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.
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.
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.
The NFL Combine is madness. It is not for the weary.
As media, you basically get there early with a hundred other media peeps, fight for a spot with a decent outlet for your laptop, get some coffee, complain about something or other, then laugh about how times have changed. Then it’s a whole day of hustle, baby.
Because the NFL doesn’t provide media with times or podiums for the player pressers, it’s a lot of scrambling. A player comes into the media room and all the reporters and TV people crowd around, frantically fighting for space for their tripod or proximity to ask a question. Then another player comes in at another podium, and everyone scrambles to get over to him.
Then there might be two hours when you do NOTHING.
And then another five when you don’t sit down.
Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
At the Combine, you have to cut your losses. You’re not going to get everyone. There will undoubtedly be two or three players talking to media at same time, and you’re gonna have to pick one. There will definitely be other media trying to sneak a player away from you to do an interview before the NFL Security People whisk him away. It’s a dog-eat-dog world around here.