That old black magic

The problem with the Chargers is that Philip Rivers is cursed.

December 24, 2014 — Patrick Daugherty

In terms of fan interest, yes, the Chargers Saturday night comeback ranks right up there. The Bolts push on with their December heroics, every game is a must-win game, every game is a walking–to-the-edge thriller, every game everything is on the line. Will they or won’t they? THEY DO! San Diego makes the playoffs and loses in the second round!

The Niners continue playing beautifully in the first half and tanking in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter. This year San Francisco’s second-half scores stand at 76 points versus 150 points for their opponents. That’s lousy coaching and that’s why Harbaugh will be fired. Having a fingernails-on-blackboard personality greases the wheels and makes his firing more satisfying, but seeing a Harbaugh-led team, over and over, lay down in the fourth quarter is why he’s gone.

The problem with the Chargers is the quarterback. Philip Rivers is cursed. He’s always referred to as an elite quarterback, but he’s yet to play in a Super Bowl. Since Rivers became a starter in 2006, the Chargers have produced the following playoff record: 2006 lost Divisional Playoff, 2007 lost Conference Championship, 2008 lost Divisional Playoff, 2009 lost Divisional Playoff, 2010 did not make playoffs, 2011 did not make playoffs, 2012 did not make playoffs, 2013 lost Divisional Playoff.

You don’t think that kind of a record was made by chance do you? I thought not. It’s obvious Rivers is under a curse and a strong one at that. What he needs is magical self-defense. And he’s going to get it. Follows is from spellsandmagic.com. Philip, listen up.

“On the first night of the waxing moon, gather the following ingredients: a square of black cloth a little larger than your hand, one tablespoon of curry, one tablespoon of dill, one tablespoon of vervain, one tablespoon powdered ginger, one consecrated black candle, paper and black ink pen, one black string, knotted nine times.

“On paper, write the full name and birth date (if known), of the person who has cursed you. Place the paper in the center of the bag. One at a time, add the herbs, covering the slip of paper. Next, take the lit candle and drip 5–10 drops of wax over the paper and herbs. Visualize the person who has cursed you and say their name aloud three times while tying the bag shut with the knotted string.

“...bury the bag someplace on the property of the person who cursed you. The bag must remain there undisturbed until the next waxing moon. At that time, dig up the bag and burn the contents.”

I’m sure alert readers see the problem. We don’t know who cursed Rivers, we only know he is cursed.

Talliesin McKnight speaks. “If you feel that someone has put a curse on you then this is a method to send it back to them. All you need is a black candle, a mirror, and some reversing oil.

“Some folks like to use a double-action candle...it has two colors. White and black is a general double-action candle. Or, if it’s specific, if someone has cursed you in love you could use red and black. Cursed in finances you could use green and black.

Cut the candle’s top off, where the wick is, turn the candle upside down, take a knife and carve a new wick at the bottom. The symbolism is reversing, turning it around. Next, carve the enemy’s name, backwards, in the candle.”

Let me interject here. The problem, Mr. McKnight, is, we don’t know who the enemy is.

“If you don’t know your enemy’s name, you can just write My Enemy backwards. Then anoint the candle with a reversing oil. You can buy it online or make it yourself. Then burn the candle on top of a mirror, a cheap hand mirror will work. When you’re done, dispose the mirror and all of the remains away from your home.”

Okay, McKnight, you appear to have a workable spell, but your spell doesn’t have that old world, goblet-crypt feel I’m looking for. I want something that works but looks good at the same time.

Ah, here we are, “To remove a curse from yourself. Collect: one pink candle, one green candle, one black candle, bowl of water, three drops of green dye. Now, put three drops of green dye in the bowl of water. Slowly tip the bowl over each candle allowing them to be extinguished while at the same time chanting: Juina Shelt Fonsed. Do this very slowly.”

Philip, you’re playing Kansas City on Sunday. Win and in. Surely, attending to curse hygiene will be part of your game prep.

MERA DUSHMAN ZER HO ABHI!

Seeking juice

December 10, 2014 — Matt Potter

The Chargers and their lobbyist Mark Fabiani, ex-president Bill Clinton’s onetime “master of disaster,” have ostensibly been hard at work on getting a new billion-dollar taxpayer-subsidized stadium in San Diego. But if they build it, will anybody come? That’s the question quietly dogging the managers of the team’s current venue, city-owned Qualcomm Stadium. At a meeting of the stadium advisory board earlier this year, general manager Mike McSweeney outlined the problem: “The NFL is currently dealing with the challenges of getting the stay-at-home fans into the stadiums,” said McSweeney, according to the board’s minutes. “Factoring in the costs of tickets, parking, food, and even the weather, why would you leave home with a 70-inch TV, surround sound, and a six-pack of Coronas in the cooler?” According to McSweeney’s report, “The league is taking an aggressive look at how to overcome and enhance the fan experience. For example, the Padres have concerts after their games. Events like these must surpass the experience they get at home [and] make it worthwhile for them to get in their car to come to the stadium.”

Though not widely publicized, the minutes say that “a series of focus groups have been meeting with the Chargers. Outcomes of some of their meetings are the infrastructure, getting in and out of the stadium parking lot, sound issues, and other creature comforts that the Chargers are addressing. As for the scoreboard, that is also being taken into consideration.” Concluded the city’s McSweeney, “There are discussions with Qualcomm Corporation in regards to permits, and who is going to come in to perform the work.”

Far above the raging hoi polloi...

Last call for city box's $25 food and open bar at Chargers games?

December 1, 2014 — Matt Potter

Life in the city’s Qualcomm stadium box is not as civil as it used to be, judging by recent remarks recorded in the minutes of the stadium's advisory board.

During the group's September meeting, chairman Rudy Castruita, retired superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, suggested that his fellow members "attend a Chargers game and sign up for a seat in the City Box to experience what that is like."

"There is also a buffet at a cost of $25 per person. Board Members would also have the opportunity to see how the Stadium operates."

That drew a response from boardmember Jesse Durfee, former chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

During his attendance, Durfee said, he saw people in the box who "could barely walk due to their alcohol consumption, an issue that should be addressed (alcohol is provided with the Buffet)."

In reply, according to the minutes, stadium general manager Mike McSweeney "recommended a review of the alcohol policy for the City Box. A recommendation would be to possibly remove the alcohol from the buffet package” and require that it be purchased separately, “with a drink limit."

Another advisory boardmember, John Thomson, inquired about the possibility of cutting off drinkers who have had too much, the policy elsewhere in the stadium.

"Mike replied that there is usually one attendant in the City Box that handles buffet payments and wristbands. The attendant should notify Security when they observe disorderly behavior.

“Durfee suggested when tickets are sent out a code of conduct should accompany it.”

"Rudy stated that behaviors in the City Box have progressively gotten worse and requested Mike to address these issues with the City Council and include the suggestions from the Board Members."

In days of yore, the city council's luxury box at Qualcomm was a place of genteel legislative commerce, a posh retreat for councilmembers and their political backers to enjoy free football games and bargain food and booze far above the raging hoi polloi in the stands below.

A typical example came back in December 1996, on the eve of the controversial $80 million expansion of the now venerable stadium.

As wrecking and construction crews massed in the parking lot, boisterous city-council members, along with city manager Jack McGrory and city attorney Casey Gwinn, as well as Union-Tribune editor-in-chief Herb Klein, gathered for the Holiday Bowl.

As reported here at the time, "The presence of a reporter and photographer outside the city box so unnerved two members of the Holiday Bowl staff that they alerted security and threatened arrests.

“Cooler heads on the bowl committee intervened, and the guards warned the photographer not to 'touch that big cake or those champagne bottles.'

"Bowl officials said cake and champagne for the council came courtesy of the taxpayer-subsidized bowl committee."

The free and easy living continued until 2008, when the state's Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that the freebies were not an official part of doing city business and must be declared as taxable gifts or income on legally required state financial disclosures. No longer could the officials party in style without public notice or paying the taxman.

Seeing the light, then-mayor Jerry Sanders started handing out his tickets to the Armed Services YMCA and the Navy hospital, according to a January 2009 Union-Tribune editorial, which called for selling both the Qualcomm box and the city box at downtown's Petco Park.

Earlier this year, current mayor Kevin Faulconer announced he was negotiating to sell rights to the Qualcomm box to the Chargers, the primary stadium tenant.

"Negotiations with the Chargers aren’t expected to get serious until after their season ends early next year, because it would be chaotic to make an in-season policy change," according to a U-T San Diego report this October, which recounted that "all four council members who’ve used the perk this year are Democrats."

Many of the freebies have gone to the military, members of planning groups, and charities, but there have been a few exceptions.

As reported here in June 2013, District 8 councilman David Alvarez gave ten free tickets in the city's Petco Park box valued at $87.69 each to the Fullerton-based law firm of Jones & Mayer.

Firm owner Richard Jones gave a total of $1000 to Alvarez's 2010 city-council campaign, according to city financial disclosures. Neither man returned calls seeking comment.

God denies robbing Rivers' rib

Deity: "I love the guy, but that's not how I work any more."

November 21, 2014 — Walter Mencken

MARVELING AT THE WONDERS OF GOD'S CREATION, CHARGERS STADIUM — Ever since San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates let slip to reporters that Jesus-loving quarterback Philip Rivers has been playing through the pain of a "severe rib injury" this season, true powder-blue believers have been raising their eyes to heaven and asking, Why?

"I know the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," said season ticket-holder Mike Biergutt, "but after a while, whiplash starts to set in, you know? That awful opening loss, followed by those amazing five wins, followed by three straight losses, including that heartbreaker with Kansas City and that shellacking from the Dolphins. At this point, beating Oakland 13-6 is like eating a dry cracker in a hot desert, you know?"

But at this week's Wednesday night Bible Study, Mild McFearsome, lead pastor at The Rocket Church in Santee, offered a possible answer to the suffering throng, pulled right from the pages of Genesis: "But for Adam, no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man."

"Brothers and sisters," explained McFearsome in a videoclip that has already picked up 1.2 million views on YouTube, "please consider. This season, fully half of this year's Chargers Girls are first-year. Brand new. The old order has passed away, with its stale routines and unprofitable commandments to 'Get up or go home!' The old Charger Girls understood the letter of the cheers, but not the spirit. But these new Charger Girls shall make a formation that is pleasing to the Lord, and when they bend their waists in homage, their cries shall be heard. But whence came these new women? And why is our quarterback afflicted? We know that Philip Rivers is a righteous man, bolt upright before the Lord, standing strong in the pocket though the o-line collapses around him. Is it not possible that the Lord took one of Rivers' ribs, and fashioned these most pleasing creatures from it, as once he fashioned Eve?"

As of this writing, Rivers' representatives had yet to respond, but God himself was quick to deny any involvement. "As a rule, I stay out of professional sports," He said in a prepared statement. "I never know what to do with all the competing prayers. So I would never monkey with a quarterback's mechanics, especially not a good guy like Phil. Tom Brady, I might be tempted. Guy walks around like he made himself that handsome. All that said, you might wanna think about going with New England come December 14."

Middle-finger bird deemed free

Digit-wielding Chiefs fan at Chargers game punched security guard

September 9, 2014 — Don Bauder

A San Diego Chargers security guard can't be held liable for restraining an opposing team's fan who flipped the middle digit at Chargers fans, a federal judge has ruled, according to Courthouse News Service.

In 2011, Jason Ensign, a Kansas City Chiefs fan who admits to have been imbibing alcohol at the game, was acquitted of battery charges resulting from a scuffle with security guards after he flipped off Chargers fans. Ensign was exercising free speech and had a right to defend himself, the court agreed back then.

