SAN DIEGO » Come Sunday, those San Diego Chargers fans who haven’t been turned off by bad football or ownership’s hardball attempt to bolt to a Los Angeles suburb will head to Qualcomm Stadium, perhaps for the final time.
RVs will jam into section A1 and smoke from tailgate barbecues will rise from all around the massive parking lot that circles the aging stadium.
Wearing their replica jerseys with Rivers or Gates — or even Seau — on the back, fans will make their way inside to watch the Chargers (3-10) face the Miami Dolphins (5-8). If the Chargers find the end zone, the cannon in the southwest corner will go off. If rookie Josh Lambo kicks a field goal, the disco ditty “San Diego Super Chargers” will blare from the one thing that still works well at the Q, the sound system.
And then it could be all over after 55 seasons.
No one knows quite how to approach Sunday’s game. Some fans will be nostalgic. Some will be angry at team Chairman Dean Spanos, who, through an attorney who used to be deputy mayor of Los Angeles, has seemingly been trying to beat St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke to the perceived riches of L.A. Fans were stunned in February when the Chargers announced a partnership with their hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders, to build a stadium in Carson.
Heck, even quarterback Philip Rivers knows it’s going to be a different feeling as he wheels his Ford F-250 down the hill and into the parking lot for what could be his last game at Qualcomm in his 12 seasons with the Bolts.
“It could be emotional. I mean, it really could be,” Rivers said. “Certainly not knowing, and not going to know right after the game, either. I think I’ll even soak in the drive over there a little more than the past 100 something times I’ve done it for a game.”
Rivers raises a good point. No one knows how it will play out next month when NFL owners gather in Houston to try to decide whether it’s the Chargers, Raiders or Rams, or some combination, who get to return the NFL to L.A. after an absence of two decades.
San Diego’s stadium saga has been long and bruising, beginning when Alex Spanos said in 2000 that the team needed a new stadium. That was just three years after the city expanded what was then Jack Murphy Stadium to accommodate the Chargers and Super Bowls.
It’s gotten downright nasty this year. Spanos attorney Mark Fabiani has constantly attacked Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the only leader in years who has presented the team with a plan.
While wanting the Chargers to stay, Faulconer has insisted that the voters have a say. He also wants a deal that protects the taxpayers, and thus is offering far less of a public contribution than what the Chargers and the NFL expect.
The Chargers walked away from negotiations in mid-June and have focused efforts on Carson. Spanos has had the right to leave since 2008, but efforts became more aggressive when Kroenke announced plans to build a stadium in Inglewood. The Chargers claim 25 percent of their fan base comes from north of San Diego County, although they’ve declined to offer proof.
Now the franchise of Jack Kemp, Dan Fouts, Lance Alworth, Kellen Winslow, Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson could be heading back up the freeway to L.A., where it played its inaugural season in 1960 before relocating to San Diego’s Balboa Stadium.
San Diego Stadium opened in 1967 and was renamed Jack Murphy Stadium in 1980 for the former San Diego Union sports editor who was instrumental in bringing pro sports to the city.
It has hosted three Super Bowls, including John Elway’s breakthrough first title victory in January 1998.
It was where Air Coryell first took off behind Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Winslow — all Hall of Famers — and John Jefferson. Seau’s fist-pumping histrionics were honed after every big hit. Tomlinson was carried off the field on the shoulders of his offensive linemen after breaking the single-season touchdown record in 2006, en route to winning the NFL MVP Award. A capacity crowd roared when Miami’s Pete Stoyanovich pushed a field goal attempt wide right, extending the magical 1994 season by sending the Chargers to the AFC championship game.
When the Chargers returned from stunning the Steelers to earn their first Super Bowl berth, they were greeted by a raucous crowd estimated at 68,000.
Two weeks later they were embarrassed by Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
They’ve never been back.
Now they might be off to L.A., a city most San Diegans love to hate.
“I hope it’s packed with a bunch of fans who want to cheer us on,” said safety Eric Weddle, who will be playing his final home game because the Chargers won’t extend his contract.
“We’re obviously not a very good team, but the fans still support the players, they support the team,” Weddle said. “You still have reasons to go out and cheer on your favorite player, your favorite team. And you don’t know what the future holds for this organization. You want to say you gave it one more last crack to cheer on your team in a great city, at Qualcomm. Why not?”