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 our emotions had been toyed with for so long in this mess that I had gone numb to all the talk. I didn’t believe or trust anything I heard, even from my sources. 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.
I’ve been fascinated with the Donald Sterling issue since it hit the news.
Racism sickens me, yes. Any kind of bigotry sickens me. And I believe in “stand for something or fall for anything” … Change really only comes about if people stand up for it. I understand what NBA commissioner Adam Silver did today and I am glad he stood for something.
I am a closet wanna-be professor who loves anthropological and social issues. Yes, I’m a nerd.
So, that said, here’s what fascinates me about the Sterling case:
- Privacy and the Slippery Slope: Sterling said something in the privacy of his own home. He has that right. Racism sucks, but anyone has the right to be a racist or a bigot and everyone has the right to voice their opinion. We all have First Amendment rights. As a friend of mine (who is African-American and a professional athlete) said: “I don’t like people trying to regulate someone’s opinion.”
- Judge and jury: Basically, there was public outcry to be judge and jury on this issue. But could it be that instead of regulating his opinion, we could just choose to not be involved with him? That’s what a bunch of big-time sponsors did when they heard the Sterling comments and pulled their money from the organization. In a sense, I can see the argument that that’s what the NBA did. They are choosing to not engage with him. The NBA certainly has the right to regulate this since they are privately owned (and have a responsibility to protect their players from hate and disrespect), but it’s true that we all have a choice with who we want to allow in our lives and where we want to put our support. We can’t force every person to in the world to quiet their opinion — and I don’t know that we want to — but we can CHOOSE how we want to engage with that opinion.
- Stand up: Racism and bigotry is wrong. That’s my opinion and I’m allowed to have it. I believe we need to stand up for racism and bigotry in our everyday lives. It shouldn’t take a monumental event, or a TMZ report, to make people aware that racism is an issue. There is a quiet war going on daily in all of our lives. It’s an important one and it requires vigilance.
- Sports, social change and social media: Sports, in itself, is an anthropological dream. Locker rooms are too. People of all races, ethnicity, genders, classes and financial backgrounds coming together in all sort of crazy ways. Every day, social issues manifest themselves through sports. The Sterling situation was a monumental example of that, and it drives conversation, and that’s pretty rad. To put it in layman’s terms: That’s why sports can be so cool.
I think the important point here is that the NBA, again, is privately owned and has the right to regulate and enforce rules. It has the responsibility to protect its players. Silver made a big statement today, not just for the NBA but for all professional sports. Donald Sterling has a history of lawsuits stemming from racist actions toward employees and tenants in his buildings and a track record of bigotry. There’s no way he can just show his face around the organization and have everything be hunky-dory. The team would implode and explode all at once.
I’m bothered by the privacy issue but I don’t have an answer. What, really, is private anymore? Can you be an owner and a supposed leader and still retain privacy? Where is that line if you’re in the public eye? Where is your responsibility? What I think we need to take away from this is, simply, AWARENESS. Be aware of all the sides and social issues that pervade this story, because when we lose awareness, we just become single-minded sheep.
As Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said: “It’s a slippery slope.”
Cornerback Shareece Wright is one of those players who is always smiling.
He gets it.
He knows how tough it is to make it out of Compton, where he grew up. He knows how tough it is to make it to the NFL and what a blessing it is for his family, especially his mom, that he found success.
When you watch this video, you’ll see how he never takes a second of it for granted. He knows the struggle, and he knows all the good fortune can be gone in a second. Going over to his house, I didn’t know what to expect. A lot of high-ticket items? Expensive jewelry and knick-knacks that mean nothing but look pretty?
The things that mean the most to Shareece revolve around friends and family. He plays pool with his friends. His jerseys represent the journey. His dogs are his love. His mom is his heart. And he bakes, because that was one of the ways he contributed to his household when he was a kid.
Hope you enjoy. Warning: You might need some tissues when he talks about his mother.