The security guard sued Ensign for an injury he suffered in the struggle. Ensign countersued against the guard and his employer. But according to Courthouse News, U.S. District judge Cynthia Rashan ruled that Ensign can't pursue damage claims against the guard. Although the guard applied force, he didn't do so to interfere with Ensign's free speech rights, said the judge.

Hundreds of millions for football, zilch for opera

April 23, 2014 — Don Bauder

"It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Excited TV announcers belt out that colloquialism at sports events that could be won by either side, even if one team seems to be comfortably ahead.

Those sportscasters would be embarrassed to know the axiom’s derivation. It comes from the end of Richard Wagner’s four-opera, 16-hour Der Ring des Nibelungen. The last of the four operas, Götterdämmerung, ends as the usually corpulent soprano Brünnhilde, warbling at high pitch, mounts her steed and plunges into the funeral pyre, when Valhalla crumbles and the gods are destroyed.

How many jockstraps know that their favorite aphorism was first uttered in 1976 by a college sports information director who apparently knew opera?

Hey, sports and serious music don’t mix. Everyone knows that. Billionaire owners of pro sports teams get massive taxpayer subsidies to build stadiums and arenas; arts groups get crumbs, if that.

Consider San Diego. On March 19, San Diego Opera suddenly announced it wanted to go out of business at the end of this season. The matter is still up in the air. Mayor Kevin Faulconer stated, “Spending taxpayer funds to save the opera won’t be an option because they will be spent on my priorities, which are street repairs and neighborhood services.” Faulconer said he would help the philanthropic community raise the funds.

The part about street repairs and neighborhoods is bunk. Within a few weeks, Faulconer’s aides were sitting down with the San Diego Chargers to talk turkey — that is, a massively taxpayer-subsidized stadium for the team, which would be a real turkey. U-T San Diego said taxpayers would chip in $400 million to $600 million of the roughly $900 million to $1 billion or more total cost. That would be on a par with the percentage taxpayers shell out in other stadium deals, quoth the U-T.

More bunk. The definitive work on this topic came from Harvard’s Judith Grant Long, who two years ago found that taxpayers on average pick up 78 percent of stadium payments. The costs of land, infrastructure, operations, capital improvements, municipal services, and lost property taxes add 25 percent to the taxpayer bill. Those initial lowball forecasts are phony enticements to voters.

Not long after Faulconer nixed an opera bailout, San Diego put in its bid for the 2024 Olympics. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics cost $40 billion. The 2012 London Summer Olympics came in at $15 billion.

“The Olympic games are awash in fiscal myths,” said the British newspaper the Guardian late last year. “Games boosters always roll out tantalizing promises. One common claim is that the Olympics are a windfall for the host city.” However, “Academic economists simply haven’t found a positive relationship between hosting the Games and economic growth.” Economist Jeffrey Owen says, “It is unlikely that anyone ever will.” Said the Guardian, “Underestimating Olympic costs has almost become an Olympic sport in itself.”

The Economist says hotel bookings actually dropped during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Nevertheless, hosting the games is “wildly popular with the voters who foot the bill.” San Diegans will be told that the Olympics — like the Chargers stadium — won’t cost much. Don’t believe a word of either claim.

No one should be surprised that a report released early this month by the American Association of University Professors showed that from 2004 to 2011, inflation-adjusted spending for athletics at big and medium-sized universities, and small colleges and community colleges, went up 24.8 percent, while spending on instruction and academic support was about flat and public services and research declined.

The purpose of higher education is education? What are you? Some kinda weirdo?

While professional- and amateur-sports spending soars, classical music — opera, symphonic, and chamber — is dying of old age. Less than 3 percent of recording album sales are classical. According to Slate, the percentage of adults going to a classical concert (even once a year) dropped from 13 in 1982 to 8.8 in 2012. Classical music radio stations are drying up.

Seattle Symphony reports that 32 percent of its regular-season audience has postgraduate degrees. When it does Wagner’s Ring Cycle it’s 39 percent. Brünnhilde may be plump, but she brings out the well-educated folks.

In 1937, the median age at Los Angeles orchestra concerts was 28, says Slate. It’s probably over 50 now. Music education has been in decline for years. That’s one of the major reasons San Diego Opera attendance has fallen so sharply.

So, it’s clear why a politician like Mayor Faulconer will toss gobs of public money at sports teams owned by billionaires and offer nothing to an opera company on the brink. (The opera is slated to get $389,357 from the city’s Special Promotional Programs this year. The symphony will get $411,870 and the Old Globe $421,074.)

Politicians know that sports are where the votes are. Personally, I don’t like government subsidies for professional sports or the arts. There is no question that classical music appeals to an elderly, elite audience that should pay its own way. Even Europeans, longtime arts subsidizers, are rethinking the practice, given the weak economy.

But the wealthy and elite really aren’t supporting classical music — or any charities — the way they should. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Californians with compensation of $50,000 to $99,999 give 6.2 percent of their incomes to charity. The favored few who make $200,000 and above give 4 percent. In particular, the affluent who huddle in one neighborhood are penny-pinchers in charitable giving. In city after city, it’s the low-income residents who lift giving levels, according to the Chronicle.

The same pattern holds true with corporations. In 2012, according to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, Fortune 500 (the largest) companies gave 0.09 percent of their revenue to charities. Smaller companies gave 0.14 percent.

And according to Giving USA, only 5 percent of 2012’s total charitable giving went to culture, the arts, and humanities. Taxpayers should not have to support the wealthy — except in the case of billionaire sports-team owners, according to the politicians who pander to pedestrian tastes.

Might Chargers eye property occupied by opera studio?

Commercial Street area could be developed near stadium site

April 14, 2014 — Don Bauder

San Diego Opera — in an internal struggle over dissolving — owns a set-making studio at 3064 Commercial Street. This studio has built more than 50 new productions for San Diego Opera through the years and has produced sets for other opera and theater-arts organizations.

"My estimate is that it is worth five million bucks," says H. Eugene Myers, an attorney and real estate buyer who owns property in the area. "In the next couple of years the opera could possibly pick up a pretty sizeable chunk of change."

Myers owns property on Commercial Street from 28th to 32nd streets. On Saturday, April 12, he met with other real estate owners in that same area of Commercial Street. Myers had invited the other owners to come. Initially, he was concerned that the city would seize Commercial Street property from 28th to 32nd by eminent domain, knocking down the values.

At the meeting, he was told seizure was not likely, and he feels that Civic San Diego probably does not have the funds to go the eminent-domain route because of potential lawsuits and the like. However, he feels the parcels in that area could be converted to high-density residential and mixed uses — thus raising property values "at the stroke of a pen."

He invited Karen Cohn, chairwoman of the opera, to the meeting, but nobody from the organization showed up. Myers notes that when John Moores got a $300 million subsidy to build Petco Park, he was permitted to buy surrounding property at an extremely low price. (Some have estimated he raked in $700 million to $1 billion just in reselling that property to developers.) Myers says his own Commercial Street property enjoyed an increase of 50 to 60 percent because of Petco and the surrounding development, even though it was a long way away.

Myers believes the Spanos group does not want to develop the area around Qualcomm Stadium because of the plume under it and other reasons. Spanos might prefer to have a combined stadium and convention center but could settle for something else. Possibly, he would get property not too distant from Commercial Street and might try to put senior and affordable housing in the Commercial Street area as part of the stadiium package. Myers raised this possibility at the Saturday meeting, pointing out that since the trolley "would be the purveyor of people to the stadium," the idea is not out of the question. "There could be a bump in the value" of that Commercial Street property.

I reminded him that Mark Fabiani, PR representative for the Chargers, has suddenly shown up as PR for the opera on a pro bono basis. Could the opera's property on Commercial Street be a reason Fabiani is giving free time to the opera?

"It seems like a long shot," says Myers, who admits he was puzzled when Fabiani showed up at the opera. "There is a possibillity you could connect the two [the studio and Fabiani]."

San Diego considered floating stadium 50 years ago

But Mission Bay structure was too expensive

March 2, 2014 — Don Bauder

"The Strike Zone," a feature of Sports Illustrated, pointed out on February 28 that half a century ago, San Diego considered a floating sports stadium.

It would float on Mission Bay, attached to Fiesta Island. It was proposed by Barron Hilton, original owner of the Chargers. It would seat 53,000. There would be a 13,000-seat main grand stand behind home plate.

Then, two separate 20,000-seat grandstands would float to attach to the landlocked 13,000-seat portion. The floating stands could be moved to straddle a football field just down the way.

However, the price tag escalated to $41 million, double the original estimate of $20 million. Thus, the landlubber stadium now known as Qualcomm was built for a mere $27 million.

San Diego Chargers place Philip Rivers on indefinite hiatus following political endorsement

December 19, 2013 — Walter Mencken

Former United States Senator Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign ended a long time ago. But because the Internet is forever, the effects of that campaign are still being felt today — and in a very big way. Today the San Diego Chargers placed their long-time quarterback Philip Rivers on indefinite hiatus, because of a statement he made endorsing Rick Santorum for President. The statement, which is still up on Santorum's website, reads, "I am supporting Rick Santorum for President because of his stance on issues that attack vital Christian values our country was founded upon: no abortion, upholding traditional marriage, defending religious freedom, no euthanasia." Santorum famously opposes gay, "non-traditional" marriage.

In their statement, the Chargers front office stated, "We are extremely disappointed to have read Philip Rivers' comments on RickSantorum.com, which are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the offensive strategy of the San Diego Chargers. His personal views in no way reflect those of the National Football League, which works hard to champion the rights of the LGBT community. Remember that one time the League had the Thursday Night Football announcers wear purple on Spirit Day? Plus, 'no abortion'? That's just crazy talk."

Responding to the news, GLAAD activist Mike McManus said, "We are extremely pleased with the Chargers' decision. But I have to be honest with you: we weren't even gunning for this Rivers guy. One of our interns was collecting media responses to Phil Robertson," the Duck Dynasty reality show star who was just suspended by A+E for anti-homosexual comments he made to GQ magazine. Catching Phil Rivers in our Google net was just dumb luck."

L.A. NFL stadium rivals sink big cash into Brown bid

U-T San Diego ramps up push for new Chargers venue

December 9, 2013 — Matt Potter

The professional football season is nearing a wrap and the campaign for San Diego mayor is ramping up, time yet again for another push by La Jolla real estate maven, Republican money-man, and U-T San Diego publisher Douglas Manchester for a new taxpayer-subsidized Chargers stadium.

And, judging by recent reports from Los Angeles, along with a campaign financing disclosure filed over the weekend by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, a familiar cast of L.A. area superrich will likely surface once more as Manchester's bogeymen, threatening to steal the team for La La Land.

U-T kicked off its latest scrimmage on the final day of November, with an editorial entitled "A new stadium for San Diego: It is time."

U-T San Diego ownership believes it is time, for the benefit of residents countywide, that a new multipurpose stadium be built in a private-public partnership.


The U-T Editorial Board in coming weeks will publish commentaries making the case for a new stadium. We will examine potential sites and the combination of facilities that should be built in conjunction with the stadium.


We will also explain in broad terms how a stadium might be financed without breaking the backs of taxpayers.


Whomever [the] mayor is can expect us to challenge him from Day One to work with the City Council, the business community, the Spanoses and the NFL, community groups and other stakeholders to get it done.


The new Manchester campaign comes on the heels of tales from Los Angeles about new Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti diving into the thick of that city's longstanding NFL intrigue, as reported by the L.A. Weekly.

