FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Junior Seau didn’t leave the NFL the way he wanted, despite his 12 Pro Bowls. So he went back.

“Obviously, leaving the last two years with injuries was not satisfying,” he said when he joined the New England Patriots late last summer four days after announcing his retirement.

Now, one of the best linebackers in NFL history is hurt again. For the third straight year, his season ended in November. He could spend his 38th birthday in January with a cast on his seriously injured right arm.

His rehabilitation could be mixed with more thoughts of retirement.

“I don’t know if that’s anything to even talk about right now,” New England coach Bill Belichick said Thursday. “There’s no decision that needs to be made on that. So we’ll discuss that in due course.”

Neither Seau nor his agent, Marvin Demoff, returned repeated telephone calls.

Fullback Heath Evans, Seau’s teammate last year at Miami, thinks a retirement decision will come down to whether Seau wants to spend another season away from his family on the West Coast. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who will start with Seau sidelined, doesn’t think he’ll make a decision soon.

Seau was hurt with just under nine minutes left in last Sunday’s 17-13 win over the Chicago Bears. He dove and tackled Cedric Benson for no gain, but his right forearm smacked against the top of the running back’s right heel and bent at an awkward angle.

The Patriots have withheld details of the injury – and Belichick said Thursday that Seau isn’t with the team now “because he’s having something done with his arm” – but signs point to a broken bone.

Seau clutched the lower part of his right arm on the field. Trainers ran out and put an air cast on it. He waved to the crowd with his left arm as he walked off. On Monday, he was placed on injured reserve, meaning he’ll miss the rest of the season.

If he does retire, it won’t be because of diminished skills. At the time of the injury, he was second on the Patriots in tackles, just as he was second for Miami in 2004 when his season ended after eight games because of a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery. He played seven games last season before an Achilles’ injury ended it.

“He still has it,” said Evans, who played six game for the Dolphins last year before being released. “The wear and tear on that man’s body, for him to still be able to play at the level he was playing at here is unbelievable.”

On Aug. 14, Seau attended a retirement ceremony in San Diego, where he played 13 seasons for the Chargers before being traded to the Dolphins. On Aug. 18, he joined the Patriots while inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi was recovering from a broken wrist that kept him out of the opener Sept. 10.

Seau saw his decision as a chance to gain something that he’s missed, a Super Bowl title. But it meant another season away from his family on the West Coast. Seau, who grew up in suburban San Diego, has three daughters.

“If I know Junior like I think I do, it would be his family and being separated from his children more so than ,”OK, I just can’t do this anymore,’ ” Evans said.

He said doctors probably would put a plate in Seau’s injured arm and it should be fine within two months.

“Then it’s rehab the wrist,” Evans said. “Something like that I don’t think would ever make Junior decide to say, “Hey, my time is up.’ But I do think it’s the strain and stress your family suffers because of this industry so I think that would probably be the deciding factor.”

Belichick said Seau could come back to the area this season if it’s best for his rehabilitation.

Evans and Banta-Cain said they haven’t spoken with Seau since the injury, but both said he still has the great passion and skill that has characterized his career.

“He’s a legendary player and he’s a tough guy,” Banta-Cain said. “It’s such a serious injury that I think a lot of things are going through his head right now.

“I don’t think he can make a quick judgment on what he wants to do for the rest of his career. I think he needs some time to think about it. I think right now he’s just focusing on his injury.”

AP-ES-11-30-06 1531EST


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