Author's Note: The following post is intended to allow Chargers fans a forum for sharing memories. If this isn't your cup of tea, that's cool. Please don't ruin it for everyone else, especially with the ridiculous San Diego vs. Los Angeles debate.
I've seen a lot of sporting events at Qualcomm Stadium, well into the hundreds. Some of them date back before it was called Jack Murphy Stadium. Some of them are awful, while others were spectacular.
My first memory involved getting in the Press Box reserved for San Diego County officials. My grandfather was a county supervisor, and I used to go with him and my grandmother on Sunday mornings. The box was behind the west endzone. Here's what I remember:
The cannon, the car with a huge Chargers helmet on it, and the cheddar cheese squares on the buffet table. One could legitimately argue it's only gone downhill from there.
Below, I'll share my 11 most indelible Chargers moments at Qualcomm Stadium, from worst to best, and generally where inside the stadium I was watching the game. That's why some seemingly obvious games, like the playoff wins against the Titans and Colts don't appear below.
Some of this will hurt, and some of this will be wonderful. Presented in no particular order.
Let's get the hurt out of the way first:
The Marlon McCree Game. View 47.
Without recalling the particulars of the last part of the game, everything here still hurts. The boneheaded penalties. The ridiculous decision to go for 4th and 11 early. Dropped 3rd down passes, touchdown passes, and interceptions. Not giving the ball to the MVP more than 9 times in the 2nd half in game the Chargers lead until the last minute. The inability to close out an overmatched New England team, where Tom Brady had been intercepted 3 times - of course, the 3rd was the McCree play (this video is almost exactly from my vantage point).
When Kaeding's last desperate FG attempt fell short, every person wearing Chargers colors looked like they'd just been punched in the gut. A woman kept stammering "we didn't just lose, we didn't just lose" in disbelief. A couple thousand Patriots fans ran around in disbelief, repeatedly exclaiming they "couldnt believe they stole that game". On the trolley leaving the stadium, it was like leaving a funeral. No one said a word. The single most devastating sports experience of my life.
The Zack Crockett Game. Plaza 25.
You could feel the confidence of Chargers fans coming into the stadium. The team which had won the AFC Championship the previous year had finally found its rhythm. The team had rebounded from a 4-7 start by winning their last 5 games, one of which was a road win at Indianapolis a few weeks previously. The was simply no question the Chargers were going to stomp Indianapolis on their way to a rematch with Pittsburgh.
However, that's not the way the game unfolded. Stan Humphries started having one of his very bad games (his second playoff game with 4 INTs). Jim Harbaugh seemingly scrambled out of every sack for 1st down runs or big plays down the field. And then there was Zack Crockett, who transformed into Emmitt Smith and tore through the Chargers' defense to the tune of 147 yards - 66 of them coming on a long TD run which all but closed the door on any hopes of a return trip to the Super Bowl.
The first playoff game for the Chargers in 9 years, since the loss to the Colts, actually. In this case, the Chargers were playing host to the New York Jets, coming off a 12-4 regular season, AFC West title, and the emergence of Drew Brees and Antonio Gates as complements to LaDainian Tomlinson. Many Chargers fans took it as a good omen that the game was in the rain - it reminded many of the playoff win against the Chiefs and the 2004 home win against the Broncos.
However, the Jets defense was staunch and the Chargers struggled all game to move the ball. Only a 4th down penalty by Jets LB Eric Barton allowed the Chargers an extra chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. Then in OT, having moved the ball against an exhausted Jets defense, Marty Schottenheimer decided to sit on the ball outside the Jets' 20, and put the season on a rookie PK's leg on a sloppy field and in the rain. Kaeding missed from 40, and the Jets drove the opposite way for a winning FG.
Sunday Night annihilation by the Patriots. Plaza 25.
