The day has finally come. There's no easy way of handling it, but it does help to share our emotions during times like this.
I asked three of my friends (who are some of the most passionate Chargers fans that I know) to contribute a parting piece.
Thank you Brad, Ryan, and Eric for taking the time to share your stories.
R.I.P. San Diego Football 1961-2016
Written by Brad Hulewicz
As another San Diego Chargers season goes in the books, one more familiar than not, we Chargers fans find ourselves at an unfamiliar crossroads. For 55 years a professional football franchise has called San Diego home. It is becoming more likely by the day that there will not be a 56th. That would make for the longest tenured residence by one franchise before relocating. Longer than the Rams 49 years in Los Angeles before moving to St. Louis. The irony is that in a few days the owners of the 32 NFL teams will vote on which team (between the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams) gets to relocate to Los Angeles. Having the long history that the Rams had in L.A., and a fanbase that still follows them amongst many Angelenos, they seem like the right choice if such a move must be done -- and, by all accounts, it is a must. However, the momentum seems to be surging towards the Chargers and Raiders shared stadium plan in Carson, CA winning out, and not the Rams proposal in Inglewood. This would be a very tragic day for all San Diego sports fans, and should be so for all San Diegans in general.
I have been a Chargers fan since 1992 when I went to my first game with my parents. The Chargers won that game, and reached their only Super Bowl two years later. I was hooked. There have been many memories hitting every emotion from numbing rage to unwavering joy that has lasted days. I remember watching Dennis Gibson knock down a 4th down pass in Pittsburg to send the whole city of San Diego to the Super Bowl. My dad was too nervous to watch that play on TV, so he left the room and went into his bedroom. My mom and I screamed in excitement triggering him to come back downstairs and participate in the celebration.
I remember watching my team come back from a big second half deficit against Cincinnati in 2006 while watching on a little handheld TV at work with my coworker, and fellow fan. With every score and positive play leading up to the comeback we broke something in the store. The building concern to the consequences of our destruction was overruled by our conviction that we needed to keep it up for the victory to be completed. I also remember having season tickets that same year and witnessing eight consecutive victories with LaDainian Tomlinson breaking the all-time touchdowns-in-a-season record.
How could anyone forget Marlon McCree? He played for San Diego for only two seasons, but will be remembered forever. Making the impossible possible. His fumble on an interception return gives truth to this wacky statement: Tom Brady threw a come from behind interception to win the game. I was at that game and remember watching another fan stare down at his feet and yell “FUCK!” repeatedly. It took over 30 minutes to exit the stadium into the parking lot. He kept this going the whole time. As I drove out of the stadium another 30 minutes after that, I drove past him and he was still going. That play and that fan are so uniquely Chargers. Something other fans can’t believe just happened. Something Chargers fans have relived more times than Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” Something that can make a man scream “FUCK” for over an hour and be completely justified.
The real tragedy in all of this, that will make a lot of us want to shout obscenities for prolonged periods of time, is not the games, or the players, or the new memories that won’t be had. Having a professional sports team, especially the nation’s most popular sport, is a luxury awarded to only a few cities. It is a jewel that should be cherished and protected.
"For those out there that say it’s just a game and to move on, tell someone dressed up as a storm trooper from Star Wars that it’s just a movie and to move on."
As outlined by a few journalists and a portion San Diego voters, the economics of building a stadium and harboring an NFL team are not great -- some even say bad for the city. That, I will admit, appears to have some merit, especially with the NFL’s stance to have cities front at least half the money for these mega-costly stadiums. Like most things in life though, there is more to this than money. Sometimes the financial burden is outweighed by other benefits.
These types of civil and communal benefits can be seen throughout San Diego everyday. I personally witnessed it for over 25 years. Nothing brings citizens together like the local team. Nothing, except for maybe a county-wide tragedy like the wildfires that have ravaged San Diego before, but we don’t need natural disasters to bring people together. The Chargers are one commonality that can break barriers between two people that otherwise would never be inclined to even notice one another. Neighbors, coworkers, strangers on the street all brought together. Even out here in Virginia a host from a restaurant walked out to us on the street and told my dad (who was visiting from San Diego) that he liked his Chargers shirt. They then spoke for a few minutes about the team. This was a week ago after the Chargers had just dropped to 4-11.
A couple years ago I was driving around the beltway in D.C. the morning the Chargers played the Bengals in a playoff game. The driver next to me noticed my logo decal on the back of my car and started honking his horn. I looked to my right and he had pulled up next to me decked out in Chargers gear and waving his Chargers hat out the window at me. He was so excited he started to drift into my lane and almost cause an accident. How many of you have had experiences like this because of the team you root for? Just about everyone, I presume.
