Life in San Diego has been thrown into chaos lately. Few around here know that better than Junior Seau, whose heart remains in his faraway hometown, parts of which have been engulfed in raging wildfires. "It's definitely not a normal week," Seau said.
Seau's The Restaurant -- a great place to meet and eat. Not the ideal place to live, but what are you going to do?
Life in San Diego has been thrown into chaos lately. Few around here know that better than the man whose name is attached to the eatery and whose heart remains in his faraway hometown, parts of which have been engulfed in raging wildfires.
"It's definitely not a normal week," Junior Seau said.
It sure hasn't been business as usual around the linebacker's restaurant, which closed Monday and Tuesday to serve as a makeshift sanctuary for about 35 employees who had to evacuate their homes. By Wednesday, the threat had passed and the public was allowed back in.
"Luckily, everybody was able to go back to their houses," said Marita Balbis, the comptroller for Seau's, a (what else?) sports-themed establishment. "Nobody lost anything. Nobody's place got burned. It was just an evacuation.
"I got an e-mail from the California Restaurant Association (Wednesday) saying restaurants that are not affected by the fire should stay open so people have a place to go to to eat. And of course, we wanted to show the Boston Red Sox (in Game 1 of the World Series)."
With the Sox in full swing and Boston College playing a huge football game last night, this Sunday's Patriots-Redskins matchup has fallen between the cracks.
Even a healthy percentage of diehard Patriots fans are no doubt looking past this game to the next one, against the Colts.
The Patriots themselves usually are immune to such distractions. But while most of his teammates have maintained their focus this week, Seau acknowledged that he's been torn between football and real life. The 18-year veteran spent his first 13 seasons as a Charger and still lives there in the offseason.
At least one of his homes in the area was imperiled (with some property damage) by the fires, but his family, including his three children, is OK.
"Everyone's fine," said longtime friend Bette Hoffman, who said Seau is "like a son to me." The former director of Seau's charitable foundation, Hoffman was forced to camp out at the restaurant for two nights.
"It was just horrendously frightening," she said of the ordeal. "I'm sure you can hear it in my throat -- it's extremely smoky and the air is not good."
"I'm on it every minute of the day," Seau said of the fires that have burned more than 450,000 acres in California. "It's funny that you come here (to the East Coast) and you don't really get a true feel (for what it's like there). You hear stories from back home, and it's just sad.
"They're all in trouble. Not just my family and friends, but the whole community. You see (footage) on TV and you know that everything that they're showing is familiar but unfamiliar due to the fact that it doesn't look the same."
Seau took advantage of the Patriots' off-day Tuesday and flew back to San Diego for an up-close look.
"We landed (at the airport) and you look up in the sky and you thought it was snowing," he said. "It was just ash."
Seau relocated his parents, whose home was in the danger zone, to a beachfront house he owns. He knows not everyone displaced by the blaze has such a ready-made safety net.
"You have all the stories about your friends -- they're losing everything," Seau said. "You can't really understand what is actually transpiring daily.
“Lives are changing, and they're in desperate need of help."
As a wealthy professional athlete, Seau is in position to lend a hand. His youth-oriented Junior Seau Foundation is brainstorming about ways to aid in the relief effort.
"We're assessing the situation," said Hoffman, who serves as an adviser to the charity. "We have a reputation for being exceedingly generous in getting resources out as soon as possible. What we're planning to do is look to the various agencies and decide where we can maximize the dollars to help the most people."
In the meantime, Seau knows he has a game plan to absorb this week and film to watch. On Sunday, it's showtime.
He's been through this before. While playing for Miami in 2003, his much-anticipated return to San Diego was scuttled by wildfires that forced the Chargers to relocate their Monday night game against the Dolphins to Tempe, Ariz.
"It's part of the package this week," Seau said of the distraction. "What's hard is what they're going through on the West Coast. What I'm going through here is easy. I have water. I have shelter. I have food. There are a lot of people out there who are suffering right now.
"If anything, it puts it in perspective. We're fortunate today."
-- The Patriot Ledger