By BERNIE WILSON and ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Those who knew and loved Junior Seau say they didn't see this coming.
"This is not anything I thought he would ever do," former San Diego Chargers safety Miles McPherson said.
Like many of Seau's friends, McPherson was still trying to comprehend the death of the former star NFL linebacker the day after his body was found inside his home in suburban Oceanside with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. The San Diego County medical examiner ruled the death a suicide on Thursday.
"Junior is a warrior. He played 20 years in the NFL as a linebacker. You have to be a warrior. Warriors conquer problems they face and they run at them," McPherson said Thursday.
McPherson, now the pastor at the Rock Church in San Diego, said that's why Seau's death is so puzzling.
Seau's ex-wife, Gina, told The Associated Press that while Seau sustained concussions during his playing career, she had no idea if they somehow contributed to his death.
McPherson also said he didn't know if concussions would have contributed to the death of Seau, who was known for his ferocious tackles followed by celebratory fist pumps.
"There is no football player — maybe a punter — that has not had multiple concussions, I would guess," McPherson said.
Longtime Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell said he wasn't aware of any major issues that would lead Seau to take his life, including any difficulties making the transition from the playing field to retirement. Seau played his first 13 seasons with the Chargers before moving on to the Miami Dolphins and then the New England Patriots.
He helped lead San Diego to its only Super Bowl, after the 1994 season; was voted to a Chargers-record 12 straight Pro Bowls; and was a six-time All-Pro selection.
Mitchell said many players struggle once they leave the game.
"Junior was quite the opposite," said Mitchell, the pastor at New Venture Christian Fellowship in Oceanside. "Junior was one of the few guys with face recognition and first-name recognition across the nation. I'm almost amazed when people say he was torn up and missing the limelight. Golly, for a guy not in the league, the guy was doing contracts and he had a series on TV. He was such an icon and he had three cities, San Diego, New England and Miami, which loved the guy. I haven't seen in Junior what I see in hundreds of players, and that is a sense of great loss."
For a time, Seau hosted a reality show called "Sports Jobs with Junior Seau." He also continued to run his restaurant in Mission Valley, which has been open since the mid-1990s.
"Again, I'm not trying to paint a picture of everything being rosy. Junior, just like us, had feet of clay. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary and I don't think he missed totally being out of game," Mitchell said.
In October 2010, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge down a seaside cliff in his SUV, hours after he was arrested for investigation of domestic violence at the Oceanside home he shared with his girlfriend. The woman had told authorities that Seau assaulted her during an argument.
There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash and Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving. He sustained minor injuries.
McPherson said the only issue he was aware of was "the normal struggling with retirement issues, but nothing I thought would ever come to this."
McPherson painted a picture of what it could be like for a player of Seau's caliber once his playing career ended.
"When you grow up an athlete and you live in a world that praises you all the time as you go from high school to college, college to the pros, the decibel volume, the number of people, the frequency of praise that comes your way, increases," said McPherson, who was with the Chargers from 1982-85. "By the time you get to play 20 years in the NFL, in 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, and all that comes with that, you're living in fantasyland.
"All that one day stops. But your body, mind and heart are conditioned to such a high level of excitement, adrenaline rush, challenge, and then you're like taken off the drug, cold turkey. A lot of guys, women as well, celebrities, who live in a bubble, have a hard time living with normal life. Unless they can emotionally and spiritually handle the letdown and transition to something that will satisfy them, even though it will never bring the adrenaline rush their career did, they're somewhat at a loss."