In the summer of 1992, Chris Fore was headed for a promising season on the offensive line of the Fallbrook Warriors football squad when he was in a devastating car accident that shook the high school and the community.
Justin Patterson, a 16-year-old wide receiver and promising Warriors pitcher, was driving home on Alvarado Street when he lost control of his brand new SUV and hit a telephone pole.
Patterson had earned his driver’s license that morning; I remember because he was my vacation Bible school counselor at Fallbrook First Baptist Church, and he showed me the shiny new card before sending me home in the afternoon.
A few hours later, driving Fore and another friend home from Bible study, he was killed.
Every bone in Fore’s left leg was broken, and most of the two dozen bones in his left foot were crushed. Seven surgeries would be needed over the following two years to rebuild that shattered limb, and Fore, now 36 and a father of three, still mourns the loss of one of his closest friends.
Obviously, football was out of the question that fall.
Then the phone rang.
“It was a Tuesday night in August of ’92, about a month after the accident,” Fore told me when we spoke on Wednesday, following the news of Junior Seau’s death. “My mom said, ‘Hey, someone’s going to call tonight to talk to you, so don’t go anywhere.’
“It was out of the blue: The phone rang and my mom said, ‘Here he is,’ and passed the phone off to me,” Fore recalled.
It was Seau.
Only it wasn’t just any version of Seau —- it was the 1992 linebacker near the top of his game, when he was hunting down quarterbacks and laying loud hits on opposing receivers.
Fore would find out later that Seau had called him from the midst of training camp: “Here this guy’s in the middle of one of the most important parts of the season, and he’s taking time out to call some kid.”
“We talked for 15 or 20 minutes, and it was one of the thrills of my life,” Fore continued. “I’ll never forget it. He said to me, ‘You need to find some way to contribute to your team.’ This was a linebacker in the NFL, saying, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair, on crutches or in a hospital bed, you need to find a way to contribute.’
“Before that phone call, I was so depressed about football and not being able to play with all my buddies,” he said. “But that gave me a glimpse into what I could be that year —- I could be a source of inspiration to my team.”
Fore went on to receive the Fallbrook High School DeNormandie Award, given to the most inspirational member of the team.
He hadn’t played a game.
As football fans around the U.S. mourn a hero of the gridiron, there are plenty of reminders that Junior Seau was North County’s hero first. He was an Oceanside boy, a San Diego Charger. He is the reason we love linebackers.
To Chris Fore, he was the voice on the other end of the line that helped him see football in an entirely new way. Fore has been coaching for 12 years now, and is working on a book about successful high school coaches around the country.
“As I looked at the game through a totally new set of eyes, he inspired me to find a way to matter to my teammates, even though I couldn’t play,” said Fore.