When LaDainian Tomlinson was young, his family would take in kids who needed help. His mother would feed them and give them shelter.
Though Tomlinson didn’t recognize the magnitude of that as a child, he realized it when he got older. Now a parent of two, Tomlinson says the generosity of his family has fueled him to give back as a player and adult.
In San Diego, though now retired, he continues to make an impact — just as he has for more than a decade.
Tomlinson was at a local restaurant Wednesday to introduce a new program he’s part of to help feed hungry families. The concept is simple: Download TangoTab, a free phone app that finds deals at restaurants near you, and every time you claim a deal, a portion of the proceeds are used to feed people in need.
Genius, if you ask me. First of all, the app is pretty cool. It eradicates the need for those annoying Groupon e-mails. Nothing to print out, nothing to buy. You just click to claim and go out and eat.
Second of all, YOU’RE JUST EATING! You eat out anyways. Might as well let your money feed the hungry while you pay the bill.
It’s always good to chat with LT and always nice to see his mega-watt smile in San Diego. Watch the video to hear more about his involvement with TangoTab, his assessment on Ryan Mathews and what position he thinks the Chargers might take with their first pick of the draft.
And so it ends.
I never get used to the season ending. It’s just weird. You’re rolling, you’re riding, there’s never been more talk of bolo ties and beards in your life, everything is exciting and fun and hopeful and then…
The door shuts.
In the NFL, it shuts quickly and coldly.
Players hugged each other tonight in the locker room, proud of one another, brothers in the fight. They may have lost to the Broncos in the divisional playoff game (and it stinks, and they will tell you it stinks, and nothing makes it not stink) but they also love one another and know they were in it, together, until the end.
“We got nothing to be ashamed of. And when we fight together, when we play hard, when we compete, the character of this team … you can hold your head high because you know you gave it your all. That doesn’t mean you’re happy, doesn’t mean it’s okay, but to bounce back from 5-7 and get to this position, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” — Philip Rivers
“We got a lot to stand tall about. I tell them, don’t hang your heads long. We did a wonderful job being in this situation. Don’t take it the wrong way — we wanted to dance and have a chance to win the Super Bowl but from where we came from this last six, seven weeks, fighting and believing in one another, guys being banged up and still giving their all — it solidifies what we’re about and what this organization is about.” — Antonio Gates
“In one season we have turned around this organization and we are heading in the right direction. Guys have the right mindset about them; there is a lot of pride in this room, and a lot of tough guys in this room who fought through a lot of injuries this year and gave until they couldn’t give anymore. This locker room is headed in the right direction.” –Nick Hardwick
In the morning, players will head to Chargers Park and listen to head coach Mike McCoy one more time. Then they will clean out their lockers, and in bags and boxes, will take the memories of a season. The field will remain covered up and posters will be ripped down and hugs will be exchanged and pages will turn.
And so it goes.
So many players told me, tonight, that this was the best team they’ve ever played on. Danny Woodhead said it. King Dunlap said it. This was the best group of guys they’ve ever been around, the most fun they’ve ever had in a season. It’s a credit to the older guys — Weddle, Rivers, Johnson, Hardwick and the like — for the standard they set, the tone they bring to the organization. They aren’t about flash. They come in, they work hard, they want to win, they love one another and they don’t care what the outside thinks.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to experience this whole season with anyone else. It’s an unbelievable group of guys.” –Danny Woodhead
I don’t know where I’ll be at this time next year, so it could be that this particular “the end” resonated with me a little more than previous ones. I took a little longer to say goodbyes. I walked slowly through the hallways. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the stadium sink in. I appreciated the tiny moments that come with following a team for five seasons that are lost on the outside world.
I took it in, like Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers and Jarret Johnson and Eric Weddle and guys who have been around awhile take it in. Because they know the team won’t look the same next year. You don’t know who will be back.
You don’t know if you will be back.
You just have this moment.