Garcetti met in L.A. with Philip Anschutz, the head of AEG, who is still trying to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles.


Anschutz' firm, AEG, first announced plans to build a downtown football stadium nearly three years ago, to great fanfare.


But after winning approval from City Hall for Farmers Field, along with an expedited environmental process from the state Legislature, the deal stalled.


Garcetti took the helm in July, and according to the L.A. Weekly, an aide said then that getting a football team was "not a priority."

But Anschutz, a Denver-based billionaire, has continued to work on the deal in his own quiet way.


In early September, Anschutz reached out to the mayor's office to update Garcetti on the situation.


The two talked over the phone on Sept. 11, and arranged an in-person meeting during Anschutz’s next visit to L.A. On Oct. 8, Anschutz brought to City Hall Dan Beckerman, the new CEO of AEG, and Ted Fikre, an AEG vice president.


Garcetti brought Glyn Milburn, a former NFL kick returner who now works in the mayor's Office of Economic Development. The next day, Milburn wrote an email to Fikre, thanking him for the meeting and saying "it is our hope that we can accomplish the goal of bringing football back to Los Angeles."


Whether or not anything emerges from Garcetti's putative bromance with Republican Anschutz, on November 23 the Anschutz Corporation made a $50,000 contribution to the reelection campaign of Democratic governor Brown.

Three days later, Majestic Realty Company, run by billionaire Ed Roski, who has long aspired to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, kicked in $54,400 for Brown.

Even more than a mayor, a governor can do big favors for any NFL hopeful who catches his fancy; two years ago, Brown signed a bill to "streamline" state-mandated environmental review of the Anschutz project. Brown's predecessor, GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, earlier did the same for Roski.

In the subsidy and infrastructure battle to come, Brown could play a key role in handing out plenty of public money and regulatory approvals to advance the cause of his Los Angeles patrons.

Brown is likely to do no overt favors for longtime GOP kingpin Manchester, and, for that matter, San Diego, generally, other than to perhaps raise the perceived threat level of moving the Chargers from San Diego.

Skeptics argue that may be just what Manchester and the wealthy NFL owners need in a coming high pressure attempt to scare voters into approving a costly new stadium project here.

The governor's latest political foray into the city by the border, an endorsement of newly hatched Democrat Nathan Fletcher for mayor, ended with a third-place finish by Fletcher.

That effort was largely a production of La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs, who had given heavily to the successful 2012 campaign for Brown's Proposition 30 tax hike measure.

Whether any of the recent public jousting is real, or the stadium game has already been fixed by the NFL behind closed doors, remains to be seen.

Chargers Coach McCoy: "The City of San Diego doesn't much care for losers, but what they really hate are winners."

"If we won, we'd have to leave town."

November 14, 2013 — Walter Mencken

"You ever hear of the San Diego Gulls?" asks Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy as he cracks open a frosty can of Amstel Light. "Hockey team. They were around for eight seasons in the '90s and early aughts. Played in the Sports Arena. They won the West Coast Hockey League championship five of those eight seasons. But they folded in 2006, because they couldn't make a buck."

"Or consider the San Diego Sockers," he continues. "They've won four straight Professional Arena Soccer League titles. They lost all of one game last year. You ever been to a San Diego Sockers game? Do you even know where they play? Did you even know they existed?"

"Now consider the Padres," he offers, warming to the subject. "They got the city to commit to a new stadium, which broke ground in 2000. They've won a couple of division titles since then, but never a pennant. And more often than not, you can find them in fourth or fifth place by seaon's end. And then there's us. We've got Philip Rivers, God's own quarterback — Tim Tebow with talent, I like to call him — and we can't get it done. Often as not, we can't draw enough fans to fill the stadium and avoid a TV blackout. But it doesn't seem to matter: the city is still bending over backwards to find ways to build us a stadium."

"Here's my point," he says, coming to his point. "San Diego is comfortable with mediocrity. It values it, holds it up high, throws money at it in order to make it stick around. People who hit it big — think Adam Lambert, or Gregory Peck — they catch the first train north. Because they know that here, they'll just be ignored."

"The San Diego Gulls — hilarious," says McCoy at the end of the conversation, more to himself than anyone else.

Win a Corona Tailgate Party!

Corona and San Diego tailgating: a combination as perfect as Corona and lime

October 4, 2013 — Walter Mencken

To celebrate Corona's new status as the official beer of the San Diego Chargers, Corona is offering to throw a blowout tailgate party for you and twenty of your friends before December 8th's game against the New York Giants. Bottomless chips and salsa, a taco bar, 50-inch HD viewing screen with NFL Ticket, luxury seating, and of course, plenty of delicious, refreshing Corona Beer — all in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium!

To enter, just select your favorite from the sample ads herein and email your choice for the winning slogan to chargerscontest@corona.com. See you there! Go Chargers!

Chargers and Weiners

August 28, 2013 — Matt Potter

There’s good news for Chargers master of disaster Mark Fabiani, and though it doesn’t come from San Diego, it does bear a distinctly familiar back story. Fabiani’s old friend and favored candidate for mayor of New York is reported by the New York Times to have taken the lead. “Bill de Blasio, the most liberal of the leading candidates, has vaulted into first place among likely voters,” the Times said last week. De Blasio’s success is said to owe to a cause well known to San Diegans. Ex-Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner — who along with San Diego departing mayor Bob Filner has become a national poster boy for bad acting — was leading the pack until it emerged that he hadn’t exactly lost the habit of sending sexually explicit photos to various women. A poll taken last week showed de Blasio first with 30 percent. Fifty-one percent of respondents pegged Weiner as the candidate they would “definitely not vote for under any circumstances.”

Fabiani has been a long-time de Blasio backer. He had given the Democratic former Brooklyn city councilman and New York Public Advocate $3000 in mayoral campaign money through this summer. Coronado’s Maureen Steiner, long a donor to Democratic campaigns, gave Christine Quinn, the first female and openly gay speaker of the New York city council, a total of $1250. La Jolla lesbian and biotech PR maven Susan Atkins, who sold her firm to Porter Novelli in 2005 and has served as a San Diego city library commissioner, gave Quinn $2524. Another San Diego gay leader, Robert Gleason — the Evans Hotel executive, a big financial backer of Democratic city councilman Todd Gloria who will wield major transition clout at city hall now that Filner has failed — gave $1000 to Quinn last year. Only one county resident appears to have offered Weiner financial succor. Rancho Santa Fe’s Stanley Cohen came up with $100 for the notorious tweeter on July 29.

You will get hoodwinked on stadium costs

December 5, 2012 — Don Bauder

On August 17 of last year, San Diego Chargers flack Mark Fabiani told a KPBS audience that local taxpayers would have to pick up most of the tab for a new stadium so the team could stay competitive. “The average [public] subsidy in the [National Football League] is about 65 percent of the cost of a stadium,” quoth the silver-tongued spokesman. “If we spend 100 percent private funding for a stadium, we’d be in a worse financial position than we are now, vis-à-vis our competitors.”

Wrong again, Mark. A new book by Harvard urban planning professor Judith Grant Long, Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities, shows that for the 121 venues in use during 2010, the public picked up 78 percent of the tab, not 65 percent. This means that if a new Chargers stadium costs $1 billion, which is likely, local taxpayers would plunk in almost $800 million — an outrageous sum.

In total, American taxpayers spent $10 billion more on those 121 facilities than they were told they would shell out by the media and the sports industry. Professor Long figures that hidden costs of land, infrastructure, and lost property taxes add 25 percent to the taxpayer bill. She subtracted money that comes back to cities and states from rent payments and other deal-related revenue.

Writes Long, “Given that popular reports set expectations of more or less equal partnerships between host cities and teams, those estimates of public costs indicate that the public/private partnerships underlying these deals are highly uneven.” In nonacademic prose, she would say that what is presented to the public is malarkey, and the people are likely to get screwed while billionaire team owners rake in the bucks.

She concludes that the public should not pay any part of the building costs. “Land and infrastructure you help with,” she told Bloomberg news. “The building? Let them go it alone.” She says that the realistic cost of sports facilities receives little attention from researchers “because most economic analyses demonstrate that sports facilities produce very few or no net new economic benefits relative to construction costs alone, and, so, in this sense, more accurate cost estimates would only serve to reinforce a case already made.” Objective economists have already shown that sports facilities don’t jack up the economy, as promoters claim.

Warning to San Diego: small metro areas fare worse than larger ones because they have to put up more bucks to keep a team from moving to a juicier market, according to Long.

Sports economists I talk with say Long’s figures are definitely in the…er, uh…ballpark. “You can take Judith Long’s figures to the bank,” says Rodney Fort, professor of sport management at the University of Michigan. “She has done the most extensive and most important work on figuring the totality of subsidies [in pro sports].”

I, for one, have always believed that a big part of the sports scam is that the team counts naming and advertising-signage rights as parts of its contribution, thereby skimping on its own capital. Why doesn’t the city get, or at least split, the income from naming rights? Long does figure that in certain cases, granting naming rights to the team is essentially a public expense, and Fort agrees.

Why is the public misinformed? “The press doesn’t think to ask [about hidden costs],” says Fort. People focus on bonds needed to pay for a project and neglect to ask the right cost questions.

Roger Noll, professor of economics emeritus at Stanford, says infrastructure costs, which could come to 10 to 15 percent of the expense of a project, might be downplayed by the promoters, “although if you ask them [for the numbers], they will tell you.”

Dennis Coates, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who blesses Long’s figures, says that forgiveness of property taxes is increasingly a part of subsidized deals. “Some will say that [tax forgiveness] is not really a cost, but of course it is a cost,” he says. He also feels mainstream media are often responsible for the public’s ignorance of a project’s cost. “Local newspapers and TV and radio broadcasters get an enormous amount of revenue” from sports coverage. Reporters realize that.

Long points out in the book that three facilities — Miller Park in Milwaukee, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — actually racked up more in subsidies than they cost to build.

Miller is classic. Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, promised he would build a ballpark with his own money if local officials would only move a highway at a cost of $6 million. Later, he went to then-governor Tommy Thompson for help. In a slick move, Thompson got the state legislature to hike sales taxes in the counties around Milwaukee. Selig would still have to put in money, but he wiggled out of that, too. Ultimately, he got the stadium for nothing. Awed team owners made him commissioner of Major League Baseball. (Thompson, who was defeated for the Senate last month, was known as the politician who conquered social welfare — but hardly corporate welfare.)

The Wall Street Journal called Cincinnati’s football stadium and ballpark “one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government.” Costs for the stadium escalated, taxes jumped, and the stadium fund went deeply into the red. According to Cincinnati magazine, the Bengals owner’s “litigious bullying” has prohibited compromises from lifting Hamilton County out of desperate straits caused by the one-sided deal. (The arrangement with the Cincinnati Reds for the baseball park wasn’t quite as financially disastrous.)

