He seemed to be waving goodbye.
The aging, though still surprisingly youthful veteran had just suffered a broken arm. With his other limb, he acknowledged the crowd, which had gotten to its feet to offer him their thunderous applause as he was escorted off the field by the medical staff.
It was late November 2006, during a game between the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears, and Junior Seau had played his last down of football.
After 17 NFL seasons, including 12 straight Pro Bowl appearances (six of them as an All Pro), the legendary linebacker from San Diego, California had signed on with the East Coast dynasty to collect the one honor that had eluded him: a Super Bowl championship.
But his new team would now have to soldier on without him from here on out, the gruesome injury to blame. The adoring fans knew what they were witnessing – the inauspicious, abrupt end to a lengthy, stellar career. He knew it, too. So, as he walked off, he thumped his chest, said "Thank you" several times, and waved.
He might as well have been walking off into the sunset.
It had all the trappings of a scene from a Hollywood film. Without the happy ending.
Minus Seau, New England went on quite a run, coming frustratingly close to making it to the NFL's biggest game for the fourth time this decade. And had they done so, and won, perhaps Seau's last appearance in a Patriot uniform would have been just that.
This script, however, needed revisions.
So today, the 38-year-old Seau is a Patriot once again. This afternoon, the team announced they'd re-signed him for the 2007 season. By bringing Seau back, head coach Bill Belichick and his staff have options – several intriguing options – at linebacker.
Seau, you may recall, quickly earned a starting job alongside Tedy Bruschi in the middle of New England's 3-4 defense last season. That allowed Mike Vrabel to work on the pass-rushing outside opposite Rosevelt Colvin. And the Patriots signed the biggest free agent prize this offseason when All-Pro Adalius Thomas agreed to join the team.
During February's Pro Bowl (coached by Belichick), Thomas started at outside linebacker. If he does the same here in New England this fall, that would likely free up Vrabel, a versatile veteran who took Seau's spot in the middle after the injury.
With Vrabel, Seau, and Bruschi, the team has three starting-quality players for two inside linebacker spots. And between Vrabel, Colvin, and Thomas, the outside positions have an equal combination of experience and talent. If all stay healthy throughout the season (they'll each be at least 30 years old come September), the possibilities are mesmerizing.
Special teams ace and captain Larry Izzo will likely provide quality linebacking depth, as he has for the past several years. That leaves third-year veteran Eric Alexander, second-year players Corey Mays and Pierre Woods, and a rookies Kyle Bissinger, Justin Rogers, and Oscar Lua to battle for the remaining spots.
The Patriots have clearly made a splash this offseason, and it's growing into quite a wave of excitement about this year's team. Seau, an avid surfer, is no doubt hoping to ride it to his first Super Bowl title.
If that happens, he'll have pulled off that rarest of Hollywood feats: a sequel that outdoes the original.