I spent Friday, January 13th, curled up in the fetal position on my couch, tears streaming down my face.
It was not where I expected myself to be.
Just 24 hours before, the San Diego Chargers had dropped a bomb: They were leaving their home of 56 years and relocating to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Chargers. It feels sacrilegious writing it.
Having covered this story for the last few years, I always knew it was a possibility they would leave, but emotions and reason had been toyed with for so long in this mess that it was best to tune out the talk and opinions of others. Even those whom I considered sources seemed tangled in the uncertainty of an outcome. So I just waited.
I was at Chargers Park, the team’s practice facility on Murphy Canyon Road, when the announcement hit. A handful of fans were scattered in front of the building. News trucks lined the street. At 8 a.m., the Chargers posted a letter to their website, declaring their move.
A letter. After 56 years. A. Letter.
From that second on, it was work mode. I stayed at Chargers Park until the sun went down, talking to crying fans, shouting fans, shocked fans. I watched as people unloaded their gear in front of the building, a symbol of their detachment to the team they had been loyal to for so long, that was now leaving them for another city. Nothing meant more to me on January 12th than being able to connect with fans and document their stories on such a historic day in San Diego sports.
Friday brought tears.
Perhaps it was the fatigue; maybe it was the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next (I’m a sports reporter in a city lacking sports in an industry dying by the second); maybe it was my 11-year-old nephew calling, asking questions I couldn’t answer. Maybe it was this video montage I watched, the one with Lance Alworth and Dan Fouts and Don Coryell and LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates sharing common ground in Mission Valley, all running across the same field, and knowing that this dysfunctional stadium — the one we love to hate — holds so much history and so many memories and now, she is empty.
I was surprised at my reaction. I’m a reporter. I’m a grown woman, crying over football, a sport riddled with greed and capitalism and concussions and physical violence. But football has always been part of my identity, part of my family, part of my relationship with my dad, and over my years of reporting, I’ve met so many fans who have tailgated at The Q for decades. Rain or shine, in good times or bad, with friends and family members.
All of it gone.
The NFL is making it easier for fans to disengage. The greed and manipulation that for so long was hidden behind the scenes is now front and center, flashing across our social media feeds. This move shouldn’t have happened. We know it. The NFL knows it. Fans know it. But it did, and a price will be paid.
The Chargers have an uphill battle in the City of Dreams. They are overwhelmingly not wanted, first of all, and second of all, they are displaced. They are between two homes. They must learn the city, make connections, build foundations, history and traditions that don’t exist. They must win — not flash-in-the-pan winning, not winning sometimes, but Championship or near-Championship winning, and consistently. So far, partly because of team blunders, and partly because it’s simply a terrible move, it’s not going well. In less than a week, it has become cool to hate the Los Angeles Chargers, and if LA is good at anything, it’s having a mob mentality and adopting a “you can’t sit with us” attitude. Can it change? Absolutely. But whether mild apathy is that much better than major apathy remains to be seen.
San Diego fans are faced with a dilemma: Are you supposed to care about this team or not? Do you drive 150 miles to the sterile Stubhub Center — with no history and no ties, except of the futbol sort — to watch your ex-team play next season, or do you show Dean Spanos what you think with your dollar by not buying tickets? What about the players? Do you stay in it for them? I won’t tell you what’s right or wrong. No one can. What you feel now might not be what you feel six months from now. It’s uncharted territory for us all. Even us newspaper folks are wrestling with decisions of how, if at all, to cover this team going forward.
One more thing: I’ve been covering the Chargers since 2009. I’ve built relationships with the team’s front office employees in that time, lasting relationships with some excellent people. These are hard-working folks who have dedicated decades of their lives to work for the San Diego Chargers, often for wages that fall far short of industry standards. They have put roots in San Diego. They have kids in our schools and spouses in our workforce. They have toiled tirelessly for this team through birthdays, deaths, divorces. Yes, that is their choice, and they won’t ask you to feel sorry for them. But imagine devoting most of your adult life to Dean Spanos and the Chargers and then getting this thrown on you, while possibly losing your job or facing unemployment or being asked to move. It’s not easy, and these guys are exhausted, sad and scared too.
There are people in this world fighting wars, fighting cancer, fighting hunger and pain. Losing an NFL team does not compare to any of those things. Not even close. But the loss is an emotional one, and for many, it cuts to the core. Losing a football team is losing the opportunity to carry on traditions and history that families have upheld for generations. It’s like losing a friend — a really fun friend, a friend that drove you nuts sometimes but that could always be counted on to pull you away from the problems in your life for a few hours. It’s a friend that’s happy to see you and scream with you and do ridiculous superstitious dances with you. Every Sunday, you could connect with that friend. That’s what football is — it’s connection. It’s a thread that links people together.
Now, that thread is tainted with shared contempt for the ones who took it away. The anger and hurt will pass, eventually. Football Sundays will be tough at first; perhaps with time, they will get easier.
