January 11, 2017
My father was a commercial tuna fisherman for the greater part of his life. He was away from home weeks, months at a time, working his butt off to support a family that didn’t have enough — and yet, strangely, plenty. He grew up here, an immigrant’s son, a barefoot wharf rat in Little Italy who loved sports.
So, what sports were there in San Diego for him to enjoy during his fleeting moments at home, long before satellites and the Internet? San Diego High football? The minor league Padres? Boxing on radio and fuzzy TV? San Diego State provided virtually no entertainment before Don Coryell’s arrival in 1961. Steve Fisher was an Illinois teenager, not yet in the loaves and fishes business.
And then the Chargers also came in 1961, and sports changed for my dad, for me, for my family and friends, and for San Diego, which overnight became a major league city. He happened to be home when the Chargers played their first game in Balboa Stadium, which 15 years later the city stupidly and unceremoniously would tear down.
And he took me to the game. Just like that, I found myself in the big leagues. We had little, but we had the Chargers.
And today I feel considerably smaller, sadder, but swollen with memories.
The football team coming here was the biggest sports story in the history of this city, now — barring an 11th-hour Hail Mary that even Aaron Rodgers would be hard-pressed to complete — surpassed by its leaving, to greener pastures under the yellow skies of Los Angeles, whence it came.
I was hoping this day never would come and all along, writing about the new stadium issue for much more than a decade, there was thinking someone would smarten up, that enough people would realize Qualcomm Stadium had become a dump thanks to the City slumlords who allowed it to go to seed.
I also couldn’t blame the Chargers for wanting a new stadium. They were renters, stadium upkeep not being their responsibility. Up to January 2015, the team never once threatened to leave. It was implied. They weren’t going to play there forever, and the city blew its chance in 2005, when all it had to do was give the franchise a parcel of land and get out of the way.
But the politicians jumped too late on the ship already pointed north. It wasn’t their fault. It was the fault of their predecessors, without vision and spine, but it was too late nevertheless.
I never will blame the team for taking off. I will blame it for the classless treatment of a fan base that supported it for more than half a century. It didn’t take a sledgehammer. A scalpel would have been good enough. They didn’t have to go out with cannons blazing, treating us as if we all were idiots. They could have just gone.
For that, I can’t forgive them. It was despicable, we didn’t deserve it, and I think they’re going to discover playing second banana in Hollywood never is going to get them an Oscar.
But, if you’re happy about this, if you’re among those who wanted them to leave, well, that’s you’re right, but I feel sorry for this city. Because its quilt now has a huge hole in the middle of it, and I don’t know if we ever will find the proper seamstresses and tailors to make it right again.
People say I was selfish wanting them to stay. So maybe I was. For myself, personally, and professionally. But I don’t know how much longer I will do this. I’ll do my work without them. The Chargers are leaving and I’m a San Diegan dammit. We can’t like this or condone it.
In their wake are memories. Lance Alworth. Ernie Ladd. The Fearsome Foursome. The Seven Thieves. Gary Garrison. Dickie Post. John Hadl. Tobin Rote. Dan Fouts. John Jefferson. Kellen Winslow. Charlie Joiner. Wes Chandler. Ed White. Doug Wilkerson. Russ Washington. Leslie O’Neal. Junior Seau. Stan Humphries. Natrone Means. LT. Drew Brees. Philip Rivers. Shawne Merriman. Dennis Gibson’s Pittsburgh batdown. The 1963 AFL Championship. George Pernicano. Barron Hilton. Sid Gillman. Don Coryell. Bobby Beathard. Bobby Ross. I could go on. So many names, so many great games, so many disappointments.
We are going to find a town losing an NFL team is a horrible thing and we shouldn’t enjoy having part of our guts ripped out. We now will do what L.A. people did for 20 years — watch NFL games on TV.
They were all right with it. We shouldn’t be.
We should be angry as hell, and we should continue to fight to get a team here, because while past politicians and the visionless didn’t deserve the Chargers, we did.
The Chargers are gone. The NFL is gone. And I hate the thought of it. Memories are great. They are not enough.