I watched Game One of the Chargers 2014 season on Monday night at my parents’ house in Tierrasanta, a neighborhood two miles away from the team’s headquarters. Before it started, my Mom and I watched MSNBC’s coverage of the Ray Rice elevator video while sitting on the couch with our family’s two little black dogs: Berry and Tom. The damning tape had been released that morning and there were discussions about the NFL happening on networks that it should never be on. This made me nervous. In my parents’ living room we watch MSNBC in the evenings and think about the big picture. After telling my Mom that my wife would arrive shortly before kickoff, she asked me point blank, “Have you ever thought about hitting my daughter-in-law?”
“No,” I replied sharply, startled and unsure about the location I chose for watching the start of the season. “The game is almost on, can you not do that?” I felt like Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Presidential debate where he was unfairly asked about his wife hypothetically getting raped. What was I supposed to say? The worst questions are the ones that only have one answer. It was 30 minutes from kickoff, but I wanted it sooner. I needed to watch football to save me from talking about football.
As far as the actual game, things were feeling pretty good mid-way through the 3rd quarter. The Chargers, after struggling on offense in the 1st half had scored twice, making it 17-6. “It’s okay if we lose to Seattle next week,” I said to my Dad, who wasn’t responding. “At least we got this one.” The man who explained football to me fell asleep on the couch shortly after halftime. Around the same time, my wife went home to our place and my Mom went to bed.
The Cardinals scored to close out the quarter. Then, after a few horrible drives by the Chargers, Arizona marched down the field and scored, leaving San Diego two minutes to get into field goal position. The Cardinals blitzed and blitzed and blitzed some more on that final drive. Philip Rivers was forced to make quick throws and change the angle of his release. The Chargers lost by one point.
I sat with the loss on my parents’ couch for a few moments. The postgame wrap up show was just noise. It all felt like a broken record: The Chargers lose in a close game and then I get sad. “It’s just football,” I said, possibly out loud. Turning to the right, I noticed that my parents’ dog, Tom, was looking right at me. He had been on the couch the whole time. Tom is a rescue dog. Somebody beat the crap out of him a lot. Now when you look at him you can see that he only has one emotion: terror. The other dog, Berry, looks exactly like Tom, but she is exuberant and full of life. My parents got her from a friend. Her vertical leap is crazy and when you walk in the door she flings herself at you with complete disregard of her body. Berry ran off when my mom went to bed. Tom, on the other hand, stayed until the end with me. The little guy has been living with my parents for 5 years now and his life has been filled with love and safety. But Tom is broken. He’s perpetually frightened of the world in a way that he can’t hide. Somebody stole what Berry has from Tom and now he is forced to see that and be compared to it every day. My Dad was still asleep nearby. I didn’t want to wake him and explain what had just happened in the game. Besides, Tom and I were engaged in a staring contest. I blinked first.
I am not an abused person, but when I root for San Diego sports teams, I love to play the victim. If the Padres don’t spend money, I feel cheated. If the Chargers fall short of making the playoffs, I blame outside forces for controlling the degree of my happiness. But none of this is real pain. Not really. I might be able to have a moment with my parents’ dog, but when he stares at me, it isn’t because he relates to what I’ve gone through with my sports teams. I’m a dude, and coming from his formative life experience, dudes have a tendency to beat his ass.
In 1994, my Dad-who falls asleep during Chargers games now- had a ticket to see the divisional playoff game against the Miami Dolphins with one of his friends, but decided to give me the ticket instead. The Chargers won while my Dad listened on the radio in the parking lot. A week later, in the AFC Championship Game, the Bolts beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and my Dad and I, along with tens of thousands of fans, went to Qualcomm to welcome the Super Bowl bound team home. At that rally, local morning radio icons Jeff and Jer lit Jerry Rice’s jersey on fire and it all made sense. Like second generation Chargers owner Dean Spanos, I’ve been given a lot, probably more than I deserve.
Dean Spanos thinks he deserves a new stadium and he wants the city of San Diego to write an estimated 600 million dollar check to help pay for it. He knows voters won’t do that and he’s pissed about it. Over the last decade or so Spanos has painted himself as a victim, posing as the owner of a struggling business that is siphoning cash left and right, trying to compete in an evolving sports landscape with a subpar infrastructure to host games. However, he hasn’t sold the team or opened up the books in any significant way. The NFL’s media rights deals keep going up and the owners share all of the revenue. In turn, the Chargers keep extending their lease, while holding a possible move to LA over the people of San Diego.
