Alone in the Wilderness: A Chargers Fan on the East Coast

Peter Aiken

Kirk Willison grew up in Bakersfield, California following the AFL Chargers made famous by the likes of John Hadl and Lance Alworth. He now lives in Vienna, Virginia, a Washington, DC suburb.

The shock still lingers thirty-seven years later.

I had just graduated from UCLA, packed everything I owned in my four-door, un-air-conditioned Datsun B210, and headed across the country to begin my career working in Washington, D.C. Five days later, I arrived smack in the middle of the dog days of August: an unbearable combination of scorching heat and steam-room humidity that is an annual tradition in the nation's capital.

But weather be damned. I prepared myself for political debates, congressional receptions, and, yes, dreams of meeting Capitol Hill interns that I was sure awaited me.

What I didn't prepare for was the cult of the Washington Redskins.

Every hour of every day. In Washington, the Redskins were 24/7 before anyone ever used the term 24/7.

All of the local television stations (ok, there were just three primary ones in those days) had their own Redskins show each night of the week, and broadcast live from the training camp in Carlisle, PA. A multitude of radio stations competed daily to secure a 'Skin for their morning and evening drive-time Redskins' shows.

I arrived in Washington when Congress was discussing the Panama Canal Treaty and the efficacy of the tax-deductible, three-martini lunch. But the only debate that mattered to most Washingtonians was whom George Allen would play at quarterback: the veteran Billy Kilmer or upstart Joe Theisman.

When the Redskins won, they were the lead story on the 11 o'clock news and an action photo "above the fold" would be found in the next day's Washington Post. If the Redskins lost, they were the lead story on the 11 o'clock news and an action photo "above the fold" would be found in the next day's Washington Post.

You get the picture.

That's when I knew it was going to be lonely being a San Diego Chargers fan on the East Coast.

And it still is.

A few weeks back when the Chargers needed a win over the Kansas City Chiefs to make the AFC playoffs, my son and I headed to a sports bar to watch the late afternoon game from Qualcomm. Every time the Chargers made a mistake (and there were plenty in that first half), the floor exploded in cheers. I couldn't believe that there were that many Chiefs' fans in the region, and then it hit me: they were Steelers' fans hoping that all of the dominoes would fall into place so Pittsburgh would claim the final AFC spot.

Every city seems to have a "Stillers'" bar. (Of course, the joke is that every city has one because everyone who grew up in Pittsburgh left for a better job.) But it isn't just the Steelers' fans that have their favorite out-of-town watering hole. So too do Bears' fans, Bills' fans, Browns' fans and Packers' fans. In every major city in America.

The Chargers? Uh, not so much. I've yet to find a Chargers' bar outside of Southern California.

Not long ago, I was in Orlando on a Sunday when the Chargers were playing in Philadelphia and, with a few hours to spare, I walked over to an ESPN Zone to watch the game. I was greeted by a sea of midnight-green uniforms and raucous cheering by Eagles faithful. It just never occurred to me to pack my Chargers' baby blue jersey while on vacation to Florida. I was alone, again, naturally.

(This past Thanksgiving Day, I proudly wore my LaDanian Tomlinson jersey for a family-and-friends pick-up football game in Northern Virginia and nearly fell over when I looked across a field and spotted a white Chargers' jersey on a player warming up. But my heart sank when I saw the name on the back: Leaf. I knew he had to be mocking us Bolts' fans!)

No matter. We Chargers' fans, sometimes outnumbered in our own house, will persevere. Particularly those of us far removed from America's Finest City. Cheering alone. Drinking alone. And, in this case, writing alone for a Chargers' blog in a room 2,675 miles from Qualcomm Stadium.

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