Junior Seau and Luisa Seau
Ramey; Chris Carlson/AP
05/03/2012 at 08:50 AM EDT
If something was troubling Junior Seau, he told no one – not even his closest friends and family.
"Monday, Tuesday [he was] talking to me, joking. Junior, why you never tell me?" the legendary NFL linebacker's mother, Luisa Seau, sobbed in front of her son's Oceanside, Calif., home on Wednesday – hours after he put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger in an apparent suicide
"I don't understand, I don't understand," Luisa cried. "I prayed to God, 'Take me. Take me, and leave my son.' But it's too late. Too late."
Hank Bauer, a former San Diego Charger like Seau, said he was blindsided by the news. "I am in shock. I'm crushed," he told USA Today
. "There was zero warning that anything was wrong with him. He seemed happy and at peace. This is when his life should have been great."
Bauer added: "I think the message is this: We all forget that people we idolize are just … people. Do we have unreal expectations of our heroes?"
"I'm totally shocked and very, very saddened by the whole thing," Bobby Ross, who coached the Chargers during the 1994 season, told CNN.
"Junior, to me, was the epitome of what a football player was. Tremendous team player. Tremendous leader. Tremendous leader on our football team."
Hauntingly, Seau is the eighth player to die from the '94 Chargers, an overachieving team that made, to date, the franchise's only appearance in the Super Bowl. The other players died mostly in accidents or from heart problems; one died of a drug overdose.
Some acquaintances of Seau's did notice cracks in his otherwise sunny demeanor. "He was troubled trying to find his lot in life after football," Steve Scholfield, sports editor of the Oceanside Blade-Tribune
, told USA Today
"Football was his life. He could absolutely light up a room with his smile, but he had a dark side. He was a conflicted person."