Miami - Junior Seau has been playing with a pinched nerve in his neck and shoulder since November, and when he gets hit a certain way, his left arm goes numb and a fire rages in his neck. During the AFC Championship Game, the pain was so severe he cried out after making one of his 16 tackles. Some players would have quit, but Seau kept going because of the pain, because of the burning deep in his body, far beneath the damaged nerve.
Seau, one of the NFL's premier defensive players, is motivated by what he could have become, and by what he's afraid of turning into. He looks into his past and sees a young Samoan boy who was raised near San Diego in a poor neighborhood in Oceanside, Calif., who slept on the floor of his family's garage, who was beaten by his father with a wooden paddle and who constantly was told by the local drug dealers and gang members he'd never amount to anything.
Seau beat the odds - probably the same odds as his team faces in Super Bowl XXIX today against the 49ers - but he's never far from what might have been. His kid brother, Tony, didn't have the same resolve, and he fell prey to the streets. He joined a gang and eventually was arrested and charged with attempted murder for almost killing a man with a baseball bat. He's in jail, serving a 10-year sentence, still only 17.