Dean Spanos knows that if he were to sell the team right now with the current situation at Qualcomm Stadium, it would go for a great sum of money, but the amount left on the table without a stadium resolution in either LA or San Diego, would be astronomical. It would probably be somewhere north of the same 600 million dollars that the tax payers are being asked to come up with. Since his latest State of the City address in January, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has attached his entire political equity on coming up with a creative solution to raise the money. After the Mayor brought to this to the forefront, the PR coming from the Chargers has been counterproductive and cynical. Their game plan has been this: Wait to see what the city comes up with, snipe at any morsel of optimism, and look at other options with nifty hashtags:
The injury cloud hit the 2014 Chargers hard. Philip Rivers fought through pain all year despite having virtually no consistent protection to count on. The team narrowly missed the playoffs, and while the San Diego Padres transformed into a possible contender, the Chargers embarked on one of the most frustrating and confusing off seasons in the history of the franchise. Rivers does not believe in #Carson2gether. He has strong reservations about moving his family to Los Angeles and has publicly made it clear he will hold off on working out a contract extension with the team past next year. Heading into the final season of his six-year, $91.8 million contract, Philip is due $17,416,688 for 2015. It is possible he wants to be traded. The Chargers have scheduled a workout for 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, even though San Diego doesn’t draft until No. 17 in the first round when Mariota will be long gone. The Tennessee Titans, who hold the No. 2 pick, are coached by Ken Whisenhunt, a former offensive coordinator for Rivers and the Chargers. It’s also possible that Rivers wants to play out the 2015 season with the only team he’s played for and see where things are with the stadium, the health of his own body, and the relationship between the fans and the franchise. He’s made his money and his family loves San Diego. What would be the upside to signing on for a few more years of turmoil? He doesn’t want to move his large family to LA for obvious reasons, but he also doesn’t want to be a star player on a team caught in limbo. To the south people will hate the team for leaving and around the LA area there could be a huge rejection of the Chargers. #Carson2gether has all the makings of disaster if it’s even a real thing. Phil knows this and doesn’t want to link his legacy to being the leader of the team who left.
It’s fitting that things have worked out this way. The player the Chargers got because Eli Manning wouldn’t sign is opting to take control of the end of his career by not signing an extension. What Eli did was more jarring at the time, but it should be noted that Manning and Rivers have both made moves to shield themselves from the decision-making of the organization. And what did Eli really do? His Dad thought Spanos and his team would limit his son’s career and Eli agreed. We all took it as an offense to our city, but really it was an accurate assessment of how things work in Chargerland. Two Superbowls later, the Mannings turned out to be spot on. Phil just further confirmed it.
Regardless of who is right, or what the intention of the organization is, a tipping point has been reached. It’s not fun to think about the Chargers anymore. Dean and his cronies have made following the team’s free agency and talking about the upcoming draft feel like something for a chump to do. More importantly, Dean Spanos has revealed the chilling truth that no sports fan wants to admit: we don’t own any of this. Fans can go to Qualcomm, wear the colors, create lasting memories, cry when their team loses and scream with joy when they win, but a professional sports team is just an asset controlled by an owner who wants to increase the value of his property. That’s all it is and that’s all it will ever be.
The Chargers are Dean’s team and he wants San Diegans to buy in now so he can make more money. But how do we know what football will be over the next 30 years when the next Spanos in line wants another stadium to replace this potential new one? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continually makes mistakes that increase the griminess of the product, top players are retiring early left and right because of complicated head injuries, and youth participation is in rapid decline all over the country. Junior Seau, the most significant Charger of the 90s, invested a lot in football and then he shot himself in the chest. Stadium proponents will tell you that a new NFL stadium will keep San Diego relevant as major modern city. However, the truth is LA hasn’t had a team for 20 years, the San Francisco 49ers didn’t build a new shop in The City, and the New York Jets and Giants, play in New Jersey. A city’s modernity shouldn’t be defined by its participation in a professional sport that is becoming more and more taboo for its children to start out in. The Chargers might leave, but we won’t lose anything. Dean’s got us in a staring contest. He thinks we should relate to his need for a new stadium, but really he’s just a dude who owns a sports franchise. And those dudes tend to hurt us. It’s okay if we blink first.
Follow on Twitter: @Nicholas_McCann