This is a great time of year to be thankful for what we have, where we have been, and what the future holds. Although the Chargers have lost their way a bit in recent years, the month of December used to hold such incredible promise! This advent calendar is an attempt to hearken back to these days of December joy. Each day will bring a new advent from the Bolts’ history that makes it wonderful to be a Chargers fan.
Dec. 15: The First Pro Football Team in San Diego
While there are many theories of where the name San Diego came from (and only one of which is true but not at all hilarious), but what is universally agreed is that it is one of the most pleasant places on Earth to visit. It’s also a fantastic place to live, though I have been parted from its shores for over 2 decades.
Most Chargers fans hail from or near San Diego, and that is because the two were ubiquitous in sports for over half a century. Everyone who reads this is already aware of the current realities— that the Chargers left in 2017 for LA, that the breakup was painful and poorly handled, and that LA has been laughably less receptive to its newest tenant than San Diego was in 1961. However, we’re not retreading over those tired and painful storylines. Instead, we will spend a few minutes today remembering the sports history of San Diego and how the Chargers were not the first to play on the gridiron.
Sports in San Diego
In 2017, sports teams in San Diego include one major league professional team, several semi-pro, amateur, and college teams. The most popular sports team in San Diego (by default, now) are the San Diego Padres. Also popular are the college sports teams of the San Diego State Aztecs and some up-and-coming soccer opportunities.
San Diego has previously hosted two teams from the NBA: the San Diego Rockets from 1967 to 1971 (now the Houston Rockets), and the San Diego Clippers from 1978 to 1984 (now the Los Angeles Clippers). San Diego has never had an NHL franchise, but has hosted various minor league teams. San Diego is also the future home to the National Lacrosse League's San Diego Seals and North American Soccer League's San Diego 1904 FC, which will start play next year (possibly at SDCCU/Qualcomm/Jack Murphy Stadium).
What About Football?
The Chargers were not the first professional football team to call San Diego home. That honor belongs to the San Diego Bombers from 1940 to 1946, as part of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League. This league, rare for playing through WWII and competing with the NFL, catered to a decidedly Pacific audience. The Bombers played at Balboa Stadium 20 years before the Chargers came to town.
The Pacific Coast PFL was, at the time, fairly popular. The beginning of the end came, however, when the NFL expanded into LA with the Rams. If you think that elbow space in LA is at a premium today, in 1944 there were FIVE professional teams in LA competing within 2 (and sort of three) different leagues. Obviously, this over-saturation proved to be the death knell for many teams (and leagues!).
In 1944, there was even a SECOND San Diego football team called the San Diego Gunners. I found so very few mentions of this team in my research that it it hardly referenced at all. It was put together as part of the American Football League, an entire league put together because of infighting in the Pacific Coast PFL. The Gunners won 2, lost 4, and tied one. They folded before the end of the season.
The San Diego Bombers, however, were the cream of the Pacific Coast PFL. They were the league champions in 1941, 42, and 43. In the Pacific Superbowl (no, they did not use that term) in 1944, the Pacific Coast PFL and the AFL went head to head with their champions. The Bombers had gone undefeated (9-0) through the season but lost the dual-league championship to the AFL’s Hollywood Rangers in a two-game playoff. San Diego lost both games.
The Bombers went 4-4 in 1945 and 1-7 in 1946. The team requested to be left out of the schedule in 1947 due to ‘facility problems.’ The league had simply lost too much attendance to the new and exciting NFL, and 1948 was the last year the Pacific Coast PFL played.
The Pacific Coast PFL was a bit of a failed experiment. It made a lot of money during the war years when there was no competition, but it soon died out when the NFL came to town. However, it was instrumental in proving that there was indeed a football audience on the West Coast. It also broke the color barrier before the NFL did (well, before the NFL did the second time. They did not allow colored athletes for a period of 12 years). The Bombers whetted the City of San Diego’s appetite for football, eventually culminating with a fevered campaign to bring the Chargers to town.
It would be wrong to say that San Diego has never won a championship for football. It has won four of them. Three were by the San Diego Bombers. In 1964, the Chargers won the AFL Championship over the Boston Patriots. This is also the most recent world championship won by a major league sports team in the city and county of San Diego. Maybe Chase Headley can change that this time around?
-Jason “Pigskin Time Portal” Michaels