the encouragement of their daughter, Mary, are going to speak at the CTE awareness seminar she is staging Saturday. They also agreed to an interview with the Union-Tribune, their first since Junior died.
The public voices of the family have been Junior’s ex-wife, Gina, their three children, and Junior’s oldest son, Tyler.
Gina DeBoer Seau opted out of the NFL’s 2015 concussion settlement with players and has an ongoing lawsuit against the league. Junior’s parents and siblings have been estranged from Gina and the children since his death.
“My parents have been afraid to talk,” Mary Seau said. “I’ve told them, ‘You should talk. People need to know how you’re doing. People need to hear your side of the story.’ ”
The first-floor rooms of the Seau home are not just a shrine to Junior, they’re a museum. In the living room area where the Seau parents spend much of their time, there are several dozen pictures of their son at various stages in his football life. Above the front door hangs an enormous painting of Junior — crouched in his linebacker stance — by his brother, Savai’i, an artist and teacher.
Until recently, there was another bedroom filled with pictures of Junior, but Tiaina Sr. and daughter Annette Seay-So’oto cleared it out because Luisa spent too much time in there, weeping and mourning.
“If I look at my son, I’m thinking about his life and the way he died,” Luisa said. “I’m thinking about that it’s not time for him to go. He was too young. I say to God that it’s better to take me and leave my son. That’s why I’m really sad.”
Many of the memories are far from gloomy.
Luisa’s face brightens when she recalls the enormous bouquets Junior sent for her birthday, or when he’d arrive at the house and pinch her cheeks so much that they hurt. He jokingly called her “home girl” because it seemed she was always at home, there to answer the phone when he called.
Junior hired landscapers to care for his parents’ yard, and he tried to employ housekeepers, but Luisa would not have it.
“You guys are getting old,” Luisa recalled him saying. “Go be happy.”
Tiaina Sr., whose face bears such a striking resemblance to his son that we know exactly what Junior would look like at 85, said, “I miss my son and his strong life.”
He proudly recalled Junior’s toughness.
“The body was hurt,” he said, “but the heart was strong.”
Mary Seau remembered Junior’s boundless energy as a child.
“You couldn’t keep him in one place,” she said. “He had to be busy!”
The original Seau home in Oceanside was the epicenter for neighborhood sporting activities. Everyone was welcome — except on Sundays, which were sacred days spent at church and home with their extensive Samoan family.
Mary, who was six years older than Junior, laughed when recalling that on more than one occasion, she took the fall with her parents for some mild mischief instigated by her brother.
“I was his No. 1 fan,” Mary said.
They were so close that Junior often introduced Mary as his “second mom.”
“He always told me, ‘Just let me go! I got this! I’m a grown man!” Mary said.