By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Nick Canepa is more than a sports columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a former colleague of mine, a dear friend and a lifelong San Diego resident. So when I heard that the Chargers on Thursday announced they're moving to L.A. after 56 years in "America's Finest City," Canepa is the first guy I thought of.
And the first I contacted.
"I grew up in the 1950s," he said. "And we had the minor-league Padres, San Diego State sports stunk and San Diego High football was the biggest thing in town. Then the Chargers came, and, overnight, we became a big-league city.
"Before UCSD (the University of California at San Diego) was built, it was the biggest thing that happened to this city since the Navy came here because it gave us an identity. And now that identity is gone, wrapped up in a L.A. logo ... with a bolt running through it ... that my 1-year-old granddaughter could have drawn. It is a very, very sad day here."
It is a very, very sad day anywhere people follow football. The Chargers are San Diego, and San Diego is the Chargers … and no announcement or logo will change that. Not now. And not for a while.
Yeah, I know, the franchise originated as the Los Angeles Chargers, and that’s great. But that was 1960 when the Chiefs were in Dallas … as the Texans … and Houston was home to the Oilers, not the Texans. Time is supposed to heal wounds, but it will take more than a few years to heal the hurt inflicted by news that the Chargers are packing up and leaving San Diego.
That’s because the community deserved better, and don’t tell me it didn’t support the club when it needed it … because it did. I'm not talking about last November's vote because voters then never were expected to approve a referendum to help finance a new stadium. Nope, I'm talking about the decades of loyalty, support and unconditional love by fans who refused to go away and who helped host three Super Bowls.
The thousands – some say close to 50,000 -- that jammed the stadium parking lot in the middle of the night after the team returned from the 1994 AFC championship game, headed to its first … and only … Super Bowl. Or the thousands more that lined the two-mile route through downtown when the city threw a parade for the club following that Super Bowl, and I know what you're thinking: So what? Well, so the Chargers didn't win.
In fact, they were hammered.
But that didn’t matter. The people, the city and southern California were grateful for the experience they shared with their favorite denizens. The Chargers gave people something to care about; something to root for -- and not just then; but ever since they landed in San Diego.
As I said, San Diego was the Chargers. No, they were the San Diego (cue the music) SOOP-er Chargers. They were Fouts and Winslow. They were L.T. and Junior. They were Lincoln, Alworth and Lowe, and they were more fun than a Sunday at Pacific Beach.
The Padres have been to more World Series (2) than the Chargers have Super Bowls (1), but San Diego is not about baseball; it's about the Bolts and Air Coryell ... and Gary Anderson leaping headfirst into the end zone ... and that cannon that sounded every time they scored ... and that anthem -- "that damned song," as former Raiders' coach Tom Flores called it -- that was as much a part of the Air Coryell success as Fouts, Winslow, Muncie, Joiner and Jefferson.
"When I heard this," Fouts said Thursday, "it wasn't total disbelief, but it still felt like a punch in the stomach. I just feel empty now. The only analogy I can think of is that the San Diego Chargers are dead, and that's sad for a lot ... and I mean a lot of people
"You remember the Chargers Backers (a fan club that would meet at lunch every Tuesday at Qualcomm Stadium, then called Jack Murphy Stadium)? How great were they? I think about how, when I first got there (in 1973), supportive they were and how people stood by us and everything they did for us. This is really sad for the fans, the city and the area."
He's right, of course. But it's more than sad. It’s a disgrace, a signature of everything wrong with modern-day professional sports where common decency too often becomes a casualty. Look, the Chargers may be going to the nation's second largest market, but let's get something clear: Nobody won here. San Diego loses its favorite franchise, and Los Angeles gains a club it does not want and may not support.
You think I'm exaggerating? They play the next two years in a stadium (the StubHub Center) that holds 30,000, max, and talk about underwhelming. There are high-school stadiums in Texas that seat more. A Fox Channel 11 poll in L.A. recently asked viewers if they wanted the Chargers, and 90 percent of its respondents said no. In late December, the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles gained permission to drop the Chargers-Browns broadcast it had scheduled in favor of the Raiders-Colts. And there was such little support for the Rams this season that NFL ratings in the Los Angeles actually went down, with the Rams often the third-most watched Sunday program – behind the Raiders and Sunday Night Football.
Hey, when news of Thursday's move broke, it was greeted by a Bill Plaschke column in the Los Angeles Times, new home of the Chargers, in which Plaschke notified the Chargers of a rallying cry that awaits them. You ready?
"We. Don't. Want. You."
The fact of the matter is that San Diego fans never said they didn’t want the Chargers. They said they didn’t want to help a multi-millionaire build a new stadium. But in an era where doing what is profitable often supercedes doing what is right, the two inevitably mean the same … and that’s a damned shame for everyone.
(Photos courtesy of the San Diego/L.A. Chargers)