Being a San Diego sports fan often feels like you’re trapped in a hyper sexualized volleyball game where you’re the only one playing who needs to hide their body with a shirt. On the Saturday night before the LA Chargers lost to the Miami Dolphins in their first home game at the StubHub Center, I went and saw Top Gun at the Ken Cinema. With a few friends and about 40 other people I watched, laughed, and cheered along with the defining pop culture snapshot of San Diego in the mid 1980s. After Tom Cruise (call sign: Maverick) and his sidekick Anthony Edwards (call sign: Goose) get notified that they’re going to the top naval aviation school in the world, a title card comes up on the screen that reads Miramar, Calif. FighterTown, USA. At this moment, everyone in the theater erupted with applause. In the film, San Diego was the place to go if you wanted to prove you were the best.
When the Chargers finally moved to LA, many San Diegans needed to project an angle on how they were going to respond to the pain. Some picked new teams. Others just kept pulling for the Bolts and adjusted to location. After spending more than thirty years of my life rooting for an entertainment product owned by the Spanos family, the person I was, someone who looked at the NFL and needed to believe in the success of any one squad, died. I spun out, hit eject too late, and broke everything. Now I’m a Hate-Watcher. I only really like football when San Diego’s former team loses.
Before the matchup between the LA Chargers and the Denver Broncos on the first Monday night of the season, I started to feel it. Anger and fear grew inside me throughout the day leading towards kickoff. Would Dean Spanos’ plan work out? Would the LA Chargers beat an old rival and force me to defend something about San Diego? The most jarring part of the Chargers final years here and their subsequent departure was the national media glossing over the situation by assuming that San Diegans were bad fans. The narrative many believed was that Spanos had to leave because the character of the city was too aloof to sustain his family business. The Broncos, in front of a sellout crowd in Denver, dismantled LA on national television in the best and most familiar way. The Chargers lost on a blocked kick at the end and it was glorious.
The Anthony Edwards performance in Top Gun is what jumps out the most every time I see it. His character risks his career and life by choosing to fly with a talented but obviously dangerous pilot. However, Goose always stays loyal to the choice he made. The best scenes in Top Gun are when Goose defends Maverick to the other top pilots. Their exchanges are exactly like every conversation I’ve ever had with any true Dodgers or Raiders fan throughout the years. When fellow sidekick Rick Rossovich (Call Sign: Slider) openly talks trash about Maverick, Goose acknowledges the underdog situation he’s in, but doesn’t flinch. He has a snappy comeback every time.
Then Goose dies.
The most harrowing scene in the movie is where Meg Ryan (Call sign: Hot Widow) is consoling Tom Cruise after the accident. She doesn’t blame Maverick and affirms that he will always be family, while sobbing in a chair behind her son, who appears to be 3 or 4. Maverick receives the message, but still internally blames himself, knowing that his dangerous flying finally ended in tragedy as people had predicted. Goose is still gone and his world where he’s invincible has come crashing down. Cruise does all this with his face, solidifying himself as the next great American movie star. In the story, Goose is a side character who had to die to teach Maverick a lesson.
I called my Dad the day after the Miami game. We laughed at the Stub Hub Center crowd and the horrible PR the Chargers had dumped onto the national stage. The relief we both shared was very similar to the elation we would feel if the San Diego Chargers had won in their home opener. This time we didn’t have to defend them. Because of the horrible roll out and beginning of the season for the Chargers, people are starting to see the dysfunction this franchise has consistently had under the Spanos family’s control. They burned their audience and now they have to play their games in front of that hallow reality. Kansas City barbequed LA’s new team in front of a sea of red in Week Three and it was validating to know that even Meg Ryan couldn’t cheer Dean up.
If Goose had lived and raised his family in San Diego, Goose Jr. would’ve grown up in the Spanos Family Era as well. He’d probably have a podcast called Great Bolts of Fire and lived through all of it. I like to think we’d be hate watchers together. Anthony Edwards has never been able to shake Goose his entire career. Each performance he gives feels like a reincarnation of Maverick’s fallen sidekick. In ER he was playing Goose as a doctor. In The Client he was playing Goose as an assistant to Susan Sarandon’s spunky lawyer. However, in David Fincher’s Zodiac he plays a detective trying to solve one of the most complex murder mysteries in American History with his partner Mark Ruffalo, who is exhaustively obsessed with finding the killer. After years and years of failing to solve the crime, Anthony Edwards finally quits the case and his detective job. He explains to Mark Ruffalo that he can’t do it anymore and that he wants to watch his kids grow up. In the most polite and genuine way possible, he essentially says there are more important things to him than going crazy. Edwards leaves the movie and completes another solid performance, but I always see it as closure for Goose. He got another chance to make the smart choice and took it.
I didn’t watch the Eagles game on TV. Instead I took my son to the beach at Mission Bay where Steven Soderbergh filmed Traffic. I put the game on the radio and casually listened from about ten feet away. Someday I’ll explain to the boy why it was important for Don Cheadle to confront Catherine Zeta-Jones at the playground. She was a rich person living in a bubble and he needed to shatter it. I want Dean Spanos to live the rest of his life in that same startled state. Significant public money will likely never again be used to fund a football only stadium in California and a part of my city had to die to make that clear for everyone. While my kid played I listened to the Chargers lose with a smile on my face. It was a beautiful day in FighterTown, USA (Call Sign: San Diego).
Follow on Twitter @Nicholas_McCann