Little-known fact: The Los Angeles Times reported in 1989 that former Arizona coach Dick Tomey tried to recruit the late Junior Seau to Tucson because of his tie to Seau’s brother David, a fullback at Hawaii when Tomey coached there before accepting the Wildcats’ job in 1987.
In Seau’s junior season at USC, the ninth-ranked Trojans — coached by former UA coach Larry Smith — came to Tucson with their third consecutive Rose Bowl berth on the line. The Wildcats, 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-10, still had an outside chance for the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans, with Seau dominant on the defense and former Sahuaro High School quarterback Rodney Peete guiding the offense, overpowered the 25th-ranked Wildcats in a 24-3 victory. Tomey at the time was either an assistant or head coach for 27 years. He placed Seau above all others in his experience as a coach.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever been on the field against as a coach,” Tomey was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. “He’s a force. … I can’t say enough about him.”
Seau, who died Wednesday at age 43 from an apparent suicide, had a performance that mid-November afternoon in Tucson that ranks as one of the best by a Wildcat opponent. He had only one sack to improve on his school record to 15 (he finished with 19 that season and earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors). However, he had five unassisted tackles that left the Wildcats with 23 yards in losses.
“We didn’t block him on the run, or the pass and no one has all year,” Tomey told the Times. “He would be there to make the play no matter where the ball went. Running away from him doesn’t help, because he’ll run you down from behind.”
Seau lined up at nose tackle, defensive end or linebacker, while harassing quarterback Ronald Veal and the UA running backs.
USC restricted Arizona to 16 net yards passing, the fewest allowed by the Trojans since Iowa had minus 11 yards in 1976. The Wildcats were more of a running team, averaging 245.2 yards before the USC game to lead the Pac-10 in that category. USC shut down the Wildcats, yielding only 158 rushing yards. The Trojans led the nation in rushing defense before the game, allowing an average of only 51.9 yards per game.
“He’s relentless,” Veal told reporters about Seau after the game. “That’s the best defense I’ve played against by far. You saw what they did to us. Their defense was quick and beat us off the line, and their secondary beat us to the corners.”
Seau’s presence alone was disrupting to all quarterbacks. Veal was no exception. He had to play close attention to No. 55.
“I saw Veal peeking at me as early as the second quarter,” Seau told the Los Angeles Times. “So I knew we were doing something right.”