Chargers' Seay: Reluctant hero is survivor, too SUPER BOWL XXIX

January 29, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- It was Halloween night of 1988, and Mark Seay, then a college wide receiver, had volunteered to haunt his sister's modest apartment in Long Beach, Calif. His sister's 3-year-old daughter, Tashwanda, was masquerading as Jane of Tarzan fame.

But not long after the party began, shots were fired from outside. Twenty seconds later, more shots were fired, this time penetrating the apartment. Almost everyone dived for cover, except Tashwanda, too young to comprehend the danger.

Seay threw himself atop his niece, and in moments, a bullet pierced his right pelvis and grazed his liver, kidney and lungs before stopping three inches from his heart.

Seay says the important thing was that Tashwanda wasn't hurt.

"I am not a hero," said Seay, the San Diego Chargers wide receiver, re-creating the scene again last week. "Saving a child's life is not an option, but something you are supposed to do."

He is a reluctant hero, and a survivor as well.

The Chargers are 18-point underdogs to the San Francisco 49ers today in Super Bowl XXIX, but the odds were greater against Seay, 27, even appearing in this game.

"At the time of the shooting, yes, I thought I was going to die," Seay said. "It's a feeling you don't ever want to experience . . . just constant pain. One of my thoughts was that I wouldn't get to a Super Bowl, or have a chance to continue my career, or get to find out if I could be a pro player. I wouldn't be able to have a wife and kids, or be able to do things for my parents.

"I never appreciated being able to run up and down the field, being able to yell as loud as I want, being able to eat what I want," he added. "Before, I took those things for granted. I don't now."

Seay was a victim of gang warfare. The bullet is still lodged near his heart. He is one hit away from losing his remaining kidney and being on a dialysis machine the rest of his life.

"Nothing is ever promised to you in this life," Seay said. "But if you want it bad enough, things will come your way. If the doctors had convinced me to go the other way, I would never have come back. I have confidence in them and in myself."

Seay has always been strong-willed. While other kids were submitting to gang pressures in his neighborhood of Compton, Calif., Seay stayed out of trouble and went to church several times a week.

His father, Elvin, was a truck driver and minister who suffered a severe stroke when Seay was 14. Seay loved to play sports, and spent a year in the Texas Rangers' organization before taking a football scholarship at Long Beach State.

Seay was developing into a solid receiver until his sophomore season. After a game against the University of Hawaii on Oct. 29, he returned to Long Beach for his sister's party. Seay was dressed as a vampire.

Seay says he remembers hearing a car stop and shots being fired. He also remembers one of the four young men leaving the car and coming through the apartment window with a handgun seconds before he leaped to cover his niece.

Seay was hospitalized for 2 1/2 weeks. Then it was another two months of soup and bed rest. His weight dropped from 175 to 118, and he was confined to a wheelchair.

"Food wouldn't stay down, and I became an emotional wreck for a while," Seay said. "Then I started getting a lot of support from friends and relatives. And to me, the most important thing was that my niece was OK."

Seay returned to classes in January 1989 and rejoined the team for spring practice. But in June, Long Beach State officials declared him medically ineligible, possible because of a $2 million settlement that was awarded to former Long Beach State player Todd Hart, who was paralyzed in a 1984 game against UCLA.

Seay sued, and got a jury trial. But before the court date, Long Beach State hired former Washington Redskins coach George Allen that winter, and he was impressed with Seay's story.

Allen cut through the red tape, and in the spring of 1990, Long Beach and Seay reached a settlement and Seay rejoined the team.

"When I told him my story, I could look into his eyes and see he understood," Seay said. "I believe things happen for a reason, and I believe George Allen was sent to me by God."

Seay became a second-team all-Big West Conference receiver in 1990 and 1991. He remains close to the Allen family, though George Allen died of pneumonia Jan. 1, 1992.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about George Allen," Seay said.

It was Allen who called around the NFL to get Seay a tryout because he feared teams would back off because of his medical history.

Allen may have been right.

The 49ers signed Seay as a free agent but cut him during the 1992 training camp. He spent a year on the team's developmental squad working behind receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor.

"I got a chance to see what it took to be the best," Seay said. "That's what gave me more motivation to pursue my dream."

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