Part I – (Not) In the Stands
When I saw that San Diego had lost to Cleveland by a score of 7-6 this past Sunday, it took me a minute to remember that the Padres’ and Indians’ seasons are long over, and that this was indeed a football score.
This article began as part of my weekly NFL column, but as I wrote and wrote, I noticed I was getting nowhere; I was stuck on the San Diego Chargers and the calamity this franchise has endured over the past five years; the potential that has wasted away; the lack of action toward any sort of improvements.
I remember in 2011, watching the Packers play in San Diego. There were more Cheeseheads in the stands than Chargers fans. “Go Pack Go” chants resounded from first quarter to fourth. I was a little peeved, but hey, the Packers fan base is nationwide and they travel well. What can you really make of that?
This season, the Chargers hosted Atlanta in a game between two of the season’s most promising 2-0 teams—a game in which the Chargers, coming off two impressive wins, deserved a better fan turnout than what they got: a Qualcomm Stadium ripe with Falcons fans. Falcons fans! An eastern time zone team with an average fan base, not exactly known to travel all that well. As with “Go Pack Go” a year prior, the stands echoed the chant, “Let’s go Falcons, let’s go!”
I realize I’m being hard on a Chargers fan base that certainly still has its dedicated fanatics, but let’s go back a week before to the Falcon-fan fiesta. The Chargers had their home opener against the Titans, and the Chargers came dangerously close to a blacked-out game.
No big deal, you might say, they are not the only team to have a blackout every once in a while. But then consider that this was the game in which San Diego planned to memorialize the recently deceased future Hall-of-Famer Junior Seau by retiring his number in a pregame ceremony, which included Seau’s parents. And Chargers fans couldn’t turn out to honor him? They couldn’t come out to show their appreciation and respect to the man who led the Chargers to their only Super Bowl berth and died tragically in a suicide this past summer?
Luckily, San Diego narrowly avoided the blackout, a similar great escape occurring a few weeks later when San Diego hosted Denver on Monday Night Football—a game that notably ended in an embarrassing and high-profile 35-24 comeback win for Peyton Manning and the division-rival Broncos.
This week, the Chargers are set to host the Chiefs on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football. A first-ever Thursday night blackout was imminent, but luckily the chargers have been gifted a corporate bailout. The Washington Post article linked in the previous sentence accurately and aptly describes the Chargers blackout struggle as an “embarrassment.”
Part II – In the Front Office
The Chargers’ lackadaisical fan base is not the only trouble with the franchise—and not the most conspicuous either. The more apparent issue is that this team is consistently losing in humiliating fashion, so why—please, somebody tell me—why is Norv Turner still employed?
Think of the talent that has resided on the roster under Turner’s watch: Ladainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Shawne Merriman (when he was a stud), Antonio Cromartie, and of course, the steadfast combination of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. This franchise should have won at least one Super Bowl by now, and has recently had the talent to at least contend for a title. But no, this team is .500 in the playoffs under Norv Turner, and hasn’t even made the playoffs in two seasons.
For a team with this kind of talent, this is inexcusable. Turner’s got to go, and it wouldn’t hurt to make a change at general manager either. A.J. Smith, the man dubbed by the Manning family as “The Lord of No Rings,” has made no effort to make this team better outside of the draft, in which he has made some “questionable” picks to say the least. He apparently does not believe in free agency signings either. When was the last time the Chargers even made an effort to dish out big bucks for big talent? Smith forgoes these opportunities to bring in “value” players like Bob Sanders, and that one worked out real well. Now, Smith is going down the same road with the talented but injury-prone Atari Bigby.
The obvious problem is: Smith is cheap. Instead of re-signing Vincent Jackson to a contract he has proven he deserved by his performance in Tampa Bay this season, Smith let Jackson hold-out for half a season in 2010, and then walk in 2012, choosing to go forward with Malcom Floyd as the number-one wideout, the unproven (and now injured) Vincent Brown behind him, and most befuddling of all, free-agent acquisition Robert Meachem in the slot.
Philip Rivers has not been at his best in these past two seasons, it’s true. But his only help on offense is Antonio Gates, who is (almost literally) falling apart at this point in his injury-filled career. Ryan Mathews, who was supposed to be this team’s new Ladainian Tomlinson, is a bust; let’s face it. And while we’re at it, what about Smith’s other high draft picks of late? We’ll stick to just the past five years’ first-round selections:
2008: Craig “Buster” Davis, (living up to his name) a bust.
2009: Larry English, a bust.
2010: Ryan Mathews, a bust.
2011: Corey Liuget, soon to be, if not already, a bust.
2012: Melvin Ingram—we’ll see.
Then the topper of them all: A.J. Smith is the man who traded Drew Brees. Nice move, nice move.
Less egregiously, but still worthy of note, Smith also traded Michael Turner to Atlanta after the 2007 season.
Part III – In the Future
After beginning the season a promising 3-1, the Chargers have lost three in a row, including two very embarrassing defeats at the hands of Denver and Cleveland. Now with his Chargers at 2-3, I am left with only bewildered awe of majority owner Alex Spanos’ obstinate dedication to Smith and Turner.
In my most recent weekly NFL preview, I briefly made mention of the Chargers’ potential of moving away from San Diego. I’ll summarize why a move seems likely.
1) See part one of this article. Local interest in the team dwindles. Even when the Chargers were successful, they struggled to fill seats. Now, as the team bumbles about on the field, the fans only become more likely to stay home.
2) History. The Chargers were founded in Los Angeles as inaugural members of the American Football League. They spent only one season there, but hey, the Bolts are bound to have fans in L.A. considering there is currently no other NFL team in Southern California and that there could possibly still be some nostalgic old-timers who remember the L.A. Chargers with fondness.
3) No team in L.A. The NFL has to return to Los Angeles soon, and they will. But it will not be an expansion team. Somebody’s going to have to move. The media has bandied about prospects like the Jaguars, Vikings, Raiders, Rams, and of course, the Chargers.
4) Dilapidation of Qualcomm Stadium and inability to find a new home. The Chargers have one of the oldest and most obsolete venues in the NFL. Qualcomm was finished in 1967, making it the fifth-oldest stadium in the NFL still being used (some older ones, however—like Lambeau Field, for instance—have undergone renovations, making them more NFL-suitable than Qualcomm). For goodness sake, the stadium is almost as old as the franchise! The Chargers have been trying to find a new home in San Diego for years, but are yet unsuccessful.
The recent stickum fiasco is a microcosm of this team’s saddening and deplorable dysfunction. Changes are coming—in the stands, in the front office, and in the future.
In an ironic circumstance, days are dim for the team with the lightning bolt on its helmets.