“As a young guy, you think you’ll get back to [the playoffs] all the time because you don’t know any different, and for the older guys like myself, going in three years and then being out three years and then being back in it, you just appreciate it and you try to never let it get away from you because this is what you live for. The older you get, you never take for granted the daily work, being with your teammates, the grind. You never know what the future holds. That’s why we love each other so much and we support each other and we give it all for each other. You never know what’s gonna happen and who’s gonna be here so let’s just live it up while we can. And hopefully, that will be good enough.” –Eric Weddle
Well said as always, Eric. Hopefully, it will be good enough.
The Chargers are headed to Denver.
For the first time since 2009, they made the playoffs. That was jaw-dropping enough after a rough start to the season.
Now, San Diego is advancing.
I watched a lot of TV this week and read many, many stories and I can tell you … NO ONE gave the Chargers a chance. National media counted them out time and time again. It’s understandable — the Chargers were inconsistent throughout the season, and although they won four straight to get to the playoffs, the final match-up against the Chiefs was NOT their best football.
The old adage is true, though — It’s not how you get to the playoffs, it’s what you do when you’re there. And the Chargers delivered against the Bengals, winning 27-10 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, silencing the critics who had said they didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano told me last week that they were “playing with house money,” that players were loose and excited and happy for the opportunity. Young guys like Manti Te’o and Keenan Allen said they just had to settle in and not let the game get too big.
The “underdog” status is one the Chargers are familiar with, and one they step up to at critical times.
Honestly, it was fun at Chargers Park this week. It was like a whole new season had unfolded. The past was gone and with it, a huge sigh of relief. All that mattered now was moving forward.
The Chargers head to Denver next Sunday for what will be a great divisional match-up against the Broncos.
Keenan Allen called his mom during training camp and told her he wanted to come home.
“Coming out of college, I wanted to play right away,” Allen said. “I wanted to be a starter. And I wasn’t getting that feel from coaches, that I was going to be playing.”
He told his mom he wanted out of the league.
“Patience,” she said. “Patience.”
And so Allen worked and waited. He prayed. He worked and waited and prayed.
And early in the season, his patience paid off. He got the opportunity in Week Two and never looked back. Now, Allen leads all rookies in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and is on his way to 1,000 yards on the season. He’s been voted Rookie of the Week three times.
Allen said it was the biggest lesson he learned in his first year in the NFL, and it’s a lesson he is entirely grateful for as the honor of Rookie of the YEAR looks more and more like a reality for the Cal product with each passing week.
It’s been fun getting to know Keenan, who is multifaceted and full of raw talent. I had a chance to sit down with him to see (and hear) his musical side. Impressive! We chatted about his love for playing the piano, his run for Rookie of the Year and his early struggles during training camp (including the timely conversation with his mom).
Here’s some extra footage. Allen actually taught himself how to play, for the most part. He bought an extra keyboard as soon as he moved to San Diego and he has a pretty sweet instrument waiting for him at his mom’s house:
And here is more of Allen playing and fooling around with the piano while we got our cameras set up. As you can see, Allen has talent not only on the football field, but also behind a keyboard.
One of the things I really appreciate about Chargers center Nick Hardwick is that he keeps it real.
If he’s not up for an interview, or he doesn’t have time, he politely declines and then does what he can to make it up to you the next time. This is not the case with all athletes. Some play games with the media, some hide, some pull attitude or a sense of entitlement.
Nick, he just keeps it real.
He plays football the way it’s supposed to be played — old school, and with intensity, heart and toughness. He takes all praise and deflects it off himself, instead turning it to the other players or coaches. He shows up, every day, like he has for the last ten years, ready to give everything he can to his teammates and to himself. He’s calm in chaos. He’s passionate in adversity. In a locker room that has lost many veterans, it’s players like Nick, Jeromey Clary, Eric Weddle, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers who are the foundation, who have been together through rough times and good times, who know just what it means to play your ass off for the guy working next to you.
