It hurts really bad. I’m not going to front.
Even as I reached acceptance a few weeks ago, I still held out a glimmer of hope that somehow the NFL wouldn’t do what it has done in every other instance whenever an owner makes the decision that there is a better deal elsewhere.
And last night, San Diego was treated to yet another close-up look at how the sausage gets made as it pertains to the NFL and it’s ever escalating stadium construction game.
The NFL is a business (a cartel, to be specific). The Chargers are a franchise in that cartel. They have the right to conduct their business as they see fit. And fans are often the collateral damage in their business dealings.
So, what I’m left with now are memories...
I’ve written some of this before, but some of my earliest memories were of spending time with my grandparents at Chargers’ games. This is when I was maybe 3-4 years old. My grandfather was a County Supervisor at the time, and so my grandparents would sit in the San Diego County Box in the Press Level. There were always catered snacks in the box. I wasn’t old enough to know anything about football, but I loved the cheddar cheese squares almost as much as the Chargers Cannon which fired & the Chargers helmet car which drove around the field after every score - which was often in those days. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I probably knew who Dan Fouts was before I knew who Ronald Reagan was, or what a President was.
My folks went back to the Balboa Stadium days. My grandparents moved to the San Diego area in 1964 and promptly spent money for season tickets. I remember the stories about overflowing bathrooms spilling down onto the concrete bleachers. Stories of the greatness of Lance Alworth. My grandfather told me I was delusional as a teenager when I suggested that Dan Marino might have had a better arm and release than Joe Namath, who he watched in person.
Speaking of being a teenager... the first time I ever got drunk was at a Chargers/Raiders game. It was 1992, the 1st year under Bobby Ross as head coach. After a 0-4 start, the team had won 6 of 7 to get themselves back into playoff contention. The Charger fan who sat next to me in Plaza 25 would find himself tossed by security before the end of the 1st quarter, but not before he left me with a Jack and Coke (how he got the Jack in the Coke I’ll never know). By the 3rd quarter, I was buzzed and leading “Raiders Suck!” chants while the Chargers cruised to a 27-3 victory on Sunday Night football.
A couple of years later, I was in a rain-soaked parking lot helping my uncle prepare a tailgate of filet mignon, baked potato, and garlic bread in advance of a Divisional Round playoff game against Marino and the Miami Dolphins. While our steak was searing, I saw a nearby tailgater dropping a live lobster into a pot of hot water for his pregame feast. 7 hours later, we all screamed louder than a Harrier Jet when Miami PK Pete Stoyanovich shanked a 47 yard FG with 0:01 on the clock to secure an epic 22-21 come-from-behind win.
The Chargers would go on to win their only AFC Championship a week later against Pittsburgh. I watched at home with lots of family surrounding us, from my grandfather’s rocking chair. He had passed away in Spring of 1994, due to complications from diabetes, not living long enough to see the team reach its only Super Bowl.
Among the Chargers’ greats, only the late Junior Seau was fortunate enough to see this team get to a Super Bowl while he played for them. Alworth reached a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys near the end of his career. Fred Dean made it to a Super Bowl in San Francisco and won. There was no such moment for Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow or LaDainian Tomlinson. There may not be a moment for Philip Rivers or Antonio Gates...
I remember the first game when Tomlinson ran for 200 yards. From Field 5, surrounded by a fair amount of (not yet insufferable) Patriots fans who were still basking in the glow of their first Super Bowl win, I watched as Tomlinson shredded Bill Belichick’s defense. First, on a 4th and 1 run where he made a jump cut past Tedy Bruschi that sucked the breath out of Qualcomm Stadium and filled it with raucous cheers, then later on a long run which crossed the field and picked up a Tim Dwight block on his way to what proved the winning score. It was a quintessential “Star is Born” moment...
Which made it all the better that I was at Qualcomm several years later, at the apex of Tomlinson’s career when he broke the single season TD record against the Denver Broncos. Better yet, I was there with my then-girlfriend and now wife of 10 years. Tomlinson had scored to put the game out of reach with his 2nd TD, which tied the record. Seconds later, the Chargers had recovered the ball from a fumbled kick return, and the stage was set. The crowd erupted in “LT, LT, LT” chants, which gained in intensity as fans came scrambling back into the stands to not miss history...
The last moment of history was shared with that same uncle at the end of the 2016 season against the Chiefs. In my life as a Chargers fan, I’ve never found it easier to drive into the massive parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium. This last day, the place where my Uncle had shown me how to grill, I returned the favor with buffalo chicken fajitas. Never before had it been so easy to walk to the ticket gate. Never before had to been so quick to get through security. And never before had it been so lifeless inside the building...
And then there was one play. Jahleel Addae’s 90-yard Interception return woke Qualcomm and its beaten fans from their collective and deceptive slumber. The twisty, turning, altogether improbable return evoked some of the great players in San Diego’s 56-year history in one play. For one spectacular moment, all of the terrible which surrounded the franchise dissipated and we were able to love the Chargers. For the briefest of moments, it was like it used to be. And just like that...
Gone. Tears in rain.
As I said above, the NFL is a business. Dean Spanos, specifically, is a businessman. He has the right to conduct his business as he sees fit, and in the manner he deems best for himself and his family.
Having said that, I must also say that having been this close to the NFL’s sausage making process, and the disgusting, inhuman way it chews up its fans and spits them out with cavalier disregard, I will also say that being on this end of the business has placed me into the position of being a consumer.
As a consumer, there simply isn’t any denying the Chargers are a below average product with glaring defects and a management which demonstrates no real interest in correcting them. Today, the Chargers made the final business decision to tell me and my family that our collective decades of loyalty don’t matter.
Accordingly, I choose not to consume this product anymore.
Author’s Note: This marks the end of my time as a member of the Bolts From The Blue staff. Since joining this community in 2009, I have overwhelmingly enjoyed the arguments, conversations, and debates with members of this community. Made some friendships over the years which I hope will endure. Learned a lot from this community about football and the team I grew up loving. For anyone I ever offended, I apologize. I wish you all nothing but the best, and say heartfelt thanks to everyone here who tolerated my drivel. Have fun and be safe.