A Saddening Trend For The 1994 Chargers


Without a doubt my favorite collection of 53 men on an NFL roster was the 1994 San Diego Chargers team that made an epic run through the AFC playoffs and into the Super Bowl that season. I’m sure I’m not alone in my fondness for that team which captured the hearts and minds of loyal Bolts fans across the land during that magical ’94 season. San Diego may have come up short against one of the best teams in the history of the league in the San Francisco 49ers, but the memories of that team will always be a part of my NFL scrapbook.

Unfortunately memories are all that remain now for six members of that ’94 group with Shawn Lee’s untimely passing on Saturday from cardiac arrest due to complications from double pneumonia in Raleigh, North Carolina. Those ‘94 Bolts have now lost half a dozen players from that unforgettable team and there is something frighteningly coincidental about this startling number.

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of each individual have been troubling as well with it all beginning just five months removed from the loss to the Niners in that January 1995 Super Bowl when linebacker David Griggs died in a car crash in Florida. Less than one year later the team lost running back Rodney Culver when a plane he was on crashed in the Florida Everglades. In 1998 the string of inexplicable events continued when linebacker Doug Miller was struck by lightning, twice, in Colorado.

There was a near decade long lull in this run of tragedy for the Bolts, but in 2008 Curtis Whitley died of an overdose and shortly thereafter defensive lineman Chris Mims was taken by a heart attack.

Shawn Lee comprised one half of the Bolts interior defensive line duo with Rueben Davis which were playfully nicknamed ‘Two Tons of Fun’ at the time, but Lee had struggled with diabetes for years following his playing career.

Health risks are inherent to the job as a professional football player as illustrated by the alarming life expectancy of just 53 to 59 years of age for most depending on position according to studies, but these eerie fatalities just add more questions to the dangers of being in the NFL. The research done on the brain following concussions has been the main emphasis of the league during the past handful of years to benefit its players, but perhaps there are even more problems that need to be examined.

My personal favorite player from that ’94 squad was Natrone Means and he offered his comments to the San Diego Union-Tribune on the passing of yet another teammate. When asked his thoughts upon hearing of this tough loss, Means said: “Not again. It's crazy, just crazy, that we've had so many guys who have fallen. I can't make any sense of it. I've given up trying. You just hope you quit getting these random messages out of nowhere that another teammate has passed away."

A trend as hauntingly coincidental as this one has to concern anyone from the NFL fraternity, but Means was particularly hurt by the loss of Lee. He said: "Look at Shawn. He was a big man, a man's man, no doubt about it. I can't believe he's gone, too. The average fan would take a look at him and be scared to go up and talk to him, but he was great to people. He'd do anything in the world for you."

Hailing from New York, Lee was as tough as they come listed at 6’2” 300lbs. during his playing days and he attended North Alabama for his collegiate action. He was a sixth round draft choice by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1988 and spent two years there as well as two more seasons in Miami before finding his way to San Diego in 1992.

His memory is best summed up by the other half of the ‘Two Tons of Fun’ duo Reuben Davis who according to the Chargers team website said: “I think people misunderstood Shawn, but I remember he just always wanted to be happy every day. He spent his entire life trying to find that garden of joy. He was a person who was quiet, easygoing, always smiling and he loved to help kids and give back to the community. Shawn was never selfish and he would never say no to anybody, even if it meant him having to give up something. He would do that if it would help someone else make their life better.”

Lee was just 44 at the time of his passing and a memorial service is planned for him on March 5th at Springfield Baptist Church in Raleigh. If you would like to celebrate the life and memory of this former Charger you can visit this site courtesy of the Chargers team webpage.

Please leave any thoughts you have about Lee’s career, the dangers of the game, or just fond memories of those 1994 Bolts in the comments section below for topics of discussion.

March 4, 2011

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