When Baltimore wouldn’t give its Colts a new stadium in 1984, they moved in the middle of the night to Indianapolis, which gave them one. Several years later, the Colts wanted another one, or they would move. Indianapolis caved. Hotel, rental car, and restaurant taxes went up. City fathers appeased taxpayers, saying Indianapolis would get a Super Bowl in 2012. It got one — and lost money on it. ■

Contact Don Bauder at 619-546-8529

A Love / Hate Letter to the Chargers

November 17, 2012 — jquinsey

Dear Alex (Spanos),

After almost 34 years together I’m starting to think this relationship isn’t working. I’ve given you my unconditional support, my precious time, and my hard-earned money and in return you’ve given me nothing but unrealized expectations (2006), sheer heartache (2009), and colossal disappointment (most recently last Monday night). In the beginning our relationship was such a rush. It was all fireworks and passion. Granted we never reached climax, but it was exciting all the same. Then the passion kind of fizzled out for awhile. But it was okay because as everyone knows that’s a natural occurrence in the course of most relationships. You were down in the dumps for about a decade there but I supported you anyway, always believing you’d find a way to recapture past glory. In 1994 you really surprised me. At a time when I didn’t expect much from you, we went farther than we ever had before. Even though we came up just short of ringing the bell, it was a truly memorable time in our relationship. Unfortunately it was just a blip on the radar as you promptly went back into the tank for another decade. But it was okay because that small taste of glory carried us through the tough times. In 2004 we turned the corner (or at least I thought we did). The year ended on a low note but our future never looked brighter. At that time I was more certain than ever that we were meant to be together. Then, inexplicably, you turned into a miserable tease. It was almost as though you enjoyed getting me all hot and bothered only to slam the door in my face. Driving back from your house, emotionally crushed and physically unfulfilled, it was all I could do to not drive my car off the road (no disrespect to Junior Seau). I can’t tell you how many times I cried myself to sleep at night thinking about what could have been. Recently you keep threatening to leave and go be with someone else. Maybe it’s time you made due on this threat. Perhaps we should start seeing other people so we know what else is out there. I think it’s time to face the fact that this relationship is dysfunctional and it’s no longer good for either one of us. I never thought it was possible to love and hate someone at the very same time but that’s exactly how I feel about you. This relationship may be beyond salvation but we have been together for 34 years and I hate to just throw it all away without making one last ditch effort. If you really love me it’s time to make some wholesale changes in your life. First off you need a serious attitude adjustment (fire A.J. Smith). Secondly you need to stop acting so damn stupid all the time (fire Norv). And lastly (gulp), I never thought I’d say this but it might be time to try a new look (explore alternatives to Rivers). Until you’re ready to make these changes please don’t attempt to call or contact me. I’m not in a good place right now and I need some time alone.

Sincerely,

John Q. (Life-long Chargers fan)

Let them eat Chargers tickets

November 7, 2012 — Matt Potter

It’s Chargers football season, time once again for San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders to quietly give close friends and political allies free tickets to premier seats at Qualcomm Stadium. For the October 15 game with Denver, the Republican mayor coughed up eight tickets said to be worth $98 each for use by the San Diego Sports Commission. The purpose of the gift, made possible by city taxpayers, was “promotion of local & regional business, econ. development, and tourism, including conventions and conferences,” said Sanders’s office.

The sports commission is a nonprofit booster group whose board comprises some of the city’s best-connected locals, including car dealer Steve Cushman, beer salesman Kurt Martin, San Diego Magazine publisher Jim Fitzpatrick, Donovan’s Steakhouse owner Dan Shea, La Jolla financier Ted Roth, beer distributor Steve Sourapas, basketball legend Bill Walton, and Padres co-owner and beer magnate Ron Fowler. Reached earlier this week by phone, sports commission sales chief Steve Schell explained that tickets from the mayor’s office are regularly used to entertain potential sponsors of future sports-themed events here — including football, basketball and golf tournaments — that contribute to local economic activity.... The controversial Walmart retail chain has done some charitable giving on behalf of Republican city councilwoman Lorie Zapf. On August 22, the corporation gave $1000 to Leez PJ’s 4 Kids in San Marcos to provide “clothing for foster children,” according to a behesting disclosure posted online by the city clerk. The same day, Walmart kicked in $6775 for a City-owned “portable swimming pool” in Linda Vista. The Republican city councilwoman has long been a sure council vote for Walmart and has often been featured in the firm’s promotional material. “As elected officials, we should do our part to promote business growth — not deter it,” she was quoted as saying in a Walmart news release in January of last year regarding the company’s ultimately victorious battle with labor unions over repeal of a law that would have limited the firm’s expansion in the city. “I look forward to helping these efforts get underway by voting to repeal the big box ordinance.”

Conventions, Football Don’t Mix

September 14, 2011 — Don Bauder

Southern California has balmy weather and, seemingly, balmy leadership. For one thing, both Los Angeles and San Diego want to expand convention centers in the teeth of a grossly overbuilt market and slumping convention attendance. Both are considering use of a football stadium as convention space, when evidence shows that has limited appeal to convention planners and attendees.

Los Angeles is close to approving the construction of a $1.2 billion retractable-roof stadium that will be used as a convention site in conjunction with the existing center. The San Diego Chargers want a fat subsidy to build a similar stadium that would serve as a convention site. The stadium would be several blocks away from the existing convention center; repeatedly, studies have shown that attendees don’t want to shuffle or even shuttle between distant sites. San Diego downtown leadership prefers to expand the current center — but wants a stadium to be built as well.

Both Los Angeles and San Diego are in desperate financial shape. Promoters claim that the L.A. stadium and center will be paid for with private funds. That remains to be seen. There are no such promises in San Diego. A retractable-roof stadium would require a public subsidy of $700 million to $800 million or more. The convention center expansion will cost $500 million or more.

In Los Angeles, the company financing the project, Anschutz Entertainment Group, is using dubious assumptions. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that the company assumes the stadium would regularly host National Football League playoff games, the Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, Pac-12 championship, National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments, and the like. The City of Los Angeles and the Legislative Analyst’s Office say such expectations are far too optimistic. Also, Anschutz is assuming that a reconfigured convention center will be extremely successful in attracting new events. But the City doubts that will happen because of intense competition.

Would an expanded convention center pay off for either Los Angeles or San Diego? Charles Chieppo, Harvard researcher writing for Governing.com, a publication for leaders of state and local government, cites figures from the publication Tradeshow Week. In the past 20 years, the national supply of convention exhibit space zoomed by more than 70 percent. But from 2000 to 2010, attendance at conventions and trade and consumer shows decreased from 126 million to 86 million. Ergo: huge supply, dwindling demand. In 2010, Tradeshow Week went out of business. ’Nuf said.

As a result of the overbuilding and attendance decline, “People are offering incentives right and left, as is San Diego,” says Heywood Sanders, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the national authority on convention centers. “It’s really tough with the overbuilding plus the recession and companies cutting back on travel.” Convention centers have no option except to slash prices.

Las Vegas is generally considered the first or second most successful convention destination. “There are lots of new casinos, a regularly expanding center, and — ahem — other visitor amenities,” says Sanders. In 2007, the center had 1.55 million attendees. By last year, that had dropped 25 percent.

Visitors to the convention center in Washington, D.C., accounted for 376,000 room nights in 2008 — the deepest part of the Great Recession. By last year, when the economy was growing, albeit slowly, convention-related room nights were down by more than 100,000.

What about Los Angeles? Its convention center “has been losing business — indeed, hemorrhaging,” says Sanders. In 1998, total room nights resulting from attendance at the convention center were 353,325. By 2002, the number was down to 205,824, and by last year, all the way down to 137,187. These are data compiled by LA Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to promote Los Angeles tourism, and PKF Consulting, a firm that works for the hospitality industry.

“We are at a competitive disadvantage,” the president of LA Inc. recently told the Los Angeles Times. “We drastically need more hotel rooms downtown.” He said that Anaheim, San Diego, and San Francisco have three to six times as many hotel rooms immediately around their convention centers.

Last year, a two-hotel hybrid was completed in the L.A. convention district. It has 879 JW Marriott and 123 Ritz-Carlton rooms, plus condos. But that’s still not enough. “The argument for years was that ‘we need a hotel.’ It would be the magic missing ingredient that would propel convention business in Los Angeles,” says Sanders. “It’s not at all clear that it has. There is some suspicion that [Anschutz Entertainment Group’s] whole effort to get the stadium built and the convention center expanded is to pump business into that hotel and entertainment complex [L.A. Live, partly financed by Anschutz].”

Sanders notes that centers in Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta, and Chicago experienced business declines after completing expansions.

The San Diego Convention Center claims that its activities accounted for 709,298 hotel room nights and $1.27 billion in economic impact last year, but Sanders has always cocked an eyebrow at San Diego’s numbers, believing the center overstates out-of-town visitors by including too many locals from such events as Comic-Con.

With the industry overbuilt and business declining, does San Diego need an expanded convention center? “An expansion is justified locally by the argument that it will inevitably bring more events and more attendees, but it is a gamble — a bet on what will happen in a very indefinite future,” says Sanders. “Other cities are building [convention centers] and expanding. Is San Diego going to be the place that will succeed? That is an open question. The consultants who say it will have told other cities they will succeed, and repeatedly they have not.”

The San Diego power structure, including Mayor Jerry Sanders, does not want the proposed Chargers stadium to serve as a convention center expansion. The consulting firm pushing for expansion of the current center says that a noncontiguous building, unless it is directly across the street, results in two completely different venues. No major corporations or trade and consumer shows would book both venues at the same time. Even San Francisco’s Moscone Center and Moscone West, which are right across the street from each other, confuse some attendees.

And certainly a football field does not make a good convention center addition, says Heywood Sanders. Indianapolis, Atlanta, and St. Louis are the cities trying to use football fields as convention center space, and none has worked well. “The flat floor space is about 150,000 to 180,000 square feet. That’s not very much space,” he says. A company displaying tractors or construction equipment, for example, does not want to be surrounded by a bunch of empty seats.

The stadium touted by the Chargers would be several blocks away from the convention center; thus, it would have two strikes against it immediately.

A football stadium will work for some conventions: “Social, religious, and fraternal groups like to have an open arena for large assemblies — say, 10,000 or 15,000 Baptists. But they do not necessarily constitute the most desirable convention business,” says Sanders. That is to say, they may not utilize the “ahem” amenities.

Do the Chargers Love L.A.?

August 24, 2011 — Matt Potter

How much do the Chargers love Los Angeles? First came word via L.A.’s Street-Hassle blog that the team’s PR honcho and all-around fix-it guru-in-chief Mark Fabiani gave $1000 to L.A. mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel. Now an examination of the 2009 federal 990 IRS return for the nonprofit San Diego Chargers Charities, filed last November, reveals that the charity gave $25,504 to UCLA in “Individual Scholarship” funds but only $19,250 to the University of San Diego. No other San Diego County universities were listed as recipients. Other institutions of higher learning listed as getting money from the charity were Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Claremont McKenna College, Georgetown University, UC Berkeley, and UC Irvine, all $7000 each. Harvard received $1600. The grand total was $81,354.

According to a statement on the group’s Form 990, the purpose of Chargers Charities is to “support, encourage, and create projects or events that will improve the quality of life for the community of San Diego.” Among local beneficiaries of the charity were the Make-A-Wish Foundation ($34,000); Community Quarterback grants to youth football ($17,500); elementary and secondary school grants ($169,000); and high school Coach of the Week grants ($21,000). All of the non-college recipients, with the exception of a Temecula school, were in the county.

The disclosure lists four fundraising events that the nonprofit says raised a total of $78,992, including the “Champions Honor Dinner” and a “Jr. Charger Girls” event, but total direct expenses were $57,832, leaving a net income of just $21,160. In general, compared to the year prior, 2009 was tough for the nonprofit. In 2008, Chargers Charities booked $627,414 in contributions and grants. In 2009, it only got $142,913. In 2008, the nonprofit handed out $500,804 in “grants and similar amounts paid.” In 2009, it was down to $327,854. Even with that lower number, the charity’s revenue less expenses was a negative $175,823. Its net assets dropped from $278,125 to $102,302.

