During the 1994 NFL season the San Diego Chargers were regarded as a ‘Cinderella’ team.
Seahawk fans remember that team and the Chargers dominance in two games with a combined score of 59-25. Seattle was only able to score ten points at home, something unheard of the last two years. The team would finally see a Super Bowl and realize new found respect throughout the league. Yet, with all San Diego accomplished that season, most NFL fans know that team as being ‘cursed’ following eight untimely player deaths beginning in June of 1995 and the death of their equipment manager in 2006. As we approach the two year anniversary of Junior Seau’s passing, let’s revisit this awful yet intriguing series of events.
San Diego entered the 1994 season much like before, with little excitement and low expectations. However, the NFL started to take notice after a 7-1 start, including impressive road wins against Denver and the Raiders.
The regular season would end with the Chargers being a 2-seed in the AFC playoffs. Although they trailed at the half in both playoff games, San Diego found a way to clinch a first ever Super Bowl appearance.
Heavy underdogs going into Super Bowl XXIX against San Francisco in Miami (which seemed a million miles away in September), the Chargers would lose to Steve Young and the 49ers, 49-26. Even though the magic had run out in that day, the future seemed bright. The players were optimistic about returning the next year and Charger nation couldn’t wait to see another great season.
Like the 2012 Seahawks team who lost their playoff game to Atlanta, San Diego wanted to get back to work and start setting goals for the next season (side note: it was the 1995 draft that April where the Seahawks selected Joey Galloway with the 8th overall pick).
During what may have been the most exciting off season in Charger history, tragedy struck.
On June 19, 1995, David Griggs, 28, was killed in a single car accident in New Jersey. A linebacker, Griggs played just one season for San Diego. Little did the team know, this would mark the beginning of several deaths from that Super Bowl team. After receiving a 4-seed in the ’95 playoffs, San Diego exited the season before the Super Bowl.
Then in May, almost a year after Griggs was killed, Rodney Culver, 26, was killed in a plane crash along with his wife and 108 other souls. Back-to-back years, back-to-back tragedies. It proved to be a difficult season with heavy hearts. San Diego missed the playoffs that year, going 8-8 and ultimately losing Bobby Ross as head coach.
It would be in July 1998 that the Chargers would suffer the 3rd death from the 1994 squad.
Doug Miller, a 29-year old linebacker, was struck by lightning while camping in Colorado. During efforts to revive Miller, he was once again struck by lightning, killing him. Over the next 14-years, five more players from that team would die prematurely, none older than 44.
It was the latest of these deaths in May of 2012 that would shock the NFL community, fans and nation.
Junior Seau, a linebacker who spent many years terrorizing Seahawk ball carriers and quarterbacks, was found dead by his girlfriend in his Oceanside, Calif., residence. When it was reported that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the chest, like many other fans I was stunned. This incredible talent with unlimited energy during games, who seemed to love his life and who helped countless people in the San Diego community and beyond, was gone. The eighth death from that over achieving team may have been the most difficult to accept.
As Seahawk fans, we were blessed to see his brilliance twice a year for several seasons before the move to the NFC. He was respected in Seattle as he was in each NFL city. He, like the others, is greatly missed.
At times people find it difficult to focus on the human side of sports and athletes. A story that defies all odds like this one makes it easier for us to read. After the fifth passing in 2008, the Washington Post reported that the statistical chances five people die from the same 53-man roster is less than 1 percent. In the three years after the Super Bowl, three men had already died. At my 10-year reunion we had lost two people out of 320. By year three the Chargers had already surpassed our reunion number. In less than 20 years, 15 percent of the 1994 team has died. I can’t recall eight Seahawks who have passed since 1976.
It’s erie yet intriguing. It’s sad yet fascinating. So many great athletes from one team, gone.
Gone, but thankfully not forgotten.