KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The San Diego Chargers enter their home finale for the second-straight year with the looming threat that once the team packs its bags for the end of the season, quarterback Philip Rivers and his teammates may never return to Qualcomm Stadium.
“I don’t know what to expect Sunday,” Rivers said. “I really don’t.”
Last year’s home finale at San Diego turned into an impromptu celebration. The team routed the Miami Dolphins 30-14 in front of a raucous crowd. Rivers and his teammates signed autographs for more than an hour after the game.
Rivers isn’t sure that kind of lighting bolt can strike twice.
“I don’t think we can try to reenact or kind of have take two of that,” Rivers said. “I think that was very authentic and very just the way it happened last year.”
Coach Mike McCoy agreed.
“It’s a different year,” McCoy said. “And we all understand what’s at stake for our organization and what the game means.”
The emotions of a difficult 2015 season coupled with the feeling of impending doom created a cathartic moment for the Chargers and their fans. The lopsided win allowed everyone to celebrate one last time and enjoy their goodbye.
“It had been a rough year, and I think both the fans, the players, everybody in town really thought it was the end,” Rivers said. “It just kind of organically happened. There was no plan for staying out after and signing autographs and doing all that that we did, but it just happened. I don’t know that you can reenact that.”
Fans and players alive may have cried out all their tears a season ago.
“I don’t think it will be the exact same kind of feel, but we’ll kind of see how it goes,” Rivers said.
The veteran quarterback wants to win Sunday if it’s the end of the road in San Diego. But he’s also glad the game with the Chiefs carries meaning in its playoff implications.
“I was pulling like crazy for the Chiefs on Sunday night to beat Denver,” Rivers said. “And hoping that they were going to be playing us for the two-seed, so you get a little bit of that playoff-type game feel since we’re not going to be in them.”
A Chiefs win paired an Oakland Raiders loss gives Kansas City the AFC West title and No. 2 seed in the playoffs. If the Raiders win, the Chiefs enter the playoffs as a wildcard team, and likely the No. 5 seed headed toward a first-round matchup at Houston.
But if the Chiefs lose and the Dolphins knock off the visiting New England Patriots, the Chiefs land as the No. 6 with a road trip to Pittsburgh on the docket.
The Chargers and Chiefs franchises share a common history as founding members of the American Football League. The Chargers spent their inaugural season in Los Angeles before moving to San Diego in 1961. The San Diego edition of the Chargers played its first game against the Dallas Texans, the forefathers of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt lamented when asked earlier this season about the possibility of the Chargers and Raiders relocating to greener pastures.
“There would be a part of me that would be sad,” Hunt said. “I think one of the great things about sports, and including professional sports, is traditions. We’ve had a tremendous 56-year tradition with those franchises.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith grew up in La Mesa, Calif., in San Diego County. The idea of the Chargers leaving his hometown disappoints him.
“I played there in high school, I played there in college,” Smith said. “I think it would be strange and sad if the Chargers left, just for me personally in the community, growing up there.”
But like Rivers, Smith said the game, with its playoff implications, remains foremost in his mind.
“Obviously I’m getting ready to play a game, so not on the forefront of my mind,” Smith said. “But definitely sad. I hope they stay.”