FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It took a warm hug and the promise of a few nice dinners for Junior Seau to get his old number back.
Seau, who is entering his 20th NFL season after officially signing with the New England Patriots on Wednesday morning, has worn No. 55 throughout his entire career. Derrick Burgess has occupied that number since joining New England this season, but he gladly surrendered it to the Hall of Fame linebacker and switched to No. 53.
Seau wore No. 55 during Wednesday’s practice, his first with the team in 2009, meaning his agreement seemed to come together quicker than he might have initially imagined.
“I can’t take anything for granted,” Seau said about an hour and a half before practice began.”I gave Derrick a little hug to try to soften him up, but it’s going to take a couple of dinners. I think that’s what it’s going to take, so I’m looking forward to it.”
While Seau took one Burgess’ number, he took another’s locker. Seau moved into the old stall of Prescott Burgess, who was with the Patriots until last week. During media access into the locker room, Seau still didn’t have a name plate or a number in his locker, but Burgess’ chair was still in place, which had No. 93 painted on it.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich wasn’t surprised how the numbers game played itself out.
“He’s got a little bit of vet power,” Ninkovich said of Seau, “so he can do pretty much whatever he wants with the number situation.”
Don’t get awestruck now
This is Seau’s fourth season with the Patriots, so he has become a familiar face around Gillette Stadium. But there are a number of younger players who are overly excited to work with him for the first time in 2009.
“How much more experience can you get from somebody?” said rookie safety Pat Chung, who at 22 years old is the youngest player on the active roster. “He’s been doing it for years now. Now I know if I have a question, I’m going right to him. I’ve only talked to him since he’s been here for like a couple of seconds, and he’s smart and down to earth, and he seems like he’s ready to help us. No complaints here.”
Chung was 3 years old when Seau first entered the league in 1990. Even the 40-year-old Seau joked about his advanced age.
“There’s a linebacking corps that we have now that was probably in first grade when I was a rookie,” Seau said. “So there’s a lot of youth, but they can play the game.”
Ninkovich’s locker is directly next to Seau’s, and he was pleasantly surprised to learn of his new locker room neighbor. Ninkovich, who is one of 20 players on the active roster in their first season with the Patriots, was waiting anxiously for the Patriots to sign Seau once rumors started circulating weeks ago.
“When you’re a kid growing up watching football, you don’t ever think you’re going to play with somebody you’re actually looking up to,” Ninkovich said. “It’s cool because somebody with experience like Junior has, you can just ask questions, and he’s got that experience that can help you and you can learn from it. There’s not too many guys out there who can say they’ve got 19 years of experience underneath their belt.”
Lighten the load
Left tackle Matt Light, who injured his right knee during Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, was nowhere to be found during the media’s access to the locker room, but there were two crutches in his locker stall. Light was walking around the Patriots’ shower area on crutches Monday afternoon, but there was no brace or leg wrap visible underneath his shorts.
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