The shared experience in the community is not limited to the four quarters of each game, either. The anticipation of a new season, the admiration or disdain of players past and present, the bonding that goes on between fans stretches throughout the year. There is no season to be a proud fan. It’s all year long.
These shared moments between fans, gone. The LT’s, and Junior Seau’s, and Philip Rivers’ that kids look up to, and that contribute to local charities, gone. The team sponsored food drives, and blood drives, gone. The money brought in by visiting fans, including hotels, restaurants, and local attractions they may visit during their stay, gone. The advertisement that a warm San Diego December night looks like on national TV to the many cold Americans across the country, gone. The pre-game tailgate amongst friends and family that takes place at home or in the stadium parking lot, gone. The pride and energy galvanizing citizens of San Diego that schools, budget surpluses, and business cannot, gone. Even the “San Diego Super Chargers” corny song, gone.
Losing the Chargers will be a major blow to a proud city. Any true San Diegan will feel some shame that this happened. For those out there that say it’s just a game and to move on, tell someone dressed up as a storm trooper from Star Wars that it’s just a movie and to move on. People become attached. The bond between other fans, and happiness it brings to each individual is real. Despite what economists, or some politicians may say, if the Chargers leave San Diego, we lose. And the biggest losers of all will be the generations of kids that will grow up in San Diego without a local sports hero to admire, or the family experience of going to that first game. Here’s to hoping the adults ripping this away from them can at least acknowledge that.
Oh, one last thing. This goes out to Mr. Spanos, personally. May the challenge of getting the easily distracted Los Angeles sports fan to root and care for 55 years of losing like San diego did prove to be an insurmountable one.
*cue AC/DC “Thunderstruck”*
Written By Ryan Dodds
If Dean Spanos has his way, I will never watch another San Diego Charger game. This is a realization I have had to come to terms with in the last few years. It is sobering enough to think that I may not be able to watch them play on Sundays; then I realize what I will truly be losing. There will be no more tailgates and no more shared viewing parties. No more excited, pit-in-the-stomach feelings on the days leading up to a big game. There will be no post-game phone calls with Dad, although, they really were more expletive laden therapy sessions than anything else. For better or worse, these experiences have formed a part of my identity. Now, the fate of that identity lies in the hands of a 65-year-old owner with dollars signs for eyes, in a league so grossly out of touch that HE is viewed as the victim.
Growing up I picked all my favorite teams based on geography. Even as a child, I understood the concept that these teams represented the place I lived and the people that lived there. It certainly helped that my parents encouraged this belief with their own personal stories of watching Dan Fouts and the Air Coryell Chargers. They reminisced about the holy roller against the Raiders in ’78 or the epic win in Miami in ’82. Listening to these memories, I often imagined how I would have reacted seeing those games live. When most shit-head kids at school would jump effortlessly from winning team to winning team, I saw the fun in riding it out with the team you loved from the beginning. For years, my parents had gone through the same highs and lows that I was now experiencing. As I got older, I envisioned passing these same experiences on to my kids. To me, it was these shared bonds that would tie our family together for generations.
"But make no mistake, for the foreseeable future, my favorite team will be the team playing against the Chargers that day."
Now, I will be the first to admit, San Diego’s reputation of being a fair-weather fan base is well deserved. There are a ton of factors involved in this (namely San Diego being a significantly transplant population), but regardless, let’s call a spade a spade. If this were a legitimate reason to lose your teams then, arguably, it should be happening in Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix or ironically, L.A. However, growing up in San Diego’s relaxed sports culture did make it easier to spot the fans that were equally as passionate as I was. In high school, when I met friends who felt as intensely as I did, it provided relief that it was okay to have a team mean this much me and that I was not (clinically) insane. It was okay to trade week-by-week projections, stats included, with Brad during Oceanography class. It was okay not to say a word after a crushing playoff loss to the Jets (pick one). It was okay because they “got it”; they felt the same way. Although I’m still not sure that I fully comprehend what I will be missing if the Chargers leave, losing this shared connection with family and friends will be the hardest part for me.
So now here we are, poised to lose a team that has been in this city for 55 years. I’m realizing that I’m not losing a rooting interest; it’s just going to change. I will now be rooting for the absolute fucking failure of everything Dean Spanos does from here on out. I will be rooting for half-empty stadiums and last place finishes; this will be much easier to do after players whom I respect and admire like Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates call it a career. But make no mistake, for the foreseeable future, my favorite team will be the team playing against the Chargers that day. Spanos, and his little bitch boy, Mark Fabiani, can claim all they want that they have been trying to get a stadium done for 14 years. That may in fact be true, but for much of that time they were dealing with an incompetent government. While the city deserves some blame, the current mayor has done enough, in my opinion, to warrant some effort from Dean and the organization. Dean walked away when there was a real chance to get something done, and that will always be my lasting impression of the man.
