Monday, January 25, 2016

This Ain't A Love Letter

Right now, Chargers fans are writing "love letters" to the Chargers to tell them they should stay in San Diego. I have one from the bottom of my Silver and Black heart I'd love to share with y'all. -- R.J. 

Dear Chargers,

You're probably expecting me to be just another NFL fan that will whisper sweet nothings in your ear about how I love you and want you to stay in San Diego. You're wrong. Dead wrong. But I write this letter out of love, and you deserve to hear me out.

Once upon a time, I bled powder blue and gold. I was proud to support you through thick and thin. In my case, it was mostly thin since you rarely enjoyed success after Alex Spanos bought the majority share of the team from Gene Klein in 1984. My time as a fan since then was filled with precious few good memories. I was thrilled when you won the 1994 AFC Championship. I even stayed up all night to help welcome you home to what was then called Jack Murphy Stadium when the players arrived from Pittsburgh. I also owned a custom made Stan Humphries jersey that I wore for a long time after he retired because he was such a good player whenever you needed a big play.

But those happy memories are also filled with many years of sadness. You hired Steve Ortmayer and Al Saunders to run the team into the ground in the late 1980s. You then hired Bobby Beathard, and I hated that he traded away almost all of our first round picks in the 1990s and couldn't agree to disagree with Bobby Ross. I thought Beathard lost his mind when he took the third overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, a future first round pick, a future second round pick, and Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf and shipped them to the Arizona Cardinals to move up one spot to select noted flag football enthusiast/franchise savior Ryan Leaf. I also had to put up with offensive guru Kevin Gilbride's inability to score points for a couple of seasons, followed by an overwhelmed Mike Riley who nearly completed the NFL's first "Imperfect Season" in 1999 before the Detroit Lions turned the trick in 2008.

When you hired John Butler in 2001, that was the first good thing Dean Spanos ever did since his father let him run the team seven years earlier. Butler drafted LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees with his first two draft picks that year, and then hired Marty Schottenheimer to coach them the following season. You were well on your way back to respectability until Butler's life was tragically cut short by cancer two years later. You could have hired a good general manager to succeed Butler, but predictably you settled on A.J. Smith's ego. With that choice, you destroyed your one chance to win a Super Bowl during my lifetime. I won't dissect what could have been if you had hung onto Drew Brees and done something different with the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. My story ends earlier than that.

At the end of the last century, my city gave you a sweetheart of a stadium deal. We guaranteed a "sellout" by buying up all of the unsold tickets, and for about $80 million expanded then Jack Murphy Stadium's seating capacity. But that wasn't enough for you. You wanted more. Only a few years after the stadium expansion was completed, Alex Spanos was quoted by a self-employed journalist that he wanted a new stadium. For those of us who lived in San Diego at the time, it struck us as jealousy. The San Diego Padres, who were coming off a World Series appearance in 1998, got a new stadium after residents voted for it in the following election. You on the other hand were busy trying to cobble together that Leaf trade and were in no position to demand a new stadium.

But that didn't stop you from doing it anyway.

Since we were first introduced to Mark Fabiani in 2002, we have been told repeatedly by you and the local fish wrap (that's what I call the San Diego Union-Tribune, y'all) that you would leave us if we didn't build you a new stadium. That's when I realized your threat sounded all too familiar. If there's a common theme San Diego has with professional sports teams, it's not losing. It's horrible owners. We had Donald Sterling for a few years before he moved the Clippers to Los Angeles. We also had a very good San Diego Gulls hockey team in the old IHL that, like the Chargers, threatened to move to LA if they didn't get a new arena. They did exactly that in 1995 when they became the Los Angeles Ice Dogs. With two San Diego teams following through with threats to move to Los Angeles, I knew back then this would be the end game. That's why I "divorced" you and joined Raider Nation.

Even though I made my choice clear a long time ago, I still don't want you to stay in San Diego. I'm tired of my city feeling like they're in a loveless marriage with you. You should move to Los Angeles and cater to the 25% of your fan base that lives there. My city deserves an owner that is not only committed to winning, but wants to become part of the community. For the past dozen years or so you've had one eye on Los Angeles, and then Carson, while making one unappealing stadium proposal after another to show you're negotiating with my city in good faith.

So, what's the love part of this letter? I love that the NFL screwed you the way you screwed us. Whether you choose to stay here or move to Los Angeles, by the time the 2017 season rolls around you will become Southern California's third-favorite NFL team after the Rams and Raiders move to the area. Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire are Rams and Raiders territory. Those fans will never give you the support my city once did.

Do the right thing and make this divorce final. Either move to Los Angeles so we can attract another NFL team, or sell the Chargers to someone who will work with my city on a long term solution that works for everyone. We deserve better than the Spanos family and Mark Fabiani.

Good riddance,

Saturday, January 09, 2016