NFC West: Ralee Johnson


Someone once asked Junior Seau about his role as centerpiece of the San Diego Chargers' defense.

Seau mentioned the 10 other defensive starters by name in his response: John Parrella, Norman Hand, Ralee Johnson, Al Fontenot, Eric Hill, Lewis Bush, Jimmy Spencer, Darryl Lewis, Mike Dumas and Rodney Harrison.

"I like to publicize the guys that don't get enough credit and that's my whole defensive squad," he explained.

At the time, Seau also directed credit for the Chargers' new head coach, Mike Riley.

The defense was all about Seau, but Seau was all about the team.

This was in 1999, when covering the Seattle Seahawks meant covering the old AFC West, which meant covering the Chargers, which meant covering Seau, which felt like a privilege. Sometimes it appeared as though there were 11 Seaus on the field at once. He would pop into passing lanes unexpectedly to deflect passes at critical moments. He could chase down a running back with ease.

Seau, found dead Wednesday, never slowed down on the field. His AFC teammates at the Pro Bowl stopped complaining about how hard he practiced in Hawaii once they realized Seau knew no other way.

Chargers coach Norv Turner, speaking Wednesday, recalled Seau's competitiveness leading the linebacker to scout the team's offense to gain advantages in practice.

"We'd go out and practice different plays and different formations and different shifts, and he would always sneak out and try to watch the offensive walk-through so he was never fooled or never behind, and then it kind of got to be a game," Turner said in comments made available by the team. "You felt like you were coaching against him like you might be coaching against a coach. ... Football was important to him. He wanted to be right and he wanted to win."

The Chargers inducted Seau into their Hall of Fame last year. He was apparently in good physical health at the time despite a 20-year career.

"To be able to surf and run and do the things I enjoy today just doesn’t happen every day," Seau said.

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