In an emailed statement, Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said, “The Chargers Community Foundation has been and continues to be one of San Diego’s leaders in the support [of] youth sports and education in our community. There has been no change in the Foundation’s commitment.” He added that “the Foundation and the [Spanos] family have provided more than $11 [million] since 1995 to support a wide range of services and resources for programs directly affecting youth and families in the county.”

“The team’s contributions to the Foundation may vary from year to year, depending on the amount raised by the Foundation as well as the Foundation’s commitments. The Foundation also delayed the announcement of grants to Chargers Champions schools in 2009, the Foundation’s 10th anniversary, by approximately six months to correspond with our season. This change has caused those grants to actually be issued in ’10 and beyond. In addition, the Foundation’s efforts have been affected by the economy, just as other non-profits in our community have been affected.”

Hometown Bias

May 11, 2011 — Don Bauder

"Root, root, root for the home team.” It’s a tuneful ditty to sing during the seventh inning stretch, but it won’t help Padres fans. They should really sing, “Pray, pray, pray for the umpires to act as they normally do” — that is, biased toward the host team.

That is one of many conclusions of a delightful new book, Scorecasting, by Tobias Moskowitz, a professor of finance at the University of Chicago, and Jon Wertheim, a writer for Sports Illustrated. They apply exhaustive statistical analysis to sports of all kinds and reach some iconoclastic conclusions that blindly devoted fans may not like but would be well advised to study.

There are lessons for both the Padres and the Chargers. In fact, the book, in describing fatuous decision-making in the pro football draft, cites both very smart and very dumb moves by the Chargers.

First, the home team. Yes, statistics definitively prove that the home team in major sports wins more often than the visiting team. The difference is greatest in soccer. In America’s Major League Soccer, the home team triumphs 69.1 percent of the time. The home team wins more than 60 percent of the time in Europe and South America, where soccer is more a religion than a sport.

Home teams have the least significant advantage in Major League Baseball. Between 1903 and 2009, home teams have won 54.1 percent of the games. The authors refute the reasons most often given: (1) Crowd support. Nope. “Fans’ influence on the players is pretty small,” say the writers. (2) Travel rigors doom visitors. Not statistically valid. (3) Home teams benefit from easier schedules. It’s true that big college football teams jack up their won-loss records by scheduling sissy schools at home, but that’s not a big enough factor to explain the overall phenomenon. (4) Baseball teams tailor their rosters to fit the idiosyncrasies of their ballparks. Listen up, Padres: that’s no ticket to inordinate home success. I’ll consider that below.

“ ‘Officials’ bias’ is the most significant contributor to home field advantage,” say the authors, and they make a superb statistical case for it — pointing out, for example, that soccer outcomes are the most dependent on referees’ calls. Looking at reams of game data, Moskowitz and Wertheim show that in baseball, home teams strike out less and walk a lot more per plate appearance than do the visitors. Further, when the game is close, home teams have an even larger advantage in umpires’ ball and strike calls. Similarly, home teams are more likely to be successful when stealing a base or turning a double play.

Now for the clincher. Between 2002 and 2008, up to 11 teams had a system called QuesTec that measured where the ball went over the plate. Ergo, the umpires had machines looking over their shoulders. The authors studied 5.5 million pitches in those years. The result: “Called strikes and balls went the home teams’ way, but only in stadiums without QuesTec — that is, ballparks where umpires were not being monitored,” write the authors. As H.L. Mencken wryly observed, “Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”

The authors say that umpires “call balls and strikes correctly 85.6 percent of the time. But the errors they do make don’t seem to be random. They favor the home team.” (Incidentally, in pro football, the introduction of instant replay in 1999 resulted in fewer calls in favor of the home team.)

Then came a point in the book when I slammed it down and screamed “Horse manure!” The authors insist that most if not all officials are “uncorrupted and incorruptible, consciously doing their best to ensure fairness.” After I recovered from my outburst, the authors hedged their bets. “In a variety of ways — some subtle, some not — officials must take in cues that the league has an economic incentive for home teams to do well.” Right on! Sports are part of the entertainment business. And game-fixing is another variable.

Now let’s go back to the Padres. Petco Park is designed to be a pitchers’ park. The team hopes to win by stacking up on good pitchers and fleet, sure-handed fielders. In other words, defense wins. The book cites multiple statistics showing that defensive-minded and offensive-minded teams win about equally in all sports. In baseball, the authors show that teams molded to their ballparks’ peculiarities don’t necessarily have an advantage. Pitchers’ parks aren’t a panacea, and teams that beef up on sluggers to take advantage of a hitters’ park don’t clean up, either.

Geoff Young, a statistics expert who follows the Padres, said in the Hardball Times last year, “Petco Park remains the most difficult environment in [Major League Baseball] in which to score runs, and by a wide margin.” But, using complicated formulas, Young said that the Padres were winning only 1.5 games per 162-game season more than they would be expected to win, “and it’s quite possible that luck is the overriding factor.”

Young figured that from 2004, when Petco opened, through 2010, the Padres won 52.9 percent of their home games, while Major League Baseball home teams were winning 54.6 percent of theirs. “The question of whether the Padres are using Petco Park to their greatest advantage remains open,” said Young. This year’s experience would hardly seem to make the case — at least thus far in the season. They are now 7 wins, 14 losses at home.

Even though it’s not certain that there will be a pro season in 2011–2012, the National Football League went through with its ritual draft of college players last month. As always, controversy raged. Scorecasting points out how team managements, clinging to hoary theories, continue to make big draft blunders. A classic example is the 2004 draft in which the Chargers snookered the New York Giants, who desperately wanted Eli Manning, brother of the league’s best quarterback. Other top quarterbacks available were Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

The Chargers took Manning first. He didn’t want to play in San Diego. The Giants could have traded for a lower pick and taken Roethlisberger, but they were so hot for Manning that they drafted Rivers and then gave him and three draft picks to the Chargers for that first pick. The Chargers got Rivers; Pittsburgh got Roethlisberger with the 11th pick. The Giants “effectively considered Eli Manning to be worth more than Ben Roethlisberger plus four additional players,” write Moskowitz and Wertheim sardonically. And the first pick in the draft typically is paid about 80 percent more than the 11th pick. National Football League general managers grossly overvalue the high draft picks.

But the Chargers can be taken too. Almost all San Diegans are aware of the 1998 draft in which the Chargers traded away three top picks plus active players to move up to second place in the draft and land Ryan Leaf, who has since landed in a heap of trouble and never amounted to anything in the sport. By trading up to get a supposedly top player, then paying him a monstrous salary, a team often pays “the price of a Porsche for a clunker,” write the authors. By taking top picks, “you will never get a great player at a cheap price.” But just try to tell that to the National Football League.

McCain, Pelosi, Dean Spanos, and Issa All Chip in to NFL’s PAC

January 5, 2011 — Matt Potter

Football season is over for the Chargers, but the team’s political season never ends. During 2009 and 2010, Chargers president Dean Spanos, wife Susan, and relatives gave a total of $23,000 to the Gridiron PAC, the NFL owners’ political action committee for candidates for federal office. Of the total $619,435 raised by the committee, the top recipients were the Republican and Democratic senatorial committees, with $30,000 each, and the two parties’ congressional committees, with $20,000 each. Friends of John McCain got $10,000, as did Nancy Pelosi for Congress and Friends of Harry Reid. GOP congressman Darrell Issa was the only local beneficiary, with $5000.

With a possible players strike or lockout looming later this year and irate fans clamoring for government action lest they miss their beloved games, both the owners and the players unions are busy lobbying Issa, who will assume the chairmanship of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in January. Former Chargers offensive lineman Jon Runyan, who captured New Jersey’s Third District congressional seat for the GOP in November, got $1200 from Eagles coach Andy Reid and $1000 from Chargers coach Norv Turner. And according to the website OpenSecrets.org, the NFL laid out $1,090,000 in lobbying expenses for 2010. It also paid an additional total of $765,000 to five lobbying firms. By comparison, the players association was chintzy, spending just $340,000 to obtain the services of the firm Patton Boggs LLP.

Chargers: Look at Petco Park Failure

December 22, 2010 — Don Bauder

Padres attendance is worse than it was at Qualcomm, even though the team had a great 2010 season and is slashing ticket and concession prices. So why do the Chargers want a stadium a stone’s throw from Petco, which is not working out for the Padres?

There are several theories on this, but the most salient one is that the Chargers really don’t want a stadium downtown. They prefer to occupy a stadium in Los Angeles, but because that is no sure thing, they want the backup possibility of remaining in San Diego. Since the team intends to put only $200 million into the proposed new local stadium, and taxpayers of an insolvent city would have to pick up the rest (at least $500 million and probably more like $700 million), what’s to lose by lobbying for a highly subsidized facility?

Although pro baseball and football respond to different economic forces, the Chargers should be paying attention to the Padres’ attendance afflictions.

During the 2010 season, when the Padres were in first place in the National League West for most of the season and were in play-off contention until the last day of the season, attendance averaged 26,318, up modestly from 23,699 in 2009, when the team had a losing season. But between 2000 and 2003, when the woeful Padres won 285 games and lost 363 and were last in the league three times and next to last once, attendance at Qualcomm averaged 27,720 — more than 1000 a game higher than in 2010 at Petco, when the team was in first place most of the year.

Even in 2002 at Qualcomm, when the last-place team won 66 games and lost 96, attendance averaged 27,415 — much better than last season at Petco, when the team went 90–72.

Attendance surged when the Padres opened Petco in 2004 but steadily dropped off, even though the team won two National League West titles during the period.

The Padres dropped ticket prices an average 27 percent in 2009 and 15.4 percent in 2010, according to the publisher of sports marketing information, Team Marketing Report. The team will lower prices again for 2011 — for example, the number of tickets costing less than $18 will go up 65 percent. The Padres have slashed concession prices dramatically too, according to Team Marketing Report.

Observers cite a number of factors for declining attendance: parking and traffic are much worse than at Qualcomm; despite the cuts, prices are still quite high; the recession hurts; tailgating is difficult; it’s a pitcher’s park and fans may prefer the long ball, among many things. The trading away of star slugger and hometown hero Adrian Gonzalez will not help 2011 attendance.

The top line has suffered, but the bottom line is another story. According to Forbes magazine, the Padres were worth $226 million in 2003. They were worth $408 million in 2010. That’s a hefty return during a period when other assets rattled along a rocky road. The team payroll dropped from $73.7 million in 2008 to $38.2 million in 2010.

Petco has basically followed the trend of other new parks: owners jack up prices tremendously for the initial novelty period, but then comes a steady falloff. “Petco Park hasn’t done all that badly compared to other parks,” says Neil deMause, who runs the website fieldofschemes.com. “The typical baseball-stadium honeymoon is two to eight years, depending on how the team does on the field.”

Says Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan who formerly lived in San Diego, “There is so much to do in San Diego. I suspect it is these other activities that drive much of the attendance issue for the Padres.”

Some of the Padres’ downtown problems would not be so nettlesome for the Chargers should they succeed in getting their downtown stadium. Traffic and parking might not be so bad on Sundays, for example.

Because in pro football there are far fewer games and more TV revenue than in baseball, says deMause, “You could put an NFL stadium in Kuala Lumpur and still make money so long as you could sell half a million tickets and get a share of national TV money.”

However, the differences between the Los Angeles and San Diego markets are stark. The L.A. metro market is 12.9 million versus 3.1 million in San Diego. More significantly, the Los Angeles market is home to the entertainment industry, which doesn’t suffer from the kind of foreign competition plaguing other industries. Los Angeles is satiated with billionaires. Any team locating there will have the pricing power to utilize such ploys as multiple luxury boxes and very expensive club seats.