And, as Chargers offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris says, Nick is having “one heck of a year.”
He is. He’s having a Pro-Bowl year.
Nick takes pride in the bolt on the front of his jersey, and pride in the name of the back … because it represents family.
I had the chance to follow Nick’s wife, Jayme, and their two sons, Hudson and Theodore — two years old and three weeks old, respectively — into a game at Qualcomm recently for an NBC feature. It was a hot, sweaty day, and Jayme was a trooper, especially since her hands were full with the kids and I kept having to mic her up and ask Hudson to walk up and down stairs and put a GoPro on his head and such.
Here’s the feature. It’s a glimpse into what it’s like to be an NFL family, and a look behind the curtain at a couple who provide constant strength for one another. Plus, it features super adorable cute kids … and who doesn’t like that?!
I remember when Donald Butler tore his Achilles tendon his rookie year and was given one of those scooters, the kind where one leg stays elevated and he uses the other to roll himself around:
He took his job just as seriously then as he does now. I remember he would scoot around to meetings and to therapy. He did everything possible to immerse himself into the team and into a defense that John Pagano told him would ultimately become HIS defense in the near future.
The near future is rapidly upon us, folks.
Donald keeps to himself mostly, but was kind enough to let me crash his pedicure and learn more about how he takes care of his body and what he does to give his team his best on the field. We also talked about his upcoming contract (he’s a free agent after this season) and also, the way he’s grown through this game.
Donald is crucial to this defense, especially on a team that is somewhat starved for veteran players. He’s the epitome of what Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy should want — a player who has grown through the system, who has learned from Pro Bowlers in front of him, and who has applied his knowledge on the field in a successful way.
For two seasons, Donald’s locker was right next to Takeo Spikes’ locker, and now, Spikes is gone, but a new face has emerged next to Donald: Manti Te’o. And he is learning from Donald just as Donald learned from Takeo.
Manti told me yesterday:
“I have two big brothers on this team. Two guys that I look up to. Guys that I know will do everything for me and I’ll do the same for them. That’s Eric Weddle and Donald Butler.
Donald, he’s a tremendous leader. A good leader is one that will put the team before himself. That’s exactly what Donald is. He’ll put the team before himself. Anything it takes to win. That’s what you need. For me to be in there with him is definitely the best thing. A lot of rookie linebackers don’t get that chance, don’t get that opportunity to learn from a guy like that.
He makes things fun. He makes light of issues to make sure you’re okay. He understands how a player feels, he understands how linebackers feel. He knows what will help his defense, and especially his young linebackers, to function at their best.”
Manti was thoughtful and fierce with his words. Pretty strong stuff. Keep an eye on how this defense grows over the next few years, because Donald Butler will be a huge part of that development.
I had the absolute pleasure of visiting NFL Hall of Famer Lance Alworth and his wife, Laura, at their Del Mar home for a story on life after football.
By the end of the visit, I wanted them to adopt me.
They are two of the kindest, funniest, coolest people I’ve met. Generous, sincere and full of life. And after 17 years of marriage, they are still madly, sweetly, amazingly in love with one another. (<— Look at all the adjectives I just used! It's because I can't truly explain how awesome they are. Dammit, there's another one.)
As Lance says about Laura: “She’s my best friend.”
Here’s the story I did for NBC. Lance gets emotional at the end … You can tell how much everything really means to him — football, the struggles, financial trouble, all of it. I love what he said about how he lives his life. Always catching the ball, even if it means getting hit. It’s such a great analogy.
And here’s some behind-the-scenes footage. This is Lance talking about how he got his nickname, Bambi:
And here he is talking about how he doesn’t even play catch with his grandkids. He doesn’t want to pressure them. He was so honest about it:
Hope you guys enjoy these as I much as I enjoyed my visit with the Alworth’s.
And if you’re reading this, Lance and Laura … there’s still time to adopt me.