By: Mari C.
I probably get asked 2 to 3 times per day if the San Diego Chargers are leaving town. While I appreciate my friends and family coming to me for the answers, it’s impossible for me to sum it up smoothly and without a bit of bias. The fact is, we don’t know yet. Looking back, I used to declare who was a fan and who wasn’t – I will avoid saying whether or not you should be a fan if they end up leaving in this retrospective. What I will go through is how it feels from my perspective and hope you can understand that I feel the way many of us feel. This year (including offseason) has to be the worst for San Diego Chargers fans in our most recent history – both on and off the field…even worse than our 1-15 season. There are plenty of people outside of San Diego that are oblivious to what’s going on in our little beloved border town of San Diego, so, I’ll try to add some clarity.
First of all, the perception around the country is that the fanbase is not supportive of the team. If you’ve ever had a chance to visit San Diego, you know that it’s a military town. Families stay here after they have served (my grandparents did) because San Diego is beautiful year-round. People visit this city often as well. Mix in some salt with the potential relocation wound and that equals fans that feel slighted – fans that no longer put their money into a gameday experience. That is their prerogative.
Back in mid-February, it was announced that the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders were joining forces on a stadium project in Carson, CA….essentially Los Angeles. The day after the announcement and every day since, the certainty of the team remaining here in San Diego has been unknown. The mayor kicked his ass into high gear, formed a task force and went full throttle on proclaiming that San Diego wanted the Chargers to stay. The fans were all in and showed up to support the city leaders. Most were confident the team was staying and it was reflected in the amount of passion the cause had. However, we had a dark cloud hanging over us – Mark Fabiani. Positive news about the stadium efforts in San Diego was countered almost immediately with pro-LA tidbits. Every time, like clockwork. As a fan, it was impossible to ignore the top stories that centered around the potential relocation. It was unavoidable.
While the mud-slinging was going on, fans were eager to watch players on the field and take their mind off the drama come late July. For a moment in August, fans were able to get excited about the upcoming season and potential for Melvin Gordon to succeed as a running back for the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers looked sharp as ever and people knew he would be a star again this season – was there any doubt? The home opener was electric, fans had forgotten about the negativity of the stadium saga. The vibe felt like a solution would happen here in San Diego – at least, that’s how I felt. I continued to care – a lot – about the team, defending players, attending games, vocalizing my support for the Save Our Bolts movement. A friend had asked me to write about what was going on, but, it was impossible to keep up with the rollercoaster ride. Feelings changed regularly. It was the talk of the town. Almost every day.
Flash forward to week 5 of the NFL season. The Chargers were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night Football. Personally, I know of at least 10 Steelers fans who live in San Diego but are not from there or have not lived there in years. They attended the game along with hundreds of other Steel City fans who live and breath everything Pittsburgh. They were loud. The national audience watched as our stadium was taken over by yellow and black…..Pittsburgh won. It was frustrating for me as a season ticket holder to see so many Pittsburgh jerseys. But like I mentioned before – their prerogative. By this point, fans have been put through a test of their loyalty to the team. Progress had not been made on a solution and the team was breaking our heart with their lackluster play. I couldn’t help but wonder how things would be different if the San Diego Chargers weren’t trying to bolt to the north. Would our record be better? Doubtful. Would there be more Chargers fans at the game? Who knows.
Then, the Chargers lost 7 of their next 8 games, the postseason became a distant reality and there was still no negotiating going on regarding a stadium. Fans were expected to continue to support the team and many did all the way to the bitter end. The final home game of the season was less than 10 days ago. It felt like a funeral. “Stay” played while players signed autographs. Memories came flooding in on social media from fans all over the country. Fans stayed in Qualcomm Stadium with their signs as if the fat lady sang already – I Will Not Go to LA. People were saying their goodbyes to the Murph (aka The Q) and their favorite players on the team. Why? Because all signs pointed towards the Chargers packing their moving vans and leaving the town they called home for 55 years. However, the fact of the matter is….. we don’t know if they are gone yet.
I was not ready to say goodbye that day, I’m still not ready.
Sure it definitely looks like it…. considering to this day, there are still negative comments being made about our city leaders. But so many pieces have to fit together for it to happen. Will the NFL re-align to appease the owners of the Chargers? Where will they play in 2016? Will the NFL suggest re-branding (since everyone knows the Chargers brand is not very popular in Los Angeles). So many questions and very little answers at this time. It’s a mess and who’s at the center of it – fans. The lines are being drawn – will you or won’t you follow them? While I’d love to say that I am a fan for life and 4 hour drives on Sundays in LA traffic are sacrifices I’m willing to make, to me, the Chargers are San Diego. It is more than just a game to me. I have bonded with friends over the love I have for the city I was raised in- I don’t want to lose that. I have traveled to other cities to represent myself as a San Diegan who loves her football team – New Orleans, Nashville, Glendale, Miami, etc. To root for LA is like asking someone from Philadelphia or Boston to root for a New York team after they left your town. It’s just not something that’s easy to do. All in all, I understand that it’s a business and they will do “what’s best for the football team” at the end of the day. However, on that same token, as a fan, I will do what’s best for me.
It’s my business, not theirs.
Follow me @nymari