This was the game which marked the unofficial end of the Bobby Ross era. Natrone Means was gone. Leslie O'Neal was gone. The Chargers were facing the Bill Parcells - Drew Bledsoe Patriots, which were leading the AFC East and on their way to the #2 seed in the AFC. On the other hand, the Chargers were coming off a resounding win at KC, and at 7-5, the Chargers desperately needed a win to stay in the Wild Card chase.
I walked in at kickoff, and walked around the inside of the Plaza level on my way to my seat. By the time I sat down, the Patriots had already scored a TD. The rest of the game was an avalanche of Patriots scoring, as the Chargers defense couldn't stop Bledsoe, Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, or Terry Glenn. Humphries threw 3 INTs, but everyone will remember this game for his 2nd half concussion, where he stared vacantly off the field in full view of the ESPN cameras.
Dan Fouts' number is retired. Lower View 27.
I don't remember many details of this game, and that's probably good, as the Chargers got annihilated at home against the San Francisco 49ers. The Air Coryell days were long over, and the Chargers had settled into the malaise which featured QBs such as Mark Malone, Mark Vlasic, Billy Joe Tolliver, and John Friesz, However, this was the day that the Chargers were retiring Dan Fouts' #14, the first jersey retired by the franchise since LT Ron Mix (which was later unretired by Gene Klein).
Here's what I do remember. Alex Spanos, Chargers' majority owner for just more than 4 years, came out to the podium at midfield to give a speech horning Fouts. I have never heard anyone booed so loudly in my life (Eli Manning in September 2005 is a distant second). The booing was so loud you couldn't hear a single thing Spanos had to say, and it lasted for the duration of his speech, until he said the name Dan Fouts. At that point, the crowd erupted in cheers which did not subside for several minutes.
Tie - 3 times LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 200 yards. Field 6.
The 1st of these was in 2002, where the 3-0 Chargers were facing the 3-0 and defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots. The Chargers traded scores with the Patriots early, and then Tomlinson swung the same with 2 TD runs which were both breathtaking. Juking Tedy Braschi in the hole for a 37 yard TD on 4th down, then a cross-field 58 yard TD run (aided by Tim Dwight) in the 3rd quarter. He finished with 217 yards rushing.
Later in 2002, Tomlinson single-handedly kept the Chargers in their home game against the Denver Broncos. After trailing 10-0, Tomlinson scored 3 TDs in the second quarter, mixed in with a 76 yard run down the sideline to vault the Chargers into the lead. He finished the game with 220 yards rushing.
Finally, at the end of a wretched 2003 season, Tomlinson gave everyone a happy parting gift against the equally awful Oakland Raiders. Tomlinson finished the game with a still-standing team record of 243 yards rushing and 2 TDs. Tomlinson's long run was 37 yards, but it felt like every single time he touched the ball he ran for 15-20 yards.
In Mike McCoy's rookie season, the Chargers were left for dead with a 5-7 record. However, after winning 3 straight, they still had a sliver of hope to reach the postseason in Week 17. Unfortunately, the Chargers needed help to get there. They needed both a home loss from the Miami Dolphins against the New York Jets, and a road loss from the Baltimore Ravens against the Cincinnati Bengals. And we'd know before kickoff whether the Chargers were alive or dead.
In the parking lot, you would hear reverberating roars any time the Jets or Bengals did something good. Both teams built comfortable 2nd half leads. By the time the game started, both Miami and Baltimore had lost. And then the lunacy followed. The Chargers can't stop Chase Daniel. Keenan Allen sets up a tying FG in the 4th quarter with a huge catch and run. Ryan Succop misses a 41 yarder at the buzzer. Eric Weddle runs a fake punt from inside his own 30, and nearly fumbles in the process. The Chargers get a FG, and finally stop the Chiefs to return to the playoffs for the 1st time in 4 years.
Wild-Card victory against the Chiefs. Plaza 25.