The NFL is also culpable because they’ve run this race to L.A. like it is a fucking reality show, completely ignoring the millions of fans involved. I can only hope the league crumbles under a mountain of concussion settlements and greed. I’ll make my peace with this over time and life goes on of course, but the thing that will stick with me most is that we never got the ultimate reward. I used to daydream about watching my San Diego Chargers win a Super Bowl. It was always the dangling carrot after a particular terrible season. “Yeah this year sucked but there’s always next year.” Well next year looks like it’s going to be the powder blue clad Los Angeles Chargers so I’ll consider this the end.
Written By Eric Tellez
It was a sunny day in San Diego and the breeze was steady and cool in the View level at Qualcomm Stadium. I sat next to my older brother as the group we sat with, led by my high school football team's kicking coach, told us it was over and left their empty nacho trays and soda cups along with their seats. Luckily, my dad was picking us up so we could stick around a little while longer.
The Chargers trailed the Chiefs 14-16. The game had hardly been a barn burner and the stadium exhaled frustrated fans by the thousands as the third quarter came to a close. Ryan Leaf, surprisingly enough, had hooked up with Freddie Jones for a couple of touchdowns early in the first half but that momentum didn't carry over to the second. A pick six, not even five minutes into the third quarter, quickly shifted the energy in the stadium and most fans started predicting the Chargers' 13th loss in a row; the second loss to the Chiefs that season. Everyone wanted to beat traffic and everyone was sick of seeing the Bolts hang another tick in the L column so they left.
Not us. We have always been firm believers in the cliche, "It ain't over til it's over."
I'd be lying if I told you I could recall how or what happened leading up to the following event but there we were; my big brother and me, sitting as high as the sky at the edge of a cement bowl that was filled with electricity and fascination. What had been, just five game-minutes earlier, a place filled with a heavy air of defeat and disappointment had transformed into a place filled with hope and excitement. The Chiefs had been dominating the Chargers for the most of the second half and Leaf lead the Bolts to the KC 33 leaving a decision to be made on 4th and 7. After what felt like an eternity, John Carney and the field goal unit set up for what would be a 52 yard attempt. From where we were sitting it looked like a light year away so I could only imagine what it looked like from the field.
"...it wasn't until that day in 2000 that I really became a fan. I, that day, decided to invest a small part of myself into the organization and I've been loyal ever since."
The air blew colder and the sun's output intensified. The stadium fell into an eerie hush. Every seat was empty except for the two that Alex and I sat in. The announcer's voice echoed into the hollow concrete canyon as did the voices of a couple of players down on the gridiron. Then, only for an instant, it became completely quiet and serene. I could hear the ball squeak as the center gripped it and shot it through his wide stance. As the place holder caught the ball, it dully tapped against his hands and the grass rustled beneath it as he set and spun the laces out. The chaos of helmets and shoulder pads crashing into one another, the grunts and huffs of tired breath from angry giants fighting, and the nervous legs bouncing in anticipation had come into auditory focus but were all instantly silenced by the muffled thump that John Carney's foot placed into the soul of the pigskin. There was a collective gasp as the ball gracefully sailed through the air and time slowed to a crawl. We held our breaths be it behind clenched teeth or dropped jaws. All eyes followed the ball as it sailed through the uprights and the place erupted like Mt. Vesuvius.
I'd be lying if I told you I could recall what happened in the last three minutes of the game but the Chargers won 17-16. They went on to lose their remaining games that season but on November 26, 2000 they won over the Chiefs and they won me over as a fan.
I wish that I could say that I've been a fan since I was a toddler and that it was a family tradition to root for the Bolts but I can't. I grew up constantly moving to different countries where football was associated with Pelé not Namath. When we moved back to San Diego in '95, a friend of mine invited me to a night game against the Lions but I wasn't really a FAN yet. I went to a few games here and there with cousins and uncles and family but it wasn't until that day in 2000 that I really became a fan. I, that day, decided to invest a small part of myself into the organization and I've been loyal ever since.
Now, I stand at a crossroads.
With news of the Chargers looking for a new home and the probability of that happening becoming more of a reality, I have to decide if I even want to follow the team anymore. Am I supposed to stay loyal even though the organization didn't? Can I really blame the Chargers for looking for a new place after I've attended countless games where Charger fans were the minority? I hate to admit it, but I understand the move; I don't like it but I understand it.
I'm bummed that my daughter, who just turned one, won't have the same experiences that I had in my 15 years of fandom. I bonded with strangers and grew closer to friends at Charger games and over Charger talk. I followed the progress of players and felt like their success were partly due to the support of the fan base. To be completely honest, the only reason I've really followed football at all over the last three years is because I follow the Chargers.
It is unfortunate that so many of us, who have been loyal gladly spending our hard earned money on game tickets and memorabilia, are left in the wake of a business decision asking ourselves, "Now what?"