Throughout my life, every lesson I have learned has come from my involvement in and experiences with Sports. Not just a particular Sport….but Sports as a whole; the single most wonderful gift a boy could be given.
I’ve played just about every major team and individual sport there is, either competitively or just for fun. I’ve made three-pointers, thrown touchdown passes, struck batters out, saved penalty kicks, made birdie putts, served an ace and so much more. Even thinking about doing any one of those right now gives me chills and makes me want to lace up my Nikes and run out on the field. But more importantly, through Sports I’ve learned amazing life lessons about teamwork, passion, understanding your role, focus, and the list goes on. There’s no skill or characteristic I possess currently at the age of 41, that I cannot in some way trace back to my experiences as an athlete, fan or coach.
Sports have also been a major contributor to building and, more recently, rebuilding a relationship with my Dad who, while it has taken me many years to realize, only ever wanted to connect with his son in any way he could and Sports were, and still are, his most comfortable way to achieve that. I appreciate it more today than I ever have in my entire life and can only hope I get the same opportunity to share that passion and love for these great games with my son Carter.
My obsession and love for these great games is all I’ve ever known, but it’s important to understand that I really didn’t have a choice in the whole matter, to be honest. You see, my Grandfather on my Mom’s side of the family (Papa, we called him), showed up at the hospital on April 27, 1975, arms full of sports equipment to greet his first grandchild….a baby boy. My Mom was an only child and, while she was an absolute diamond in her parent’s eyes, I came to realize over the years that my Papa was so proud of me and wanted nothing more than to expose me to all that sports had to offer. On top of that…my Dad, and his Dad too, were die-hard San Diego sports fans and, while Saturday’s were dedicated to Notre Dame football at Papa’s house, just about every Sunday in the fall was spent in my Grandpa’s TV Room watching the San Diego Chargers.
I had the great pleasure of growing up in the “Air Coryell” Era with Dan Fouts throwing TD passes to Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joyner and John “JJ” Jefferson, among others. I can still recite every word of the San Diego Super Chargers song and I remember playing it over and over as a kid with the 45-rpm vinyl record I had of the anthem. I can feel the excitement of my first Charger game when I was a kid in what I will always call Jack Murphy Stadium….tailgaiting in the parking lot, throwing the football around and waiting for the dogs and burgers to finish cooking on the grill. I will never forget Dennis Gibson deflecting the pass in the end zone in Pittsburgh to send the Chargers to their first and only Super Bowl. I had the pleasure of watching LT (LaDanian Tomlinson) break the single season rushing TD record and, while I haven’t always backed his antics, I will never forget the passion and love for the game that Phillip Rivers plays with each and every day he steps on the field. All of these memories and so many more are etched in my mind for eternity.
Unfortunately, the other memory that will be impossible to exorcise from my brain will be of January 12, 2017…the day my beloved San Diego Chargers “bolted” town to head to Los Angeles. The day my beloved Sports taught me a lesson about the difference between what’s important to owners and what’s important to Fans.
As I sit on my couch tonight, floating aimlessly somewhere between pissed-off and heartbroken, it still feels like a dream. How did the San Diego Chargers come to this point in time where their owner would choose to pay a $550 million relocation fee to move to a city where his team will be the 4th most popular football team, rather than put that money toward building his own stadium in San Diego. The owner tried to put a plan to a vote to raise additional funds and shame on the residents of the city of San Diego who would not have paid a dime for the stadium (but voted it down anyway) because Measure C called for an increase in hotel taxes (among other taxes) that would all be paid by tourists and visitors to the city…not local SD residents. But shame on the owner, SD government officials and others who could never come to the table as a united front to do what was best for San Diego….to keep the Chargers. A new stadium and convention center expansion would have brought with it hundreds of millions of dollars from Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, political conventions and who knows what else. Additional shame on those same folks for how they constructed a plan that could only be voted on by city residents, rather than all of San Diego County, where the majority of Charger fans reside. No Charger fan really had a chance to get involved and help get something done…and we would have done it! All Dean Spanos had to do was come out and say from the very beginning how committed he was to staying in San Diego forever and we all would have been there to help in any way we could. But that isn’t ever what he truly wanted, it seems. All the evidence you need is the new logo and video they released within an hour of announcing the move…on Facebook of all places. Where was the courage or even courtesy of announcing the move on TV so we could at least look into your greedy eyes one last time. Where was the decency to give us a little time to let it all sink in before you bombarded our social media feeds with your new marketing materials.
None of it makes sense when you think about it all, other than the spoiled selfish act of a billionaire sports owner wanting to make a few more hundred million dollars….but as I said, therein lies the harsh lesson of Sports in the year 2017. It’s no longer about the game, the fans or even the players really…it’s about the business.
What hurts the most is that the fans in San Diego will miss out on so much now. LaDanian Tomlinson is sure to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall and who knows, maybe Coach Coryell will get in now too. But the team’s departure from SD surely puts a damper on that. San Diego fans won’t get to see Antonio Gates break the record for TD receptions by a Tight End. Rookie Joey Bosa will make a name for himself under the bright lights and empty seats amidst the smog in LA and Phillip Rivers is being robbed of playing his entire career in a city he loves so much. He’s far too competitive to do it, but part of me hopes Rivers just hangs it up this summer so he can retire a San Diego Charger for life!
With all of that being said, much of my focus has truly been on the question of what I will tell my son Carter. What will I ever say if he asks me to take him to a Charger game in Los Angeles? What will I tell him if he asks who my favorite football team is or why I no longer want to watch the NFL? How can I teach him about the importance of loyalty, the joy of a football tailgate, and the amazing feeling I used to feel when those Powder Blue jerseys ran out on the field? Thankfully, he’s still young enough that he cheers whenever any team scores or even just runs across the TV screen…so I guess I have some time to figure that out.
Maybe someday I can show him game highlights of how Air Coryell revolutionized the passing game in the NFL. Maybe someday I will play for him the San Diego Super Chargers song and teach him all the words. Maybe someday I will tell him about how I used to walk all around Jack Murphy Stadium looking for the Churro stand. And maybe someday he will become as passionate an athlete, leader and person as Phillip Rivers.
So as I contemplate whether to burn, pack up or give away the countless items I have in my wardrobe with that beautiful lightning bolt emblem on them…I’ll wipe away a few more tears and just spend a few days reflecting on how much fun I had being a Charger fan for nearly 42 years. Through the few highs and many lows, I always stayed loyal to my hometown city and team and I love San Diego as much as any place in the entire world. I will forever be a San Diego Charger fan, but I just don’t know how to make sense of all this mess.
I do know one thing for sure, someday I will sit Carter down and share with him what it means to be loyal, what it means to show passion for your teams and also, what it felt like to experience the anger, heartbreak, confusion and disgust, that came on January 12, 2017…..my last day as a Charger fan.