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.
Man, it’s been a long time.
(This is the point in the blog post where I’m supposed to explain my absence, but honestly, what fun would that be?! Don’t groan. It’ll all unravel itself in future posts anyways.)
Today is about mom, and football, and growing up.
My mom had a stroke about a month ago. She’s okay (relatively) but it scared the living daylights out of me when it happened. It was the first time I came face-to-face with my parents’ mortality, and let. me. tell. you. … That is not a fun meeting.
I’m not old, but I’m not young. Relatively speaking, anyways. Many of my close friends have parents who have passed away, and I know it happens, and The Lion King and the Circle of Life and all that, but it’s still a somber thought and it ain’t ever easy. It’s one thing to have a parent pass away when you’re an adult, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to lose a parent as a teenager.
And this is where Craig Mager comes in.
Ah, yes. Cornerback Craig Mager, the player the Chargers selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Mager has one of those stories that sticks with you. His mom — (a single mother of four, Mager and three younger sisters) — passed away when he was just 15 years old; a hospital-administered overdose responsible for her death.
Mager: “It was like a nightmare. I had a little party the night before because my birthday was actually June ll and she passed away June 15, so I was hanging around with a couple friends and when I came home, I heard she was sick and that she went to the hospital. She thought she had meningitis because she had a stiff neck. So I came back that night … The next morning my youngest sister comes running into the room, talking about how my mom was unresponsive. I rolled out of bed and ran down there to see what was up. I called 911, and we found out after that.”
He had to grow up fast. Though his grandma lived nearby, she was older, and the responsibility fell on Mager to parent his siblings and run the household. While his friends were carefree teens, Mager was doing his best impression of being an adult. He drove his sisters around, made them dinner, helped with homework, did chores, and — oh yeah — played football, well enough to get a scholarship to Texas State. Though he didn’t know it at the time, football would become his sanctuary; the field, a safe place to release his emotions.
One of Mager’s last memories of his mom came during a freshman game, when Mager — (then a running back) — was tackled after a play. As he got up, a player on the opposing team grabbed his facemask and some shoving ensued. Mager’s mom, who was sitting in the stands, jumped over the fence and onto the track to try and protect her first-born — an embarrassing moment for the teenager, but one he would give anything to have back.
What he would do to look up in the stands and see his mom jumping the fence to try and help him…
What he would do, indeed.
Players come and go. Teams come and go. Jobs come and go. Some stuff, though, just goes. And when it goes, it can’t come back.
Mager is a thoughtful, well-spoken young man. He focuses on being respectful and disciplined as a man before all else. He may or may not make it in the NFL, but if he does, the intangible of his mental toughness, his ability to fight adversity and step up when needed, will thread his success story.
It’s easy to get lost in your job, or your problems, or the business of everyday life. Believe me, I know. It’s easy to get lost and forget what’s important. Today, my heart goes out to all those who don’t have someone to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to, who have no phone call to make or no present to buy or no annoying brunch plans.
To all the rest of us, who still have parents we can hug and love and roll our eyes at, savor the time. Savor it while it’s here.
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.