OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Former NFL star Junior Seau was found dead at his home Wednesday, authorities said. He was 43.
Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau's girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. A gun was found near him, McCoy said, and the incident is being investigated as a suicide.
Seau's mother appeared before reporters, weeping uncontrollably.
"I don't understand ... I'm shocked," Luisa Seau cried out.
Her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week, she said.
"He's joking to me, he called me a 'homegirl,' " she said.
Seau was a standout linebacker with the University of Southern California before going to the San Diego Chargers, whom he led to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season.
Seau becomes the eighth member of those '94 Chargers, who lost Super Bowl XXIX to the 49ers, to die at a young age. The others: Chris Mims, David Griggs, Rodney Culver, Lewis Bush, Curtis Whitley, Shawn Lee and Doug Miller.
Seau's death also follows the suicide last year of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest.
"Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family," the team said in a statement.
"Junior was a fierce competitor whose passion and work ethic lifted his teammates to greater heights. His enthusiasm for the game was infectious and he passed that on to everyone who was around him. He loved the game so much, and no one played with more sheer joy," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said in a statement.
"Junior was one-of-a-kind. The league will never see anyone like him again," Dee said.
The Patriots also issued a statement expressing grief over Seau's death. "This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates," the statement said.
Chargers president Dean Spanos called Seau an icon and a friend.
"I can't put into words how I'm feeling right now. I'm shocked and devastated," Spanos said in a statement. "Junior was my friend. We all lost a friend today. Junior was an icon in our community. He transcended the game. He wasn't just a football player, he was so much more. He was loved by everyone in our family, our organization and throughout the NFL.
"This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine. My prayers go out to Junior's family. It's heartbreaking."
Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was one of many current and former NFL players stunned by the news.
"Wow shocked right now, I tapped Juniors picture every single day before heading out to practice at USC. R.I.P. to a legend n awesome person," the fellow USC alumnus wrote on his Facebook page.
In October 2010, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge down a seaside cliff in his SUV, hours after he was arrested for investigation of domestic violence at the Oceanside home he shared with his girlfriend. The woman had told authorities that Seau assaulted her during an argument.
There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash and Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving. He sustained minor injuries.
Seau spent parts of 20 seasons in the NFL, including 1990-2002 with his hometown Chargers. He led them to their only Super Bowl appearance, was voted to a team-record 12 straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times.
He amassed 545 tackles, 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions in his career.
"Twenty years, to be part of this kind of fraternity, to be able to go out and play the game that you love, and all the lessons and the friends and acquaintances which you meet along the way, you can't be in a better arena," Seau said last August after the Chargers announced he would be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame.
Seau was the fifth pick overall in the 1990 draft out of Southern California, and stayed with the Charges until being traded to the Dolphins. He came out of retirement a few times to play with the Patriots in search of a Super Bowl ring and was with the team when they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, which ended New England's quest for a perfect season.
More than 100 people gathered outside of Seau's home, only hours after he was found dead. Families showed up with flowers and fans wearing Chargers jerseys waited to get more news.
Seau was beloved in San Diego, where he created a foundation and had a popular restaurant that bore his name.