In a dingy three bedroom apartment in National City, filled with second-hand smoke and the stench of boiling fish guts from my mother’s secret sauce in the kitchen, was where my love for the San Diego Chargers started.
As a child of the seventies, post Vietnam, and new to the country, there were a lot of things I had to learn. English was first and foremost as most first graders didn’t speak Tagalog. Nor did my teacher, who would rather send me to the principal’s office for a paddling than try to decipher my broken English to figure out why I didn’t do what I was told.
The transition was difficult to say the least. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money. My dad was a sailor and my mother was a housewife. We had what we had and we were happy for it. I wasn’t the same charismatic, charming lad that I am today and friends didn’t come easy at first. I fought a lot as a young boy.
That all changed because of the color of my socks. Athletic socks in the seventies were the best. We wore them pulled up to our calves, you hear that my dear teenage son who thinks Dad’s ankle socks are repulsive? The really cool ones had colored stripes on them. Unbeknownst to me, the color of the stripes were often a representation of your favorite sports team. So as I sat on the swings in the playground of our apartments, a huge low-income complex that spanned two whole city blocks, another Filipino kid who I only remember as Mike, approached me and said “I hope they win today.” The look on my face must have been a dead give away, because Mike said, “You are a Chargers fan right? You’re wearing their socks!” Socks? Oh right, my royal blue and yellow stripped socks were Charger colors! Of course I was a Charger fan, if it meant that I was going to make a buddy! I said, “Oh yeah, of course I am.” That started our friendship. We played all morning until his mother called him in for lunch. He even introduced me to his mother as his friend. It was the best feeling in the world.
Later that day I went home and by happenstance, my father was watching football. “Are you watching football dad? Is that the Chargers?” He nodded and said “Yup, it’s the playoffs.” They were playing the Houston Oilers, a game that we lost 17-14 on a 47 yard Mike Renfroe touchdown from Gifford Nielsen. Dan Fouts had five interceptions that day with 333 yards passing, nonetheless, I was a Charger fan! Fouts, Jefferson, Winslow, Chandler, and Muncie were my guys. My love for the team was the building block for the long time friendships that I cherish to this day.
I’ve been through all the ups and downs ever since. I remember being the lone Charger fan in the berthing of the U.S.S. Vincennes on duty during the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a Pro-Steeler crew as Dennis Gibson batted down the ball to send the Chargers to their first Superbowl. I was a season ticket holder during our 1-15 season. I’ve pretty much witnessed it all the last forty plus years.
Now, they’re gone. After 56 years in San Diego, on the heels of a stadium referendum that only saw 43% support from the voters, Dean Spanos has chosen to take his team to Los Angeles and be a tenant under Stan Kronke’s palatial super stadium that will house his Rams. 56 years. 56 years of support, when at times, they didn’t deserve it. Charger fans had to endure a lot. Multiple losing seasons, rotating coaches, disrespect to our beloved players and coaches from management and an ownership group who did nothing to try to fix it. 56 years and Charger fans are left heartbroken and in disbelief that this could not be real.
So what happened? The Chargers claim to have been working on a new stadium deal for the last 15 years, blaming the incompetence of city officials for not being able to get a deal done to build a new stadium. There should be some blame on the hands of local politicians over the years, but trust me, there is plenty of blame to spread around. I don’t recall Dean complaining about City officials when they had to write checks to the sum of nearly $3.3 million to the Chargers from 2006 through 2013. Instead, the city should have collected nearly $22.8 million in rent, but thanks to rent credits and an ADA settlement, that wasn’t the case. I also don’t remember Mr. Spanos crying over the ticket guarantee that saw his franchise receive $36.4 million from 1997 to 2004. The fact of the matter is, the city has been paying for you to play here for quite some time. Political careers have been ruined in dealing with your organization. Did you think everyone would forget? The voters didn’t and certainly the political community didn’t. But what about the fans? Why didn’t they support the new stadium initiative?
Voters and politicians not supporting the Chargers isn’t too hard to figure out, but there surely had to be enough fans to carry them through the election right? Wrong, especially when the vote didn’t include fans from across the county as the vote was limited to city residents only and one that required a two-thirds vote to win. Fan support has waned over the years for many reasons, but mostly because of the ownership’s inability to run a professional sports organization. Who is to blame for the departure of Bobby Ross? Bobby Beathard? Nope, you Dean! It’s called conflict resolution. You should have fixed that relationship to ensure the success of the franchise. Who is to blame for the malevolent relationship between Marty Schottenheimer and A.J. Smith that ultimately disbanded what is arguably the greatest roster this team has ever seen? To quote one of my favorite comedians, Kat Williams, “It’s ok, I’ll wait…” You Dean! You have shown over and over, time and again, that you are incapable of being a leader of this franchise. When the fans needed you the most you were withdrawn. Nobody heard from you at all in 2015. Instead all communication from the Chargers was from Charger’s Special Counsel Mark Fabiani! Let’s talk about him for a minute.
— Omari Fleming (@OmariNBCSD) January 12, 2017
— FOX 5 San Diego (@fox5sandiego) January 12, 2017
Do you think he turned some fans off? The fans have felt ignored by ownership and were not going to be bullied into a stadium at a site that most fans didn’t want. Tailgating at the games is cherished by most San Diegans. Some actually enjoy the parking lot experience to most actual game experiences. A downtown facility wouldn’t have afforded that opportunity to tailgate to fans who cherish that the most. Proposition C was doomed at the start with no fan support, voter support, or political backing.
The Chargers’ lease at Chargers Park will end on July 1st. That will be the last time fans will see the team in San Diego. I’ve been asked multiple times the last couple of years, what would I do if the Chargers left. At first, I decided that I would not root for them if they left for Los Angeles, but as time passed and as I witnessed the circus that our local politics became, I thought I would be okay with the move as long as they were the Chargers. I underestimated how hurt, how betrayed I would feel. I feel that Dean only cared about increasing the net worth of his team so he could he sell it. I’m still not convinced that he wants to live in L.A. but we will see. I won’t be rooting for them or any NFL team for that matter. I know some of my best friends, however, will. I’m ok with that. It’s your choice and I don’t judge you for it. Good luck. I, for one, wonder, what would have happened if I would have worn different socks that day at the playground.