Since back in the mid-1990s, when the Chargers lobbied for and received the makeover of the stadium now named Qualcomm, the team has left a trail proving that its first love is Los Angeles. Its original contract had a clause permitting it to shop the team around; when it agreed to drop the unpopular 60,000-seat guarantee, the team wangled three-month windows every year to announce any relocation; the cost of a notice of termination has dropped sharply; and there is no requirement that the team disclose that it is negotiating or has already signed a commitment to relocate. “Why would the Chargers ask for provisions like that if they are not intending to move?” asks former councilmember Bruce Henderson, who warned from the outset that the contracts San Diego was signing were “road maps to Los Angeles.” But he was vilified — and still is.

The economics of pro baseball and pro football differ. Consider: the two teams with the highest-priced tickets and concessions in baseball are the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. Their ballparks opened in 1912 and 1914, respectively. According to Forbes, the Red Sox are the second-richest team in baseball, worth $870 million, and the Cubs are fifth, worth $726 million. Football is a different story. The Dallas Cowboys, who have an obscenely glitzy new stadium, sport the highest-priced tickets and concessions and are worth the most in the league at $1.8 billion. The National Football League is hinting to Atlanta that it won’t get further Super Bowls because its stadium is so ancient. It’s all of 18 years old.

Former city attorney Mike Aguirre, who also warned that the Chargers contracts were the team’s ticket to Los Angeles, notes that Qualcomm seats 70,500 and the new stadium would seat 62,000. The Chargers would have to raise prices inordinately, and the Padres’ experience at Petco suggests that would be difficult in San Diego, where incomes are moderately above the national norm but the cost of living is far above average. San Diego is not loaded with billionaires or companies with money to burn on luxury boxes.

“San Diego is [the Chargers’] second choice; their first choice is L.A.,” says Aguirre. But everybody knows that — except San Diegans, who apparently enjoy getting fooled twice, three times, four times, five times…

Schools, Parks, and Safety Services Pay for the Chargers

December 15, 2010 — Don Bauder

Suppose a deeply depressed mayor of an insolvent city comes to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and laments that he has had to cut back on fire and police services, close recreation centers, slash library hours, and defer maintenance in neighborhoods whose infrastructure was already rotting. The people hate him. But in the next breath, the mayor exults that he has made a secret arrangement so his bankrupt city can give $700 million to its professional football team. So the people now love him.

Would Freud have the mayor committed to an asylum? Or have the citizens committed?

Actually, this seeming lunacy can be described by a phenomenon that the late economist Milton Friedman used to point to: the concentration of benefit and the diffusion of cost. That is, the person who wants a handout has a lot to gain. But the people who oppose it will only lose a little bit over a long period.

This is San Diego’s problem. There are three big power groups. City employees want to protect their outsize pensions. So they will scream loudly and vote in heavy numbers. Twenty percent of football followers are raging fanatics. So the politicians know that the fans will make a lot of noise and vote in big numbers.

Third, the real estate establishment doles out money to the politicians and gets its way. The classic case may have been the Naval Training Center, which the federal government gave to San Diego. In 1997, a distinguished committee decided to choose among five developers, settling on a subsidiary of Miami’s Lennar Corporation, which had experience converting military bases. But local developer Corky McMillin showered money on local politicians and got the job. McMillin made lavish promises — but the final document was radically changed. Nobody read it. The place turned into a traffic-clogging housing center.

And there’s the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), which bullies the Redevelopment Agency (city council) to push projects downtown. “CCDC captures the redevelopment money for downtown,” says Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego. The latest caper, which Erie calls “shameful,” was a late-night, secretive deal in the legislature permitting Centre City to boost substantially the cap on tax-increment funding it can spend on downtown redevelopment. Reason: to finance a publicly funded stadium for the Chargers. “To keep the Chargers here, the money is coming right out of services, schools, and governments. No other California city has something like CCDC. It has outlived its usefulness.”

San Diego’s battle is “services versus subsidies for developers, services versus subsidies for pro sports, and services versus pension benefits,” says former city attorney Mike Aguirre.

The media are part of the pro sports problem, says Erik Bruvold of the National University System Institute for Policy Research. “I know there is supposed to be an iron curtain between business and editorial, [but] it takes an extraordinary [newspaper] owner to say that we won’t pimp for a team.”

“This city doesn’t have a watchdog for the public interest,” says Norma Damashek, past president of the League of Women Voters. San Francisco’s military base, the Presidio, was almost entirely turned over to the citizenry, and not business. San Diego’s Naval Training Center went to a developer. “San Francisco is a city that belongs to the people, not to the big interests, as in San Diego.”

So there you have it, Dr. Freud. A councilmember knows that going against the Chargers will lead to defeat at the polls. As will trying to impose sanity on pensions. And the councilmember thumbing his or her nose at real estate developers may run out of financial support quickly. The unions representing city workers will battle anyone trying to reform pensions. And construction unions always support downtown projects, including publicly subsidized sports palaces.

Is a political solution possible? Ideas are floating about. Mayor Jerry Sanders wants to eliminate pension plans for new employees and replace them with 401(k)-like savings plans. He calls the idea “radical,” but the private sector has been doing it for years. Councilmember Carl DeMaio offers a “Roadmap to Recovery” that would cut pension benefits, freeze pay, and slash retiree health-care benefits for current employees.

There are several problems with DeMaio’s plan. One is that it depends greatly on cooperation from city employees. Good luck with that. And much of DeMaio’s plan depends on achieving savings through managed competition, or having the private sector bid against the government on certain projects. “The benefits of managed competition are highly exaggerated,” says Erie. In particular, managed competition will only work in a city that has a good record of riding herd on contracts. San Diego’s record is dismal. The experience at the Naval Training Center suggests that these contracts will go to big political donors.

A commission headed by advertising executive Bob Nelson recommends charging consumers for trash pickup, selling corporate naming rights for such things as lifeguard towers, privatizing municipal airports and golf courses, increasing business taxes, and leasing the profitable Miramar Landfill.

“San Diego has the lowest business taxes of California cities,” says Erie. Raising them could bring almost $100 million a year. “But outsourcing golf courses and airports doesn’t fundamentally address the issue. We have systematically underfunded services relative to other California cities.”

There is some optimism. Aguirre notes that the business establishment was divided on the projected Proposition D tax increase. By opposing Proposition D, the Republican Party, Lincoln Club, and San Diego County Taxpayers Association turned on its normal allies, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the mayor’s office. There are signs of a realization that, as Aguirre puts it, “If you destroy the city, what’s the point of building condos nobody can buy?”

Political activist Mel Shapiro is bullish on the workability of DeMaio’s plan: “I hate to say I admire a Republican, because I am a Democrat, but DeMaio is a bright guy,” says Shapiro.

But Damashek worries that community planning groups may be eliminated or emasculated. She is also concerned that a proposed conservancy running Balboa Park will lead to nearby hotels or other commercial enterprises. The process of redistricting the city for an added council seat may create an impenetrable conservative majority. “DeMaio and the mayor want to get certain things all taken care of before the City goes to bankruptcy court,” says Damashek.

“City employees can work 20 or 30 years, retire with 90 percent of their income, and live 30 more years. Those numbers don’t work,” but many councilmembers don’t understand that, says Bruvold. “I fear the current leadership is counting the days until the problems are on somebody else’s watch.”

The Chargers Don't Wear Pink

November 3, 2010 — Elizabeth Salaam

Ten minutes into the second quarter of the Chargers’ second preseason game, a crowd in the end-zone View section of Qualcomm Stadium stands up to shout, “Raiders suck! Raiders suck!” But the Chargers are playing the Cowboys, not the Raiders. And the chanting crowd isn’t looking at the field. Instead, they stand with their necks craned to watch a fight that has broken out behind them, in the very top rows. They’re amped. It’s only the second time the Chargers have played in the stadium in seven months, and these fans are ready for the season — and the glory of all that Raider-hating — to begin.

Eventually, a gang of red-shirted Elite security employees and a couple of bona fide police officers come running up the steep aisles to break up the fight. When they escort two smiling Raider fans and a bloody Charger fan back down the steps to the exit, the chant intensifies.

One aisle away, oblivious to the commotion, an eight-year-old girl named Rachel watches the action on the field with a pair of binoculars as big as her head. Her dad, Sam, sits beside her.

“Ever since she was a little baby girl, she would sit on my lap and watch football,” Sam says. “She’d read the sports page with me and look at the pictures. I’d turn the page, and she’d go, ‘No, stop,’ and she’d want to look at the pictures some more.”

Finally, tonight, he’s brought her to her first live football game. On this late August evening, as the last rays of sun disappear over the western edge of the stadium, they share nachos and pass the binoculars back and forth.

“She watches the games with me at home, too,” Sam says. “Every time LT would score a touchdown, we’d do a high five, and we have our own little hand slap going.”

Rachel is too excited to sit still. Every few minutes, she heads down the steps and leans over the railing to get a better overhead look at the crowd, the cheerleaders, the goalposts, and the players. She wears a baby-blue Philip Rivers jersey, shorts, and pink, silver, and black Airwalks. A blonde braid swings from the back of her head.

A few years ago, a “pink jersey” trend began among NFL teams. Presumably in an attempt to attract female fans, each team offered versions of their most popular jerseys in pink. This evening, the View section is, aside from one pink Cowboys jersey, fairly pink-free. The ladies and girls in this crowd wear everything but. Some wear sneakers, some wear short shorts and heels. There are backless shirts, sandals, boots, and everything between. But “the pink jersey fad seems to have come and gone,” says one spectator.

Rachel’s mother Kathy didn’t know this when she went to buy Rachel’s jersey.

“Last year, we got her a sweatshirt that was pink and white and said ‘Chargers’ across the front,” Kathy says over the phone, two days after the game. “This year, we told her we were sorry we couldn’t get her a pink-and-white jersey because they were all out. She said, ‘That’s okay. The Chargers don’t wear pink and white.’”

Sam and Kathy agree that Rachel is a girlie girl. During the game, she watches the cheerleaders through the binoculars as much as she does the football players. Still, Kathy believes that if it weren’t for a kidney problem that limits the amount of sun and physical contact Rachel can have, or for the fact that there aren’t any leagues that would take her, “Rachel would probably play football.”

Kathy finds Rachel’s love for football amusing and likes that it’s something Rachel and Sam can rally around for their father/daughter time. Every so often, Kathy will sit down with them, but only when she’s “totally obligation-free” and “can just kick back and have a good time and watch the game.” But it’s not a priority to her, not the way it is with Sam, whom she calls a “die-hard fan.”

He’s such a fan that he “even watches the NFL channel where they’ll repeat three-hour football games from ten years ago. So, it’s on all the time on our 52-inch big-screen.” The announcers, Kathy says, get on her nerves after a while. But the hardest thing about football season is that Sam’s priorities shift.

“For example, we’re supposed to go to church every Sunday, but he’s, like, ‘It depends on the game schedule,’” Kathy says. “And he’ll say, ‘I belong to the Church of the NFL.’ He literally says that.”

Kathy grew up with four brothers in a football-loving family, so she understands Sam’s point of view. She doesn’t want to force him to go to church, and she doesn’t want to be forced to watch football. But the understanding grew more complicated once Rachel was involved. “Rachel will say, ‘Can I stay home and watch the game with Daddy?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, no. We’re going to church, and you can watch the rest of it when you get home.’ That kind of thing is a bit of an issue. I don’t want [football] to take priority over family things.”

Even while imposing limits, Kathy supports Rachel’s love of the game. After Rachel and Sam return to their La Mesa home following the Chargers’ disappointing, but ultimately irrelevant, preseason loss to the Cowboys, Kathy listens happily as Rachel recounts the trolley ride, things she remembered about the crowd, and the number of times she got to see the cheerleaders.