But the friendship …
Well, that will just never be the same.
When I was eleven, my father started taking me to Qualcomm Stadium to watch the Chargers. He loves football – he’s the type to jump off his couch and yell at the television during football season – and I was the lucky recipient of his passion for the game. I distinctly remember sitting in the stands, absorbing the energy of the cheering fans and feeling like I was part of something bigger than myself, something special. I remember high-fiving strangers after touchdowns and wrapping my arms around seatmates as I chanted “De-Fense! De-Fense!” over and over until my throat was raspy.
We all have these stories, tales of how and why we became football fans, that are passed from parents to kids, from uncles to nephews, from friends to neighbors. They weave through us, bonding strangers into a brotherhood that knows little about race or social class. When your team scores a touchdown to win the game as the clock expires and you cheer with the person next to you, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or how much money you make or where you grew up … All that matters, in that second, is that your team won.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, YOUR story is one that is close to your heart.
And that is why I urge you to enjoy Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
Yes, it may-well-very-could-be-possibly-is-but-not-yet-100-percent-sure the very last Chargers game EVER in San Diego. We don’t know yet, but signs point north to Los Angeles, to the green pastures of money, corporate suites and signage.
Still, I’m asking you to enjoy it.
Enjoy Philip Rivers and Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates and Eric Weddle and Mike Scifres, the remaining players on the roster who have been with this organization their entire career and have each played at least nine seasons in Qualcomm Stadium. They deserve your enjoyment. They’ve given you a lot over the years, even if the past few haven’t been so pretty.
Enjoy that one dude who sits a few rows in front of you and screeches too loudly when the offense is on the field. He is part of your story. Enjoy the tailgater who’s been parking next to you for 40-plus seasons, through divorce, illness, deaths in his family and inclement weather. Enjoy the ladies in tight tank tops with lightning bolts across their chests – (hey, San Diego weather allows for that year round) – and the fellas who break out their custom blue-and-yellow kicks just for home games. Give a knowing nod to the man who paints his chest and face every week in support of the Bolts … he, too, deserves a place in your chapter on the Chargers.
I get it. You’re angry. You have every right to be. I’m just asking you to consider pushing aside the anger, for one sweet San Diego afternoon, to enjoy the moment. Cuz it’s all you have, at this point. Don’t let this mess take it away from you, should this be it.
Perhaps it is because I’m getting older, perhaps it is because of lessons learned the hard way the past few years, but there is a peace that comes with reality. And in this situation, the reality is that the Chargers may not play in our backyard next season.
If that is the case, you can’t stop it. I appreciate that you want to — it’s a mark of your loyalty and love for your team – but you can’t. It’s done. It’s not going to matter what you do at this point. It’s not your fault they’re leaving – don’t listen to any of the hype from mouthpieces that say it is, because it’s Not. Your. Fault. It’s business. It’s always business, and sometimes business is impersonal, cold and unfair.
The thing is, this might NOT be the last game the Chargers ever play at Qualcomm Stadium. I know that’s a long shot, but it’s still accurate. They could be back. If they’re not, you’ll remember this game as the final one, and you’ll tell your kids and your grand-kids about it, and you’ll imitate Rivers’ hand gestures and say “golly gosh darn dagnabbit” and they will, in you, feel your love for football.
Your love for the players, who didn’t ask for this move, should it happen.
Don’t let the organization, and Dean Spanos, take that away from you. They’ll be taking enough if they leave.
I understand that’s asking a lot. It’s like asking you to be happy while your parents get a divorce. But we’re older now. We’ve gone through stuff, and we know that we can’t change the outcome. We might as well enjoy the ride.
I’m not saying it won’t suck if they go. I understand, believe me. If they move, I won’t get to walk around the Qualcomm parking lot and exchange witty banter with you fans for “Out & About,” which I’ve been doing since my years as a reporter with the Union-Tribune. I won’t sit in the open-air press box and feel the energy shift with the game, or close my eyes as the National Anthem plays on the too-loud sound system – (always one of my favorite moments) – or watch the outdated Jumbo-Tron stutter to churn out a replay.
That’s why I’m going to appreciate it even more on Sunday.
I’ve always enjoyed how grateful Rivers is for every game. It’s like he’s six years old again every Sunday, and he just can’t BELIEVE he gets to play quarterback in the NFL. He just can’t believe it! What a life.
On Wednesday — five days before what could be the final home game at Qualcomm Stadium — Rivers said that he will soak in the experience, like he soaks in every game, because nothing is guaranteed. (And he’s right. Even if the Chargers stay in San Diego, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow and never make it to another kickoff.)
Rivers is going to soak it in … The fans, the media, the rust and grime at Qualcomm Stadium, the cheers and the boos … it’s all part of his story. It all deserves its place, and he knows it.
I urge you to soak it in too. You owe it to yourself, and to your story.