FOXBOROUGH -- The question seemed difficult, but the answer was swift: After 17 seasons of taking hits in the NFL, why would Junior Seau come back for more?
"Because I can," he said with a smile.
Seau is a virtual shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career is done. But instead of kicking back at his home in San Diego, the 12-time Pro Bowler has been spending the sweltering summer days on the Gillette Stadium practice field.
"I'm one to believe that I'm not going to let anyone set any kind of boundaries on me," Seau said after yesterday's hourlong walkthrough. "The guy I've got to look at is me in the mirror. I make the final decision."
Last fall that decision didn't look easy. Seau broke his right arm tackling Chicago's Cedric Benson in the second quarter of a 17-13 win Nov. 26. He waved to the Gillette Stadium crowd as he left the field, almost as if saying goodbye.
"If I didn't have an opportunity to come back and say thank you to the fans and to the people that embraced me while I was here, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself," Seau said.
"The time that I had last year was very special. For me to come here and the fans and the community to embrace me the way they did was special. It made me want to work for them."
Patriots doctors confirmed in the locker room that Seau had broken his arm and wouldn't be able to play for the rest of the season. He was on a flight to San Diego by the third quarter.
"I knew I had to get back home and take care of it and get my mind-set on getting back or letting it go," Seau said. "And that's exactly what I did."
Letting it go was hardly a thought, as Seau was on a treadmill the next day, working to return for Season 18. The Patriots signed Seau, who was an unrestricted free agent, to a one-year, $1 million deal in May.
"I really didn't look into going to another team," Seau said. "Being able to come to the Patriots last year and being accustomed to the locker room and the surroundings and the coaching staff, it was a comfort level that I had."
Seau returned to training camp last week. He has been wearing a red (noncontact) jersey to protect his arm, but it's clear he's itching to return to full speed.
"You're going to have to talk to the head honcho there," Seau said when asked when he would be able to shed the red. "I'm just a player."
In his first season with New England, Seau started 10 games at inside linebacker last year. But he has been supplanted in the first group by free agent signee Adalius Thomas.
Seau will remain a big factor -- and coach Bill Belichick likely will use his depth at linebacker in a variety of ways -- but it is an adjustment for a player who was one of the NFL's most dominant linebackers for more than a decade.
"You've got to check the ego when you come here to Patriot land," Seau said. "And that's why this team has been so successful in years previous, because of the team effort they had, and the morale, and everything that goes along with winning. The chemistry here is unbelievable. Being 'The Man' has nothing about I, me. It's about we, and that's all that matters."
At this point, Seau is happy to still be on the field. Perhaps his best accomplishment has been to make it through intact.
"This game is not made for human beings to be running around smashing each other in the head for a long period of time. I've been blessed," Seau said. "You've got to be able to endure a lot of pain, but more importantly, you've got to be able to go through a lot of insecurities and questions as to what's going to happen to your future as a professional athlete.
"But once you believe in yourself, you want to challenge yourself, and that's what I'm doing today. I'm going for it."
Daniel Malloy can be reached at email@example.com.