In year one of the Bobby Ross era, the Chargers finally posted a winning season after starting 0-4. Once Stan Humphreis got untracked, the team rolled off winning streaks of 4 and 7 games, finishing with an 11-5 record and their first AFC West title since 1981. As a reward, the Chargers got to face the Chiefs at home. When the game was played on Saturday, it was played in a persistent downpour.
After a defensive battle which resulted in a 0-0 halftime tie, the Chargers had the ball near midfield and handed off to Marion Butts. There was a parting of the seas and everyone in the stadium froze for a split-second, as we weren't used to Butts breaking into the clear. Then there was raucous cheering as Butts ran for a 54 yard TD. The Chargers later added a FG and a TD, and the defense kept the Chiefs scoreless for a 17-0 victory.
The Chargers were 10-2 coming into the game, with a chance to all but end the season for the reeling Denver Broncos. Further, Tomlinson was within 2 TDs of the single-season record set the previous year by Shaun Alexander. The game was a mismatch from the beginning, as the Chargers toyed with the Broncos in the 1st half and built a 28-3 lead with ease of a hot knife going through butter. Tomlinson had 1 TD run to get within 1 of the record.
In the 2nd half, the Broncos got within 28-20 before the Chargers put their foot back on the gas pedal and salted the game away. Tomlinson's 2nd TD tied the record and made the margin 41-20 late in the 4th quarter. As fans started heading for the exits, the Broncos muffed the kickoff and the Chargers recovered inside the Broncos' 10. The crowd started chanting "LT! LT!" People raced back into the stadium to see Tomlinson score his 3rd TD, and set the single season TD record.
The party following the AFC Championship win at Pittsburgh. Field 3.
I was one of the 70,000 at Qualcomm the following Sunday night when the Chargers came back victorious from Pittsburgh. 2 friends and I from HS were on the Field level, on the visitor's sideline. An ecstatic drunk guy gave us one of his beers. I remember (I think it was Jeff & Jer) burning a 49er jersey before the place filled up - fans in the view level later tore the banner with the 49ers helmet loose from between the top of the level and the ring of lights above it.
And then the team buses arrived on the field. I remember listening to Bobby Ross, Stan Humphries, and Junior Seau all addressing the crowd. They could only speak in 30 second sound bites because the roar of the crowd would drown out their words. For the 2 weeks between this homecoming and the opening minute of Super Bowl 29, there was no better time to be a Chargers fan.
The Chargers overcoming a locked-in Dan Marino and a 21-6 3rd quarter deficit was simply the best ever fan experience of my life.
WR Mark Seay scored the go-ahead TD on 1st and Goal from the 8 yard line, with 35 seconds left in the 4th quarter. On the play, there was a split second of dead silence from when Stan Humphries let go of the ball until Seay caught it (he was so wide open, and the pass was kind of floated - it felt like it took forever to get to his hands), and when he caught it, the stadium erupted. It was so loud you could hear ringing in your ears. Humphries bounded towards the sideline like a six year old kid who'd just gotten a puppy for Xmas.
Of course, the Chargers nearly gave the game away. Dolphins PK Pete Stoyanovich missed a 48 yard FG which would've won the game. I was watching the crowd behind the goalposts, under the scoreboard to see their reaction when the kick was made. He pushed it wide right all the way, and you could see the celebration wave of fans from behind the goalposts sweep around the stadium like a tsunami. And again, it was so loud you could hear ringing in your ears.
The next day, we were all so wiped out from the game, my folks let me stay home from school (I was in HS) and go back to sleep.
For those of us going to the game on Sunday, I'm not going to tell you to cheer or boo, to sing the San Diego Super Chargers song, or to chant Fuck You Spanos. Each person will handle things in their way. I like history, so I'll think about history. The field where Lance Alworth, Ron Mix, Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, Junior Seau, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers all played the majority of their careers and made their names as stars and (in many cases) Hall-of-Fame players.
Those are the moments I saw in person at Qualcomm Stadium which are the most indelible. Feel free to share your moments and memories below.