FOXBOROUGH - As news of Junior Seau’s death continued to cast a dark shadow over offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium Thursday, several Patriots, including team owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, shared their memories of the popular linebacker.
Kraft, fighting back tears, read a note that Seau sent him a few weeks after Myra Kraft passed away last year, and recalled fondly Seau’s pregame motivational speeches and postgame embraces. Players spoke about Seau’s leadership, his energy, his compassion, his passion for football, and his tendency to call everyone “Buddy.’’
Seau, who spent the final four seasons of a 20-year career with the Patriots, was found on Wednesday morning in his Southern California home, dead at 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, an autopsy by the San Diego County medical examiner’s office confirmed Thursday. Seau reportedly did not leave a suicide note, sending only “I love you’’ text messages to his former wife and their three children.
Sports Illustrated reported on Thursday that Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Enchephalopathy had asked to analyze Seau’s brain, then amended the report to say that the center had not made any request.
In a statement, the BU center said it “is saddened by the tragic death of Junior Seau. It is our policy to not discuss any completed, ongoing, or potential research cases unless at the specific request of family members. Our primary goal is to learn more about the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma by conducting meaningful scientific research. At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Seau’s family, his many friends, and former teammates.’’
Seau’s family has decided to allow researchers to study his brain for evidence of concussion damage, The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday night.
“The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn’t want to make any emotional decisions,” San Diego Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell told The Times.
‘He was really a Charger . . . but the years he spent here we felt like he was a true Patriot.’Robert Kraft , on Junior Seau
The research team was not announced, although the BU center is considered the most likely candidate, according to the LA Times.
Studies are trying to determine if there is any link between concussions and depression, but Seau’s former wife, Gina, told the Associated Press that he suffered multiple concussions, especially early in his career.
“Of course he had,’’ Gina Seau said. “He always bounced back and kept on playing . . . I don’t know what football player hasn’t. It’s part of the game.’’
An emotional Kraft, who said he was in New York on Wednesday when he found out about Seau’s death, made a surprise appearance at the stadium, speaking to reporters for about three minutes and taking no questions.
He held a note, with the logo of Seau’s charitable foundation visible on the front, and read what the 12-time Pro Bowler wrote, struggling at times to keep his composure.
“I went back to my records, because having suffered the loss of my sweetheart, he sent me something within a few weeks of Myra passing,’’ Kraft said. “He said, ‘I’m so sorry about the passing of Mrs. Kraft, she was an inspiration to me. I have so much respect for all she did to help people lead better lives. I’ll always be there for you and your family. Junior Seau - Love you, buddy,’ and he enclosed a very generous check to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund.
“So here’s a guy who represented everything that we liked, how he conducted himself in an unselfish manner, in the locker room.’’
Despite the fact that Seau spent the bulk of his playing career with San Diego - “We always knew his real family, he was really a Charger . . . but we were pretty close first cousins, because the years he spent here we felt like he was a true Patriot’’ - Kraft said he marveled at Seau’s ability as a motivational speaker in team meetings and in the locker room, and recalled always seeing him after games, for one very big reason.
“Nobody ever squeezed me harder after every game and hugged me in the locker room,’’ Kraft said. “He just really was a special guy.
“It’s a message to all of us, to make sure we hug and squeeze the people we love. The people you love, make sure they know it every day.’’
Former Patriots teammates - some working out at the stadium, others who were elsewhere - were sharing their reactions.
Tom Brady, in a posting on his Facebook page, said, “Junior Seau was a great teammate and even better friend. His legacy will live on and the memories of his time here with us will never be forgotten. We love you ‘buddy.’ ’’
Belichick, through the team, also released a statement: “A day later, it is still hard to believe. Of all the players I have coached, nobody was more full of energy and vitality than Junior Seau. He respected and inspired every single person he came in contact with - players, coaches and support staff. He defied the odds by playing two decades in the NFL at a level and with a youthful spirit rarely seen but appreciated by everyone.
“Junior will always be remembered as an intense Hall of Fame player from the old school. He was a charismatic icon. At the same time, as a human being he was as caring, warm, and lovable as they come. That’s what I will miss most of all. It was a privilege to have coached Junior Seau. My condolences to his family.’’
Patriots receiver Matthew Slater, like Seau a Southern California native, spoke about the longevity of Seau’s career, which should see him eventually voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Slater’s father, Jackie, played against Seau in the NFL, and Slater played with him for two seasons (2008-09) in New England.
“How about that? That’s just a testament to Junior and how long that he played, 20 years of great football,’’ Slater said. “The ultimate professional in the way he approached the game. The leader that he was. That’s what I keep thinking about: the leader and the type of man he was. He’d have you ready to run through a wall before a game. Second to none.’’
Slater specifically recalled a game during his rookie season in 2008.
“We were playing the Cardinals out here and we were beating them pretty good,’’ Slater said. “They put me in at safety and I’m jogging back to the huddle and Junior Seau is jogging back to the huddle with me and it was like, ‘Man, this is a guy I grew up watching and I’m playing with him now.’ It was pretty special for me.’’