This morning, the Chargers announced that they would be leaving San Diego to join the Rams in Los Angeles. That puts an end to a 56-year run in San Diego, dating back to the franchise’s days in the AFL. Although the Chargers actually began in Los Angeles, it was for one lone year before relocating to Balboa Stadium in San Diego in 1961. Eventually they moved into Qualcomm Stadium in 1967, which turned out to be the driving force for the team’s relocation. Qualcomm is the fifth oldest stadium in the NFL, and only Green Bay’s Lambeau Field has been continually in use by an NFL team for longer. It’s generally considered outdated and obsolete by NFL standards, so when the Chargers couldn’t get a new stadium built, they decided to bolt. The team will begin playing in the StubHub Center, home to the MLS’s LA Galaxy, before moving in with the Rams at the new City of Champions Stadium in 2019.
It has to be upsetting when a team with so much history in one city is gone all of a sudden. When the Rams moved to L.A. last year, the circumstances were a little different in that they had only been in St. Louis for 21 years. Despite their lone Super Bowl win happening in St. Louis, the bulk of the team’s history was in L.A., so it was more of a homecoming. That’s not to say that there weren’t fans in St. Louis who were hurt by the move. It’s bad for any sports league when teams have to relocate. But the Rams already had plenty of history and a potential fan base in L.A. to market itself to.
I’m not a Chargers fan nor am I from San Diego, so I can’t know what it’s like to lose your team, but this has to be a huge slap in the face for lifelong fans of the franchise. I am a fan of the history of the game and to move a team that’s been in one place for so long is unfortunate. What’s worse, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, the team is considering rebranding completely, which means ditching the Chargers name and their classic color combination. They’ve already unveiled a new (very bland) logo, an “LA” inscription that appears to be a Los Angeles Dodgers logo with a Tampa Bay Lightning logo running across it, although apparently this is only for marketing purposes just to make the announcement. The current logo and colors will remain for the time being. That’s a little hard to believe, because it doesn’t make sense to unveil a new logo if you weren’t planning on using it or attempting to eventually transition to a full rebrand. To rebrand the franchise would essentially be tossing aside a half century of history and telling San Diego the same thing Ron Burgundy told the city that resulted in his firing. If this does indeed happen, hopefully the original name, colors, and records can be transferred to a new franchise should the NFL decide to place an expansion in San Diego in the future. After all, nearly every city that has lost an NFL team has gained a new one within ten years.
Although they never won a Super Bowl, many great players have passed through Qualcomm Stadium over the years. From John Hadl in the AFL days, to Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers, the Chargers have had a tradition of great passers. When Don Coryell coached the team in the late 1970s into the 80s, he used Fouts’ strengths to his advantage and transformed the game to include deep passing as an integral part of it. Many notable people consider Coryell to be the father of the West Coast Offense. In Coryell’s offense, Kellen Winslow also helped to transform the tight end position into a legitimate receiving threat.
In 1994, the Chargers reached their first and only Super Bowl, losing Super Bowl XXIX to the 49ers by a score of 49-26. That team and the ones that followed were led by defensive star Junior Seau, one of four Chargers to have played 200 games with the team. The year 2000 represented a low point for the franchise, as they finished a league worst 1-15.
In the following year’s draft, San Diego selected two players who would become NFL icons – LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. As you know, Brees ended up having more success in New Orleans after being replaced by Rivers, but Tomlinson built his case in San Diego as one of the greatest running backs of all-time. An alum of TCU, L.T. ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards and third in scoring touchdowns. The majority of his work came in San Diego, highlighted by his historic 2006 season in which he took home an MVP award and set an NFL record with 31 total touchdowns scored. That year, the Chargers went 14-2, the best record in franchise history, but lost in the divisional round to the Patriots. When Tomlinson likely gets voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, it will be a little awkward when the San Diego Chargers won’t be able to congratulate arguably their greatest player ever.
In addition to the greats listed above, the Chargers have also been blessed with players like Ron Mix, Lance Alworth, Charlie Joiner, and Antonio Gates over the years. While San Diego ultimately fell short of winning a Super Bowl (they did win an AFL Championship in 1963), there were nonetheless some incredible highs and countless players who entertained fans throughout the last 56 years.
What’s puzzling about the move to Los Angeles is why the Chargers would expect to draw better in a city that just welcomed another team a year ago. Back in the early 90s, L.A. had two teams (the Rams and the Raiders), and both had to move out in 1995. Why is it going to be more successful this time? In 2016, the Rams did not draw particularly well for a team in a new city, nor did they perform well in TV ratings. Part of it has to do with the fact that they were a bad team lacking exciting players, but there is usually more buzz for a team in its first year. The Chargers were actually among the worst NFL teams in terms of filling their stadium, but if that’s the case, why is it going to be any better in L.A.? At least there are football fans in L.A. left over from the old Rams days before the 90s, so it’s easier to see where they can draw their fan base. Unless the Chargers have gained a large Los Angeles following as the only Southern California team in the NFL for two decades, they could very well end up being second banana in a city that a year ago had zero teams. To complicate matters, the StubHub Center has a seating capacity of 27,000, less than half of what nearly every other NFL stadium holds.
Los Angeles, the second largest city in the U.S., certainly deserves one NFL team, but it should have to prove it can support that team before it gets another. San Diego, on the other hand, is now left with only one major professional sports team, the San Diego Padres. In fact, even the Padres have stated their disappointment in the city’s football team leaving. For passionate San Diego Chargers fans, unfortunately, the greed of team ownership won this time, and for that I really feel bad for those people. Hopefully the NFL can return to San Diego one day, but Charger fans deserve better than this.