So, my marriage to the San Diego Chargers began in 1978 and ran through the fun early 80’s, the crappy mid 80’s to ’91, the hopeful miracle ’92 season, and to the back-down-to-earth ’93 season. All through that time, I dreamed of going to San Diego, to not only see a game at Jack Murphy Stadium in person, but to actually BE there, and live in what must be paradise. I finally fulfilled that wish in 1994, although only temporarily.
I arrived in San Diego in late September 1994 for a two month stay, and even driving into the parking lot of the stadium for the first time to buy my ticket to my first game, was awesome to me. I ran into a guy that was selling his ticket to the game for cheap, informing me that he had gotten it at Don Coryell’s San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame induction, and couldn’t go to the game. I bought it, only thinking afterward that I hope I hadn’t just bought a fake ticket. I sheepishly approached the ticket window to ask them if it was real, and luckily, it was!
So, on October 9th, 1994, 16 years after first becoming a Chargers fan in New Mexico, where I was always the only one ever wearing a San Diego jersey, I was walking into Jack Murphy for my my first professional sports game of any kind. Walking into the stadium, and through the concourse to where I could see the grass for the first time, was surreal to me. It was like a dream. I had a seat at the 50-yard line, first row, right behind the Chargers bench. Not only that, it was Chargers alumni day, which I hadn’t known about, so all the greats paraded right in front of me. Fouts, Joiner, Lowe, Benirschke…it was an incredible gift, like they’d planned it just for me.
The game was great. We won 20-6, beating the Joe Montana-led Chiefs in what I read afterwards was one of the loudest games on record. That would end up being our Super Bowl year, which of course would end up being another high point, followed by the painful disappointment of having our Chargers, who were at most the 3rd best team in the AFC that year, get slaughtered in the Super Bowl by the 49ers.
After one more little peek into playoff contention the following year, the Chargers again went on a long, exhausting, painful run of non-playoff years, reaching the depths of the league most of the way. They went 43-85 from 1996-2003, never having a winning season that whole way, and topping the sundae with the 1998 debacle that was Ryan Leaf (my fingers actually felt cold even typing that name).
I finally moved to San Diego in 2000, and though it was a pleasure to be able to actually go to actual Chargers games at the actual place that they actually played, the first few seasons were awful. At that point, I was really just thrilled to be able to finally be there. But of course, I did crave better. And I got it.
The 2004-2009 seasons brought us back to our winning ways that had been so sporatic over much of the timeline I lived through. It was great to see us win the division over and over, and make the playoffs over and over. It was also frustrating to see what was arguably the very best team in the NFL at least twice, and maybe even three times during that span, still find ways to blow it in the playoffs.
I was at the playoff game with the Jets in 2004, watching Nate Kaeding fail to win the game for us, ultimately losing in OT. I was there again in 2009, again against the Jets, and against my better judgement, almost turning down a free ticket offered to me at the last moment because I didn’t want to screw us up again by being there. I went anyway, and I did kill us again. Nate Kaeding missed three field goals. I felt I was working through him. I’m sorry, everyone. And I watched on tv in 2006, as my Chargers, who WERE the best team in the league that year, in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, had the Marlon McCree interception-turned-fumble that turned an almost sure win and Super Bowl appearance into a loss. Holy crap…
Recent history for this team has been an unhappy one. One playoff year in the last seven seasons is not something to be happy about. But, after two very unfortunate seasons in 2015 and 2016, full of so many major injuries to major players that it defies probability, there was actually reason to be hopeful for a 2017 Chargers team that could really go far. Another high draft pick to add to the core of very talented young players acquired over the past few years, and the major players returning healthy and staying that way, and there could be a bright future ahead. But…
Here we are today. January, 2017 sees the end of my marriage with the team I have faithfully been devoted to for 38 years. I have stood by them through some great years, and many more that weren’t. I have supported them despite all the decisions that would keep dooming them to mediocrity, or worse. I have seen them stupidly let Jefferson, Dean, Brooks, Miller, Seau, Harrison, Brees, Sproles, Weddle, and so many others go. I have seen them make good draft picks that they didn’t deal with properly (Bosa is just the latest), and make terrible draft picks (not going to type his name again). I have endured them trotting out quarterbacks past their prime, and ones that were never good enough to be on an NFL team to begin with. I have seen the ownership screw up one thing after another. I have been through 10 head coaches. Six of them had losing records.
I have lived and died inside through 38 years worth of wins and losses, always supporting my team. I spent my first 22 Chargers years being what seemed like the sole San Diego fan in my state until I moved out there to be with my people. I backed them through the jeers and the laughs through the crap years, and kept my resolve after every season that ended without a Super Bowl win. “Next year”, was my mantra for 38 years.
The unthinkable has happened. I have lost my team. I kept my thread-thin hopes alive that they would not divorce me for the last two years. It was dangled in front of me that whole time. It was threatened. But I had no choice but to cling to my increasingly dimming belief that somehow, some way, it would all work out. It was all I had. It wasn’t enough. My team has left me, alone, brokenhearted, and empty. I will always have all my memories, but that is all I am left with now. There is no longer a “next year”.