For more than half a century, they gave San Diego some of its greatest sports memories and so many unforgettable performers. They arrived in 1961, with those classic powder blue jerseys worn by so many legendary players led by so many brilliant coaches. Names that became an indelible part of the city’s culture and transfixed generations of fans.
Alworth. Hadl. Gillman. Mix. Fouts. Coryell. Jefferson. Winslow. Joiner. Ross. Seau. Brees. Tomlinson. Rivers. And so many more.
That’s the hardest part of all this, now that owner Dean Spanos has absconded with the Chargers and moved them north to Los Angeles because he couldn’t strike a deal for a new stadium in one of the best sports cities in America.
The Chargers were synonymous with some of the most electrifying football ever played, with Philip Rivers the latest to carry on that grand tradition of offensive aggressiveness introduced in the days when Sid Gillman utilized the vertical passing game in the old American Football League.
And now, after 56 seasons, they are gone. And with them go all those memories, with so many loyal and now broken-hearted fans.
Spanos could have been a hero had he figured out a way to work with local officials to build a facility to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium. Instead, he has turned into a West Coast version of Art Modell, who wrenched the Browns away from Cleveland in 1995 and became a pariah like few others in the history of professional sports.
Modell never showed his face again in Cleveland after moving the Browns to Baltimore, and a man who was so consumed with being liked was scarred and constantly in search of approval until his final days in 2012. But his anguish was nothing compared to the people left behind in Cleveland, the fans who showed up no matter what the record was, no matter what the circumstances were.
Spanos must live with that burden. His team will play the next two years in a 30,000-seat soccer facility until a stadium being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke is completed. As part of an agreement among NFL owners that had approved Kroenke’s move of the Rams from St. Louis back to Los Angeles, the Chargers had the right to partner with the team and move into the stadium.
But while Spanos stands to add to his personal fortune, he will have forfeited the soul of San Diego. And there is no way to calculate how much that will cost him in terms of his reputation. He will forever be known as the man who took the Chargers out of their rightful place.
The strange part of all this is that there is a very real chance that the Chargers will become irrelevant in a city that doesn’t want another football team. Unless that team is the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles from 1982-94 after Al Davis thumbed his nose at then-commissioner Pete Rozelle and left Oakland.
The Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995, and they appear ready to move again. Davis’ son, Mark, has negotiated a deal to have a stadium built in Las Vegas after years of failed negotiations to build one in Oakland.
There is no doubt that Spanos and Davis have faced burdensome situations, and there is little appetite for publicly funded stadiums, even if the owners contribute most of the money. Kroenke won approval to move only because he owned the land and is building the stadium on his own.
Spanos, faced with a looming deadline to have a shot at moving into Kroenke’s stadium, which likely will be the most ambitious and well-appointed sports facility in the world, finally caved and took the money.
And broke Chargers fans’ hearts, likely forever.
Although San Diego will be viewed as a potential landing spot for another relocation or possible expansion, Chargers fans know there are no guarantees. After all, the Los Angeles market went from 1995 until 2016 without a team after the Rams and Raiders left and before the Rams came back.
And the NFL likely will have a new set of problems in a market that now has two teams but might not have enough long-term interest to support one. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who deserves his share of the blame for not facilitating a deal to keep the Chargers in San Diego, probably will see a lukewarm — at best — reception for a second Los Angeles team.
Influential Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke put it this way when describing the mood of the city: “We. Don’t. Want. You.”
That’s some welcome from the nation’s second-largest television market, but the Chargers will barely register on the sports landscape in L.A., where the Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, Clippers, USC and UCLA will draw more interest. Especially with the Chargers coming off a 5-11 season.
Bad news all the way around. As a heartbroken fan base weeps over the loss of its beloved Chargers, the apathy of the Los Angeles market points to the ultimate failure of this move.
Shortsighted and shameful.