Sam, Kathy says, is a big part of why Rachel loves football. He taught her everything she knows. Kathy warns other football-crazed fathers that their daughters will either grow up to love the game or they’ll “be resentful of it, like, ‘Oh, Daddy cares more about [football] than me.’” But she also believes that if these fathers engage their daughters and make it fun, the way Sam did for Rachel, they might end up with girls who love football, too.

“I’d rather read a book or look at pretty pictures.”

Colleen doesn’t care much for football. Her husband Philip says she’s the exception to his theory that married women learn to love the game through their husbands.

It’s the season’s first evening of Monday night football, and the Chargers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs. A big-screen television blasting the game takes center stage in the spacious, light-filled living room/kitchen of the Escondido home the couple shares with Colleen’s mother. Downstairs in the den, where it’s carpeted, cozy, and dim, another big-screen is also tuned to the game.

“September through January, football is always on,” Colleen says. “Constantly.”

It doesn’t bother her, though. Not because she’s a saint, but because Philip loves football, and “it would just be a problem to have a problem with it,” she says.

This evening, Colleen sits at the computer downstairs playing Bejeweled (a puzzle game) and shopping on Amazon while Philip does his homework in front of the television in the next room and feeds Cheez-Its to Artemis and Cocoa, the two dogs at his feet. Yesterday, while Philip spent the day watching football, she read three books and a story.

Yes, three full-length books and a short story. No Mercy, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, she bought for her Nook e-book reader. The other two books (Evermore by Alyson Noël and Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger) and the story (“The Girl on the Beach” by Charles Todd) she got for free — one of the perks of owning a Nook.

“I’m a voracious reader who tears through books,” she says. “To the point where other things get left undone.”

Reading is part of the reason Colleen doesn’t mind that football season keeps Philip occupied.

“I don’t mind having the time to myself,” she says. “It works out okay by giving us something we can do together — if I choose to.”

At the end of the first quarter, Philip pops his head into the office and says, “We’re tied.”

“Look at that smile,” Colleen says. “Only sports can give him that smile.”

Colleen has her own theories about football. Citing Mayan soccer, Roman chariot racing, and English jousting, she concludes that men’s need for competition is an “obvious” part of life and culture. “They not only need competition, but they need to talk about that competition with other males,” she says. “I think it’s probably biological.”

Men, she theorizes, are into the “game” of the game: the trades, the statistics, the tackles, and the plays. And for women who like football, Colleen suggests it’s probably more about socialization. “It’s something to talk about with other people, to think about, or to plan for. A place to go, something to do with their sweetheart.”

Although Colleen is the exception to Philip’s married-women-adapt-and-learn-to-like-football theory, she does occasionally live out the football-with-my-sweetheart socialization process of her own theory. “If we’re out somewhere where football is on TV, I’ll kind of watch it with him and ask questions,” she says, “like about Tomlinson and why we hate him.”

Colleen was a cheerleader in junior high and high school, and even back then, she preferred the social aspects of cheerleading over the rah-rah factor. Born and raised in San Diego, she claims that if she were to choose a team, it would have to be the Chargers.

At the same time, if it weren’t for Philip, she’d never watch football.

“I’d rather read a book, surf the internet and read the news, or look at pretty pictures,” she says.

A few minutes into the second quarter, Colleen abandons her Facebook page to join Philip and the dogs on the couch.

These days Philip doesn’t spend as much time watching football with the guys as he used to. He’s trying to avoid “getting drunk on Sundays,” he says. “It’s easy to drink a little extra when you’re watching the game with your friends.”

When they do host football parties, Colleen does not hang out in the kitchen, playing hostess. “For the football parties, it’s the guys’ thing,” she says. “They barbecue carne asada, and they have their beer and their chips. Everybody brings boy food.” Whatever wives or girlfriends are along might watch the game for a few minutes, but then they usually join Colleen for a jaunt to Starbucks or to play games on the computer.

Philip jokes that because Colleen isn’t enamored of football, and therefore glued to the television during games, she has no excuse for not serving cookies and Buffalo wings to his guests.

“I have plenty of excuses,” she says, giggling.

For the next few minutes, she sits, saying nothing and staring absently at the television until Philip informs her, “Our rookie just fumbled.”

To prove she understands the lingo, she says, “A rookie is a first-year player, and fumble means to drop the ball. Do I get a cookie?”

“Only if you name the rookie,” Philip says.

She can’t.

Lightning’s Girl

In the three-plus years since Lightning’s Girl joined the BoltTalk.com forum, she has posted 3385 times, for an average of 2.47 times per day. Her About Me page on the site reads, Interests: God and Family first, then CHARGERS football!

∗ ∗ ∗

BoltTalk.com
Date: July 13, 2010
Time: 6:12 p.m.
Thread Title: SHIT, this place is dead!!! Offseason sucks!
Thread started by: Lightning’s Girl
Post # 1: Lightning’s Girl
Just so ya know…I HATE the OFFSEASON!!!!!!!

∗ ∗ ∗

For Lightning’s Girl’s family, the off-season might be the best part of the year.

“I’ve got two sons and two daughters, and not one of them is a football fan,” says the 51-year-old nurse and grandmother of four. “It’s probably because of me. I do get emotional during the games. I stomp around. I jump up and down. I cuss. And, oh my gosh, when I smoked? I’d go through a pack a game.”

Her voice is deep and throaty. When she laughs, which she does often, it’s easy to imagine a puff of smoke escaping along with the sound.

∗ ∗ ∗

BoltTalk.com
Date: September 1, 2010
Time: 5:01 p.m.
Thread Title: San Diego Chargers Near Bottom of Most Valuable NFL Teams List
Thread started by: CoronaDoug
Post # 3: Lightning’s Girl
Bite your tongue!!! The Bolts must stay in San Diego…moving them to LA would be sacrilege of the worst order.

∗ ∗ ∗

Lightning’s Girl grew up in Ramona and has “essentially lived and died with this team every year for over four decades.” This, even though she lives in western Oregon and hasn’t been to San Diego in at least ten years.

“Shoot, I remember seeing Lance Alworth play in the late ’60s,” she says. “I remember watching the fans pour beer on Harland Svare when he was coaching. Oh, those were some really hairy years.”

Although she doesn’t recall her very first game, there is one in particular that she says she’ll remember for the rest of her life. It was October 1970, and “the whole end of the state was on fire.” The temperature was at least 105. Lightning’s Girl and her mother went to the stadium to watch the game while her father stayed home to hose down their chicken ranch and protect it from the flames.

“It was so weird because the sun was shining through the smoke,” she recalls, “and it looked like a huge copper penny.”

These were the days before cell phones, and Lightning’s Girl remembers that although the stands held 40,000 or so people that day, they kept getting called out of the stands over the PA so that by the time the day was over, there were only 25,000 people left.

“Ashes were falling all over everything,” she says, “and here these guys were still playing football in the middle of all this. It was kind of surreal, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

∗ ∗ ∗

BoltTalk.com
Date: September 2, 2010
Time: 10:06 p.m.
Thread Title: Official Game Day Thread: Chargers @ 49ers – 9/2.
Thread started by: LightEmUp
Post #49: Lightning’s Girl
Shit. 1–3 in preseason. Hope things go better when it counts.

∗ ∗ ∗

During games, Lightning’s Girl wears an old Junior Seau jersey. Western Oregon, she says, doesn’t have much in the way of Chargers gear.

“Everything around here is 49ers, Broncos, Seahawks. And Raiders!” she exclaims. “I mean, who in the heck wants Raiders gear?”

Again, the throaty laughter.

Speaking of the Raiders, she jokes that Raider-hating is a “congenital” affliction. “As far back as I can remember, that’s just the way it was.”

Oakland, she says, “is a dirty town. I’ll never forget when my mother and I were on an airplane. We were going to San Francisco, and the stewardess — excuse me, ‘flight attendant,’ this was the ’70s — the stewardess was going on about how she could always tell when people from Oakland had been on the plane because they trashed it. She said she had to pick up crap and cigarette butts off the floor — you could still smoke on the airplane back then. My mother and I just sat there and laughed.”

She cackles, then says, in all seriousness, “I’ve been to Oakland. It’s not pretty there.”

∗ ∗ ∗

BoltTalk.com
Date: September 14, 2010
Time: 7:01 p.m.
Thread Title: Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes the bug.
Thread Started by: Concudan
Post #4: Lightning’s Girl
I’ve said this for years, but I’m going to repeat it since the coaching staff doesn’t get it: they HAVE to start mixing up the play-calling better! Even my 5-year-old grandson knows that they’re gonna run on first down…

∗ ∗ ∗

Lightning’s Girl is disappointed at the team’s performance in the preseason and opening game of the season, but no matter what happens this year or in coming years, Lightning’s Girl is in it for life.

“San Diego tends to have a lot of fair-weather friends, unfortunately, and bandwagon jumpers,” she says. “But then there are some of us that are just hard-core Charger believers and have been for 40 years.”

This year, as every other, she has her fingers crossed. Her hopes are set on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates. “And of course Philip Rivers is fabulous,” she says. “I love him to pieces.”

“She’s hot and she watches football?”

Lisa’s Carlsbad home bears the mark of young children. A giant helium-filled number “five,” left over from her daughter’s fifth birthday party, floats in front of the fireplace mantle. Two guinea-pig-sized Zhu Zhu pets lie on their sides on a coffee table cluttered with tiny plastic cakes and coconut drinks, a miniature thatched-roof bar, and other accoutrements from a Barbie Hawaiian Vacation play set.

The children themselves sit on a pint-sized love seat and easy chair stationed on the floor in front of the coffee table. Eight-year-old Zane sports cowboy pajamas, and Talia wears the footed kind with red and pink hearts. The two play games on a Wii while they wait for their mother to come home from an early-evening run and crank up the Tivo. The Chargers–49ers game is probably almost into halftime.

By the time Lisa returns and changes into jeans and a navy blue T-shirt with a glittery yellow lightning bolt, her husband Mark has already started the game.

“We haven’t scored yet, have we?” Lisa asks, approaching a pile of freshly washed and not-yet-folded clothes piled to the right of the couch.

The question might be innocuous in other circumstances. In this case, it’s almost a warning, as in: You were supposed to wait. I’d better not have missed anything.

Just then, San Francisco’s Anthony Dixon breaks free and sprints for the end zone. Zane, who has recently decided that he will one day play for the 49ers, is clearly torn.

“No, no, no, no!” he shouts. And then, “Well, actually kind of yes.”

Both Lisa and Mark groan, and Lisa says, “It’s a little worrying that we won the first preseason game, but we can’t win any others.”

Then, it’s time to pause the game so she can get the kids’ teeth brushed and their little butts in bed.

“Go, Chargers!” shouts Talia as a final good-bye.

Once the kids are in bed, Mark and Lisa resume the game, sitting side-by-side on the couch. To hell with the laundry, Lisa has apparently decided.

“Volek is already in, in the first quarter?” Lisa asks, surprised to see the second-string quarterback on the field.

Mark explains that in final preseason games like this one, some coaches choose not to risk injury to their starting players.

Lisa’s love for football didn’t start with the Chargers. It began in Virginia, where she grew up watching the Redskins with friends and the youth group from her church. “It was definitely a fun, social event,” she says.

She all but abandoned the Redskins years ago when she and Mark moved to San Francisco. After a brief love affair with the 49ers, they moved to San Diego in 2000, and now it’s Chargers all the way. Some people, she says, can watch any football game, anytime, but her interest usually centers around her one chosen team.

