The zone is also where you’ll find sportscaster Jim Laslavic sitting on a raised stage under the tent for Rock 105.3 (San Diego’s Chargers Station/ This is why we ROCK!), gazing off into the middle distance and talking intently into his headset. Later, during the game, the JumboTron will show ads for Chargers Gameday (every Sunday morning on KFMB-TV) and Football Night in San Diego on NBC 7/39, as well as the Chargers Power Hour (Thursday nights from 5:00 to 7:00 on XTRA sports radio 1360 AM). The setup seems happily symbiotic: the Chargers need the local coverage to help sell tickets (the team narrowly avoided blacking out the game against the Raiders on September 14), and the local media gets to hitch its cart to a celebrated corporate enterprise that garners national attention.
Hopping on the Brandwagon
Besides the Bud Light Power Party zone, a trip to a Chargers game will acquaint you with Jerome’s Furniture (Jerome’s Best Seat in the House), Pepsi Max (Punt-Pass-Kick Challenge), San Diego County Credit Union (Field Goal Challenge), Union Bank (free Chargers’ checks!), and the Brigantine (Greatest Chargers/Chargers moments poll), plus Gatorade, Amtrak, and Carl’s Jr. (replay sponsors). That’s not a comprehensive list; that’s just what sticks in memory. Who woulda thunk that an event held in Qualcomm Stadium could feel so corporatized? Attending a football game is better than watching it on TV in all sorts of ways. (Watching Philip Rivers heave a pass 43 yards downfield to Vince Jackson, for example, you get a sense of the strength and precision involved that just doesn’t come through when the little figures are performing on the screen.) But on TV, you don’t notice the commercials so much.
Outside the Power Party zone, the masses are having an unbranded blast. A couple sits on beach chairs behind their truck; perched on the cooler between them are two buckets of chicken wings, a tub of Red Vines, a couple of Bud Lights, and a radio. That’s all it takes for a party, but, of course, many people go in for a bit more. Rod Prida meets a bunch of his friends — all club-level season-ticket holders — at pretty much the same spot every home game, next to a strip of sidewalk between the stadium and the Porta Pottis behind the scoreboard. “We normally get here about three hours before game time, so that we can get our spot and have a couple of beers before the game. The menu changes every week. That guy over there owns the Barbecue Pit, so he’ll bring food from there. Or we’ll do brats. This week, it’s carne asada” — heaps of it, cooked on a tabletop grill, chopped with a jumbo cleaver, and stuffed into burritos with canned beans, homemade guacamole, and maybe some habañero salsa. It’s far more meat than the group can eat; as game time approaches, they start offering it to fortunate strangers as they pass by. “Want a burrito?”
Sometimes, if the traffic leaving the stadium is heavy, they’ll have a follow-up session after the game, “just to socialize and scream at Norv” — Turner, the Chargers’ coach. Last week, the Chargers mounted a comeback against the Baltimore Ravens that was squelched when running back Darren Sproles got dropped behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-two by linebacker Ray Lewis. “I think that was Norv’s crappy coaching more than anything. With ten seconds left in the half, he went for the field goal on third down instead of running another play. And then, on the last play of the game, he tried to run the ball. We were throwing the ball all day; why change?”
Especially considering the team’s running game this year. “I think we’re favored by four today,” says Prida. “It was at six, but now it’s down to four — LT is out again, and that probably lowered the point spread.” The game-day magazine lists LaDainian Tomlinson as the starting running back for the day, but the ankle he twisted two weeks back against the Oakland Raiders is proving more troublesome than anticipated. And Sproles hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. “I think we’re 30th out of 32 teams with the run this year. That’s not good — without the threat of the run, the defense can tee off on Rivers. And running increases time of possession; when you run the ball, you can run the clock down.”
Part of the reason Prida knows these stats is because he’s a fan. Another part is because he participates in the Pacific Seafood football pool. Every Friday, he and 41 others pick a winner for each of that weekend’s 13 games. Then he assigns a point value to each game: 13 points for the most certain victory, 12 for the next most certain, and so on, all the way down to 1. If your team wins, you get those points. Every member contributes $80 per season; first place for a given week takes home $130, second gets $65, and third gets $21.
After week six, Charger Rod was running 24th with 508 total points; poolmate Mike Fleming was three spots ahead with 513. Fleming has been in the Pacific pool for the past ten years, minus a two-year break when he couldn’t seem to put together a winning week. Just before the action got started on week seven, I sat down with him to hear how he made his picks. “I look at the standings on NFL.com, and that’s pretty much it,” he began. “Some people will check the injury reports and the stats, but they don’t necessarily win because of it.
“Usually, if it’s a close game” — with no clear favorite — “then I’ll go with home field advantage. I give home field a high priority — some places, you just don’t win there. You don’t win in Denver or Pittsburgh. And you go with the hot teams — though you take a risk picking these 5–0 teams, because eventually they’re going to lose. Denver is going to be going to Baltimore pretty soon, and they’ll be due to lose.” (As it happened, he was right — on November 1, Baltimore handed Denver their first loss of the season.) “And Detroit, at 0–6? They’re due to win.” (Right again: September 27 saw the Lions defeat the Washington Redskins for their first win of the season.)