It's All About Coaching
In September 1974, the Bolts were on at 10 a.m., which was a little different. My mom and step-dad were always awake and out of their room by 9 on Sundays in football season so mom could cook a Sunday breakfast and then watch the early game. I can't remember the breakfast, maybe it was huevos rancheros, maybe bacon and oven fried potatoes. I do remember the game against the Bengals though. It was a win (kind of unusual in the early ‘70's) and I'll never forget the name Boobie Clark (a Bengal RB).
At one point when watching the game, my step-dad said to my mom "you know, all of these guys are good players, the only real difference in the NFL is coaching". My mom conditionally agreed, but observed that a team needed superior talent at some positions and that the best coach in the world needed good players. Discussion ensued... My house was big on discussion.
This was game 2 of the Prothro era and I did remember that Mom and Grandpa did not like the idea of Prothro being the coach, despite his good run at UCLA. As the years went on though, my step-dad's observation about coaching was something I never forgot and has proved to be absolutely true through my 45 years of actively watching football.
The Good And The Bad
Fall in San Diego. Santa Ana winds and fires. School starting up again. The Padres finish up another dismal season, and the Chargers start another one...
My own life took a really dark turn in 1976 and 1977 and went steadily downhill as I made an inept, dysfunctional, and mostly pathetic transition from unpopular overweight smart kid to skinny drug-addicted adult. Through all of it, the dope, the arrests, the crap I put my family through, the neglect of school, the trying to get "it" figured out, the Chargers and Padres were always there, but while I really liked baseball then, I was coming to love football. As much a mess as I tried to make my life, there was good mixed in with the bad, much like the sports teams in San Diego during the late ‘70's and early 80's.
My grandad routinely calling the team the "dumbers" during the Svare and first two Prothro years.
Going to the Oakland game in 1977 with my grandpa to watch one of the most improbable wins in team history. And not knowing at the time that this game would be the last one I would get to see with him in person. (He lived until 1998, we just never got to go another game with each other. You always think you have more time, until you don't.) I miss my grandpa, but I am grateful that he did not live to see the team he loved move.
Ditching class one Monday morning to get high and finding out later that a PSA plane had crashed in North Park and Tommy Prothro had been fired to make way for Don Coryell. (Coryell Saves!)
My mom and step-dad coming home early from the blowout win over the Bears in the Monday Night football game in December 1978. 16-year-old me almost got popped red-handed with a bong and some weed on that one and only a conveniently placed bean bag chair saved me... Fun game to watch though!
Watching the playoff game against Miami with a friend; we had come up with a fun variation on the drinking game that involved a certain high-priced white powder and Charger touchdowns. We were out before halftime. The best football game I have ever seen and the best NFL game ever played. Period.
A shootout against Montana and the 49ers after the strike in 1982 - Bolts won 41-37 and the defense, which had eroded after losing Fred Dean and the decline of Louie Kelcher managed to pick off Joe Cool a few times after he started the game with 16 straight completions... Awesome display of QB play on both sides and if you ever want to see the difference between the West Coast Offense and the Vertical Air Coryell system, that game was a primer on both.
The Bolts began a playoff dry spell in 1983. My own life was pretty much out of control at that point. But the one constant was Sunday Afternoon and my Chargers. I always managed to come up with enough money to get to at least one game every season...
There was the alcohol and meth-fueled brawl in the parking lot after the Raider game in 1982 (or was it '83?) and night in jail.
A game against the Raiders in the mid-'80's - Fouts got his nose broken in the 2nd quarter by Howie Long. I have never seen so much blood on a jersey before or since. With the red cotton sticking out of his nostrils, Fouts led a comeback and the Bolts beat the Raiders.
Rediscovering that football was fun to watch, even when alcohol was not involved and seeing games on TV and in person with new friends and once again, my family.
Knowing that Coryell's time was ending and that Fouts' time was too.
The last hurrah in 1987, when the replacement players went 3-0 behind a legendary effort by Elvis "Toast" Patterson. And then the real players, coming back after the second strike in 6 seasons, failing to win even a single game over the last 6 games of the season. The team started 8-1, finished 8-7 and missed the playoffs again. So Chargers...
Taking my girlfriend to an LA Raider game in 1989 and not doing anything obnoxious to the Raider fans in my area (a first). That girlfriend is now my wife and has been since 1992.
I left San Diego in 1990 with a fresh degree from SDSU and the only real job offer I got was from a State agency. In San Francisco. The city I had called home for the first 28 years of my life was now a place I was from and would visit.
