What did Junior Seau mean to the Patriots?
In 2008 and 2009, his on-field relevance diminished, the Patriots would still use a game-day roster spot so that he'd be in uniform on their sidelines to lend stability and leadership.
"I havent coached too many that are any more passionate than Junior is," Bill Belichick said in October 2009 after signing the 40-year-old back to lend stability to an immature defense. "I think thats good for all of us. Its good for him, its good for all the players, its good for the coaches and its good for the team. He brings a lot of positive energy and toughness, so those things are all good."
Seau was nearly 41 when his final NFL season ended. He'd been in the NFL for 20 years, nearly half his life.
It's not illogical to wonder today if leaving professional football led to Seau becoming untethered. it was a profession around which he'd built his identity. Then, quietly, the vocation that gave his life meaning and gave him an avenue to have an impact had ended.
Junior Seau was a soon-to-be Hall of Famer. He was an icon. A linebacking legend. It appears that transitioning to being Junior Seau, former player, was exceedingly hard.
He said in 2009 when he re-signed with the Patriots that he was ready for a post-football life.
"Its not tough to leave the game," he said on a conference call. "Theres such a great lifestyle that you work so long for to enjoy. Im not going to cry about cutting up oranges and apples and packing a cooler and going to a football game, my sons football game, or my daughters volleyball games and heading home and surfing for three hours. Having a tuna sandwich and playing the ukelele. Theres nothing bad about that so I did not miss it. Its just part of my life. I love life challenges and I live for those moments. I live for those moments. This is a challenge. I cant forecast whats going to happen, just give me a helmet and well work on it."
The same day Seau was saying that, Tom Brady was noting that when he walked in at 6:45 a.m., "Junior was already in there in like a full sweat. He hasnt changed at all."
And maybe that cuts to the heart of it. The change - despite what Seau said - was too hard to make.
Some players adjust with ease. For some it's harder. Some never do and the number of ex-NFL players who have taken their own lives in recent years is sad, tragic and sobering.
It causes us to question so much.
Does the willing bodily sacrifice these men make leave them so diminished that depression follows?
Do the head-on collisions lead inevitably to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and - in extreme cases - suicide?
Does society's hero worship by fans and media - and the fact that players accept it - make it impossible for some men to face their post-football lives without that?
Is the NFL complicit? Are we complicit? Would you, should you let your son play football given the way it apparently does to some men?
These are the questions that people who knew him as a football player wrestle with on the day Junior Seau killed himself.
Those who knew him better - family, friends, former teammates, coaches - wrestle with that but also with the loss of a man who had a transcendent personality, a gift.
"Before every game, you have to get your popcorn ready because you can't wait to hear those speeches, let alone see his face and the emotion that comes out," teammate Kyle Arrington said in 2009. "It's really indescribable how you can hear it in his voice -- the emotion, the passion, the hunger."
"We all gather up, and there is a silence in the room, and everybody is just looking at him," Myron Pryor said. "You're listening to him speak, and he's getting everyone going. There is a little chill down your back, a little sweat on your forehead."