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Super Bowl 29, the 49ers, Chargers and Mark Seay

February 1st, 2020 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Chargers, Football, NFL

When the San Francisco 49ers secured a place in Super Bowl 54, to be played tomorrow in Miami, my brain banged out several memories of my two visits to Joe Robbie Stadium.

The most recent was to see USC and Oklahoma in the college football national championship game in 2007. (USC 55, Oklahoma 10; later forfeited because of NCAA rules-breaking). Away from the game, I remember running into the side of a moving bus while jogging in the streets of downtown Miami. (I miscalculated.)

The first game at Joe Robbie came a decade earlier, when the 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl 29.

And then a couple of images of players and coaches pushed my brain for attention.

–It was the 49ers’ fifth appearance in the Super Bowl and the first under the leadership of quarterback Steve Young. (Their first four SB wins were with Joe Montana at QB.) That made the 49ers the most successful team in the history of the game, at the time, and I thought they might win a few more with the players they had. I was wrong; they have not won a Super Bowl since “49-26”, but they have lost one, to Baltimore, in SB 47.

–SB 29 was the first and still only appearance in the Super Bowl for the Chargers. It was a bit of a magical season; Junior Seau and Natrone Means were just about their only elite players. Yet, they went 11-5 and won the AFC West.

–I remember the usual suspects, at that game. Young, Jerry Rice, Rickie Watters, Deion Sanders, for the Niners; Seau, Stan Humphries and Means, for the Chargers.

–Oh, and Mark Seay. Chargers receiver and a hometown hero for my newspaper, the San Bernardino Sun.

–As I muse on this, the Seay stuff bubbles to the surface. I had seen him play several times at San Bernardino High School in the mid-1980s, during an era when the Cardinals actually were pretty good. In part because their coach, the late Tim Burroughs, knew what he was doing.

–Seay’s football career looked over when he signed with the Texas Rangers of Major League baseball, out of high school, but after two seasons trying to hit the curveball he joined the Long Beach State football team, in 1988.

–That was the year when his life took a heroic turn. He was at a Halloween party at his sister’s place, in Long Beach, when bullets came through the walls. Seay threw himself atop his 2-year-old niece, perhaps saving her life, as he was hit by a .38-caliber bullet that pierced his pelvis, a kidney and a lung. The bullet stopped just short of his heart, and was never removed.

–After surgery to remove his damaged kidney, and most of a month in a hospital, Seay went home. He hoped to rejoin the football team, but LBSU officials told him it was too much of a risk for him to rejoin the team. He filed suit against the school.

–Meantime, George Allen, a football legend (trust me on this, kids), a former Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins coach, was hired to lead the Long Beach program. After speaking with Seay, Allen advocated that Seay be made eligible for football, and the school agreed, as long as Seay wore protective padding, particularly over his remaining kidney. The lawsuit was dropped.

–Seay was a senior at Long Beach State for the 1990 season, Allen’s only year at LBSU. Allen promised a winning record, but that looked like so much hot air when the 49ers lost their first five games. But they rallied dramatically to win their final six to finish with a rush and a winning record. Seay was a big part of it. And Allen, of course. The coach had a soft spot for his top receiver. He said of Seay: “He’s an example for all of us, what I call a solid citizen. He’s a leader. One of the highlights of my coaching career is having a guy like Mark Seay on my team.” It was the last team Allen coached; he died suddenly on New Year’s Eve, 1990, age 72.

–Seay was not picked in the NFL draft but he caught on with the 49ers and was on their practice squad in 1992. He was released on the eve of the 1993 season but joined the Chargers, who kept him around but activated him for only one game.

–In 1994, Seay broke out with the Chargers. He became one of Humphries’s leading targets, catching 58 passes and scoring six touchdowns during the regular season. He also caught the winning pass in a 21-20 playoffs victory over Miami. (The Chargers beat the Steelers in the AFC title game.)

–Seay was a starter in Super Bowl 29, which turned into a rout. The 49ers of coach George Seifert and QB Young were very good and the Chargers, led by coach Bobby Ross and Humphries, were not. Seay caught seven passes for 75 yards, leading the Chargers.

–The game ended 49-26, so it is hard to pick out a “turning point”. But those who insist on it, particular those who are fans of the Chargers, found one, and they laid it at Seay’s feet. Just before halftime, with the Niners up 28-7, the Chargers were at the San Francisco 13, and Humphries threw three incompletions — the second, aimed at Seay. Watching through binoculars in the press box, I thought the ball was out of Seay’s reach; others insisted he should have caught it, to make it a 28-14 game. The Chargers settled for a field goal making it 28-10.

–San Diego surrendered touchdowns on San Francisco’s first two possessions in the second half, putting the game out of reach at 42-10. The Chargers eventually got a bit of offense going, and a TD drive was capped by a two-point PAT catch by Seay — the first two-pointer scored in Super Bowl history. (The option to go for two points after a touchdown had been added to the rulebook for the 1994 season.)

–Seay did another year as a starter with the Chargers, then they waived him. The Philadelphia Eagles picked him up in 1996 as a returner and receiver and he did two seasons there, and that was it.

He played in 61 regular-season games and caught 135 passes for 1,629 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was a nice, solid career for a non-elite receiver.

He considered joining the police, perhaps because both of his brothers, Elvin and James, were murdered, the former at age 41 in 2003, the latter at age 37 in 2006.

Seay, 52, has done community outreach work for Stater Brothers supermarkets, but I am not certain where he is today or what he is doing.

For sure, I will think about him tomorrow when the Niners play another Super Bowl in Miami. Meanwhile, some Chargers fans may recall their 1995 Miami match-up with the Niners and recall Seay’s bogus “game-turning” non-catch.


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