In the early 90's, it was tougher to be a long-distance fan. NFL Sunday Ticket was a decade away. There really was no internet and wouldn't be for another few years. I watched when I could. It wasn't enough, but what I was able to watch kept me tied into my hometown and gave me more memories...
The monsoon in Miami, where the 1992 super bowl dreams ended.
Knowing that '94 was going to be special when you saw HOW the Bolts beat the donkeys in Denver on Sunday Night Football.
Walking out on the balcony after Gibson knocked down the ball to scream at the top of my lungs so I would not wake up my napping infant daughter.
Trying to see if I could swing getting to the Super Bowl.
Being glad I did not spend the $2,000 to go.
Watching the disgrace of a game against the Giants in New York; last one of the 1995 season, when their fans were throwing chunks of ice at the Bolts sidelines and put a Charger equipment manager in the hospital.
Moving to LA on a job transfer in 1998, just in time to get a lot more exposure to the team in the Cryin' Ryan years.
Cheering for the team to go 0-16 in 2000, and being bummed when they beat the Chiefs 17-16 right after Thanksgiving. 0-16 would have been HISTORIC and made the bounce back that I could feel coming a few years in the future even more epic. 1-15 was simply pathetic.
The last game I saw in person was a meaningless for both teams, last game of the season against Denver. That was in the late 90's - I forget the year. It was a win, I remember that. (You always think you have more chances, until you don't.)
Listening to LT's first game on the radio driving back from a church leadership retreat.
Cursing Nate Kaeding while watching the wild-card playoff game in January 2005.
Farther Away, Yet Closer Than Ever
We relocated to Texas in early 2005. My daughter insisted on a swimming pool, my wife insisted on a big back yard, and I insisted on NFL Sunday Ticket to watch my Chargers. We all got what we wanted.
The only games I have missed seeing since moving to Texas were ones played when I was in Africa on mission trips.
2006 will be a special season of cherished memories; not so much for the 14-2 record or watching LT demolish the rushing TD record (although they were awesome to see and the best season ever!), but for my kids joining me on Sunday Afternoons and watching games with me. For one glorious season, I could talk with my kids about the game I love and tell them stories of the team I loved while sharing the experience of watching games with them.
That did not last. In the cold light of 2017, I am glad that it did not. There are things that have and will hurt my children as they live their own lives, but they will at least be spared decades of loyalty to a commercial enterprise in the entertainment industry that does not reciprocate that virtue.
Cursing Nate Kaeding again in the 2009 playoff game against the Jets.
I found Bolts From The Blue in 2010, lurked a few months and then joined. Since then, my memories of this team are also your memories. Many of you have been in my living room with me on Sunday Afternoons, welcome guests all, watching the team slide into yet another down cycle, while hoping that one of these seasons would see Norv or McCoy ride the lightning and catch it in a bottle...
The End of These Things
There will be none before I die. At 54 (55 in May), I have watched more football than I will get to watch until I run out of time and run out of chances... (Both of which you always think you have more of until you don't.) And the remaining NFL games I watch will not involve the team that connects me with my childhood and youth, gave me shared memories with family and friends (many of which are gone now), and was a touchstone for me; a passion and love that had been with me for around 45 years.
While the relationship I have with the team does not even come close to the depth and intimacy I have with my wife or children, it was longer than those relationships. My love for the Chargers began 18 years before I met my wife; 23 years before my daughter was born. Outside of my parents, aunts, and uncles, there was nothing and no one in my life that was there throughout everything in my life, the good and the bad, like the San Diego Chargers.
On September 11, 2016, the Bolts opened the season in Kansas City, losing the game after squandering a 27-10 4th quarter lead. While we were watching that game, two friends of mine aged 49 and 50, were killed in a motorcycle accident about 60 miles east of our North Texas town. I had attended a church with them for years, gone to Africa with them more than once, and they were two of the finest people I have known. I got the call with the news around 10 that night.
I am not trying to be a bummer here, but I am trying make sure we all keep our perspective. This is my last post on this site. My hope is that all of you cherish the memories you have, embrace the memories waiting to be made, and understand that being able to be outraged over the loss of your team is a precious gift, even though it may not feel like that. We can still think, feel, and remember.
And I will certainly remember my time with all of you; playing amateur GM around draft time, putting on our coach hat, trying to make light of squandered games and years, and sharing the experience that was the San Diego Chargers. May all of you be as blessed as you have blessed me... Farewell, my friends.