SAN DIEGO – The Chargers pulled down the curtain on their last mini-camp in San Diego Thursday, and there was no going-away party, confetti shower or tearful goodbyes. Instead, the city responded with a shrug.
The anger and grief that accompanied news of their move to L.A. are no longer visible. There were no protesters for this week's final countdown. The national media stayed home. And the San Diego Union-Tribune’s senior columnist, Nick Canepa, was a no-show for all three days of this week’s last mini-camp.
“As far as I’m concerned they’ve been out of here since January 15,” he said. “Just because their offices are there what does it mean to me? I’m sorry, but I didn’t see any reason to go out there.”
Well, I did. I wanted to see how the face of the franchise, quarterback Philip Rivers, was dealing with the team's return to Los Angeles after 56 years. Rivers has been a member of the Chargers ... the San Diego Chargers ... for all 13 of his professional seasons, and the club’s Murphy Canyon practice field has been the team's home the past 20 years … or since the club moved from a stadium site
“Emotional, I guess, is the word,” Rivers said Wednesday, on the eve of his last practice in San Diego. “There is a lot of emotion involved with it. Publicly, Qualcomm (Stadium) is where all the memories are. But this (the practice facility) has really been home. Three-hundred plus days I’ve walked into this place, with all the practice rooms, all the meeting rooms, the locker room. “(Tight end Antonio) Gates and I have been in the same locker now for 13 years.
"You have your professional memories here. But we have a lot of family memories here. The kids were talking last night about me bringing (them) up and getting them in the pool out back. They’ve drawn on the white boards. (In fact) one year my oldest – she must have been 5 or 6 ... and this is now eight or nine years ago ... she drew up a message to me and Charlie (Whitehurst) and Billy (Volek). I can’t remember which year. She writes, ‘Go Chargers, Go Dad’ ... and it stayed the whole season.
“So they were talking about their memories here, and they were like, ‘Dad, can we go one more time?’ We used to ride bikes here on weekends because it’s like a big park when no one’s here. So they have memories of it, too. Which makes it even more special. It was part of their childhood … coming up here. I don’t want to overstate it, but, gosh, yeah, you have a lot of things running through your mind.”
I asked him if sadness is one them. He shook his head.
“It’s hard to use the word ‘sad,’ he said. “There are a lot of things that are a lot worse than what we’re dealing with. But I think it’s hard. What will I miss most? I don’t know that it’s a tangible thing I can give you, but when you’re in a community 13 years and your drive home and your drive to work ... it's just things you take for granted that become part of your routine.
“And then there’s the community. Over 13 years you do build a relationship with the community where you feel that, yeah, this is home.So that part is hard. 'Taking for granted' is probably too strong, but it’s all I’ve known in professional football. And it's all changing, even though you're with the same organization.
"So I think ‘thankful’ is the big word for me because it’s rare anywhere 13 years to stay in one place. Even if the team never relocated or never did anything, 13 years in one spot with one locker is a lot to be thankful for in itself.”
For that reason, Rivers is reluctant to uproot his family and move it north. He has a wife and eight children, and all are the center of what to do next. And what he believes he’ll do is keep his home here so he doesn't uproot his children and maybe figure out how to commute to the team's Orange County headquarters, a 70-mnute drive from his home -- with hiring a driver one option.
“That’s the plan right now,” he said. “We haven't officially decided that yet, but we’re sorta through it. I guess we better hurry up and get that done. But we've gone up there. We've looked at houses. We've looked at schools. We've done our research. We don't want to make a hasty decision because I really believe strongly in all of us being together.
"For the kids, it’s a big deal because now they are older. The older ones were really emotional (when they first found out) because in their minds it's, 'We're leaving all we know.' My oldest is a freshman in high school. There will be seven in school next year. And just the community, with our church and everything outside of football ... with my wife and everything ... (it's a big deal).
"I hope I have four or five more years left in me, but I’m definitely on the back end. You aren’t going to go rebuild what you have here in a short period of time. So that lends more to try to ... if we can keep ... this our home base.”
But one home base for Philip Rivers, quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, just closed. Players no longer practice there. The media no longer convenes there. And the only interest in the building now is what happens with it next … with a possible MLS franchise mentioned as a next occupant.
Naturally, Rivers has a trove of memories to take from the building. But I always wonder when something like this happens what item … what tangible reminder that you were actually there … do you take with you, too.
"It's funny,” he said, “I was thinking about that. For sure, I’m taking the name plate. The name plate has been there forever. The same one. I took down all the pictures I have of the children and my wife. I took all those home, stuff you've compiled over the years. But I’m sure there will be something.
“We haven't sorted through the QB room and things in there, I don’t know. Maybe a stool. We were talking about that out on the practice field: ‘Do you bury a football out there just so you can go, 'You know, this was my spot for a long time?’ But I don’t know. (Thursday) will be the last day of practice, but we have the building for the rest of the month, so I’m sure I’ll find myself trickling in and out of here the next few weeks. My kids yesterday were going, ‘Can we come one more time?’
“Just like anything with a move, it’s the people (you remember). Yes, this is the building itself, but it’s because of all the people and the friendships and the teammates and the arguments and the discussions that you had in here; that’s why it’s special.
“All those times when you sat in the sauna on a hot day. I could go on and on. From (former center Nick) Hardwick to Lorenzo Neal to ‘L.T’. (LaDainian Tomlinson) to (former guard Kris) Dielman, I could name all those guys. You have memories of them … of us … together here. And that’s why it’s special.”