“If it’s another team that has some sort of impact on the Chargers, then I might be interested,” she says.

She can’t promise that if she moves away from San Diego, another team won’t grow on her. But she has already proven that she’s no fair-weather fan. She and Mark bought their first mini-season pass shortly after their arrival to America’s Finest City, even though the team was “in the dumps.” Eight or nine subsequent years’ of season tickets have bolstered the relationship.

Kids, late babysitters, and the drive to the stadium from Carlsbad mean they often have to listen to the first quarter on the radio. And, yes, occasionally they do duck out early to avoid heavy traffic. But they also prove their fan status by attending open training-camp practices at least once a year. Plus, Lisa wears one of her two Charger T-shirts and her pretty gold lightning-bolt earrings to every game.

All conversations stop as the 49ers score. Lisa hits the rewind button several times, talks at the game officials as they review the play, and cheers when the touchdown is overturned.

Despite Lisa’s disclaimer that she’s not a fanatic face-painter, Mark calls her “a pretty devoted fan.” If he’s flipping through the channels and something about the Chargers is on ESPN, she’ll ask him to pause. This year, during the off-season, it was she who kept him updated about holdouts Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeal, who had not yet signed contracts even as the season began.

And, yet, there is a limit.

There are times when “enough is enough,” she says of Mark’s obsession with fantasy football. “When he’s on the phone long distance, on a conference call to Virginia for five hours doing his draft, I’m, like, ‘Okay, it’s time to eat dinner.’”

Mark has co-owned a team with his best friend from Virginia for seven or eight years and for the past two or three was even commissioner of a fantasy-football league. While Lisa thinks it’s great that he has this hobby, sometimes it gets in the way.

“When he’s rooting for his fantasy team, he’s watching whatever random game and asking the kids to be quiet. And I’m, like, ‘Come on, the poor kids have already sat through both of us watching the Chargers game. I think three hours is plenty.” She also says that as much as she loves her team, she’s “not going to put important life things on hold for football.”

Mark admits that he feels lucky to have landed a woman who likes football, especially since they’re both rooting for the same team. Despite her voiced opinions now, Lisa doesn’t complain to him much. Not these days.

“I’ve gotten used to it, I guess. There definitely were times where I thought, This is just ridiculous, because for me, it still is just a game.”

Lisa confesses that she thinks Mark’s lucky to have landed her, too. She doesn’t give him a hard time when he chooses football over kiddie birthday parties or other social functions. She remembers long ago overhearing one of Mark’s friends say something along the lines of “She’s hot and she watches football?”

There may have been an affectionate-but-manly shoulder punch involved, but who remembers these details?

“So, uh, is this a Chargers game?”

At 5:30 p.m. on the last Friday in August, a small crowd of Chargers fans gathers at Seau’s in Mission Valley to watch the team’s third preseason game. Aside from one little boy dressed — hat and holster — as Woody from Toy Story and running around the dining room on an imaginary horse, the rest of the diners and drinkers watch the restaurant’s 12-by-14-foot projection screen. About half have come dressed for the occasion in Chargers gear — jerseys, T-shirts, hats. Even a handful of the young female servers sport their baby blues and #17 jerseys. One breaks the mold in a tight-fitting referee shirt and red lipstick. The scent of pizza, beer, and french fries fills the air.

Into this scene walks Tina, a 37-year-old handbag designer and D.C. native who has come to join her friend Liz (a Saints fan) for dinner.

“So, uh, is this a Chargers game?” she asks as she sits down. “I guess the season has started.”

Liz laughs and claims to be unsurprised that last year’s attempt to convert Tina into a football lover didn’t take. “I thought if I could just teach her a little bit about the game, she’d get involved and then get addicted. That’s how it happened for me. But when we sat down to watch a game together, she fell asleep.”

Although this game, like the one against the Cowboys last week, won’t count for or against the Chargers’ season record, the crowd is animated, involved, and, clearly eager for football season to begin. They stand up from their burgers and brews, either to yell at the on-screen refs or to clap their neighbors on the back. At a table behind Tina and Liz, a woman eating onion rings calls out, “Jesus Christ!” and “Come ON!” every minute or so.

Less than ten minutes into the first quarter, the highly touted rookie running back Ryan Mathews sets up the Chargers’ first touchdown with two key rushes for nine yards. A table of four celebrates along with the rest of the crowd. A blonde woman who looks as if she’s already had a few drinks kisses the man next to her. A man with a handlebar mustache and a #24 jersey raises his arms touchdown-style, shouts, “Matthews, baby!” and then high-fives his wife.

Tina wants to love football, but she doesn’t understand it. The rules baffle her.

“I know the teams are trying to get the ball to the opposite sides,” she says. “But beyond that, I just start tuning out. I’ve had lots of people try to turn me on to it. I just can’t get turned on.”

But she keeps trying.

Last year, she joined a group of friends on ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ’Em, where she bet on every NFL game every week. Each person put $20 into a pot that would go to whoever had the most correct picks at the end of the season. Tina thought betting would give her a reason to pay attention to the scores, at least. She logged on to ESPN faithfully for the first three or four weeks. Her picks, she says, were “stabs in the dark.”

“I was, like, ‘Oh, I’ve been to New Orleans. I loved it. Let’s go with New Orleans,’” she says. “I also had a hometown affinity for the Redskins since I grew up outside of D.C.”

The funny thing is, even choosing randomly, Tina held the high score for the first two weeks of the season. “The betting did help keep me interested in the beginning,” she says, “but it didn’t make me watch it enough to get into it.” She thought maybe live action would help, too, so she joined her sister at a Chargers game last season.

“I think it was halfway through the game, and I was, like, ‘You mean the Chargers are wearing the dark blue and white? I thought they wore light blue and yellow,’” she says. “I’m telling you, my mind is not built for this. When I try to watch a game, I start thinking about what I need to buy at the grocery store.”

A few tables over, a young woman in large hoop earrings and false eyelashes snuggles up to her Matthews-jersey-wearing guy, giving the impression that she’s here as a favor to him. But, then, when wide receiver Malcom Floyd scores the Chargers’ second touchdown, she puts down her fruity drink and engages in a complex, private handshake with her man.

Liz asks if Tina can tell who’s winning the game. Tina looks up at the screen for a good, long time without saying anything. Liz laughs.

“I was looking for the words ‘Chargers’ and ‘Saints’ and trying to figure out what the SD and the NO stand for,” Tina says. “That’s a good example of why I can’t follow.”

So why does she keep trying? For one, it’s social, and she doesn’t like being the only one who doesn’t seem to get it. And, maybe more importantly, she’s single. “It would be good for developing a rapport with guys who like football,” she confesses.

Last year, the guy she was dating was a big football fan, and although she didn’t mind hanging out with him on Sundays and watching the games, she felt as if it was his world rather than something they shared.

These days, she’s got a new guy. It’s too new (and too early in the season) to know whether or not he’s into football. “I kinda hope he’s not,” she says. But if he is, she’ll keep trying.

In the final 23 seconds of the Saints–Chargers game, when the score is 29–21 Saints, Liz attempts to explain why it’s likely the Chargers won’t win this one.

“Do you know how many points a touchdown is worth?” she asks.

“Um, seven?” Tina says.

“Well, not exactly. It’s really six, and then they get a chance to score an extra point — ” Suddenly, Saints cornerback Leigh Torrence intercepts a pass intended for Shawnbrey McNeal. Liz stops talking, jumps up, and shouts, “Go, go!” The rest of the crowd screams, “No! No!!”

Eighty-seven yards and one Saints touchdown later, Liz claps and hoots with joy. She asks Tina, “Do you know what just happened?”

“They scored a touchdown?” Tina guesses.

Football First, Water Last

February 3, 2010 — Don Bauder

In his State of the City speech on January 13, Mayor Jerry Sanders devoted 434 words to the possibility of taxpayers shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars for a subsidized Chargers stadium and 174 words to the idea of those taxpayers paying for an expansion of the convention center. But Sanders devoted only 114 words to the subject of water — far and away the most critical short-term and long-term problem facing San Diego. He devoted zero words to water conservation.

The day after the speech, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge knocked down critical parts of a 2003 agreement that, among many things, had cleared the way for San Diego to get water from the Imperial Valley. The San Diego County Water Authority pays a stiff price for that water, and it’s now fully 26 percent of the amount the county uses. Unless the Sacramento case is reversed on appeal, more woes lie ahead.

Most frighteningly, those woes include possible desertification of the Southwest — the drought of today leading to a dust bowl by the middle of the century. Some experts foresee that horror. Actually, when San Diego wangled the deal for Imperial water, some citizens there had visions of a Depression-era dust bowl. Already, that concern is hitting home. Transfers of water to San Diego reduce the Salton Sea’s shoreline, resulting in blowing dust that produces harmful health effects on Imperial Valley residents. That’s part of the battle in the Sacramento lawsuit.

“Water is the basis of this entire region — not stadiums, not convention centers. Water has to be our first priority,” says Steve Erie, director of the Urban Studies and Planning program at the University of California San Diego, where he is a political science professor. “The Salton Sea remains the Achilles’ heel of San Diego’s water future.” But Mayor Sanders is blithely unconcerned. “It’s not the stuff below ground,” says Erie, “but the legacy projects above ground that preoccupy this mayor.”

Says Councilmember Donna Frye, “My position is that you take care of basic needs — infrastructure, deferred maintenance, homeless issues, basic services that citizens need before you look at things that are nice to have. If the Chargers want to put up the money to build a stadium, I will be happy to be helpful.” San Diego’s water situation is most critical and “is going to get much worse than some people even imagine.”

“Putting a football stadium ahead of water reflects an immaturity of leadership that has permeated San Diego for the last three mayors — Golding, Murphy, and Sanders,” says former city attorney Mike Aguirre.

Says Norma Damashek, president of the local League of Women Voters, “The mayor talks about clean technology, which will depend on a reliable and adequate water supply. Biotech and high tech depend on a stable source of water. There are many opportunities for him to step forward and talk about a water conservation plan for San Diego that could put us on the map. But he does not act as a responsible leader should act. He substitutes words for planning and action.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles “is producing a $3 billion water conservation and recycling program,” says Erie. San Diego gets more than half of its water from L.A.’s Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “L.A. has its own supply and is not in the dire straits that we are in. We are the most at risk and act as if it’s of limited concern.”

The San Diego City Council wanted to look at water recycling, the process with the distasteful political moniker “toilet-to-tap.” (Actually, a large amount of the water that San Diego buys is already recycled. Water that comes down the Colorado River is used by municipalities upstream that treat it and dump it back in the river.) The mayor initially vetoed the idea, but the council overrode him. Now, the City has a demonstration project, indirect potable reuse, that augments a local reservoir with recycled wastewater. “The mayor has not been particularly helpful,” says Frye, head of the council’s Natural Resources Committee and the leader who has done by far the most to address the water question.

She is pushing to make mandatory conservation permanent, have tougher penalties for those breaking conservation rules, clamp down on new development, and offer tax credits to homeowners who dig up lawns and plant drought-tolerant native vegetation.

As global warming progresses, the snow pack will melt earlier, water will flow more quickly to California, and there will have to be more storage facilities to capture runoff. Frye is already pursuing ways for citizens to capture rainwater.

Carlsbad hopes to have a desalination plant up and running in two years, but it would serve only 100,000 households and faces financing and environmental legal barriers. “It is so energy inefficient,” says Frye. “Why use outdated technology?” Some would like to see the City of San Diego have its own desalination program.

Recently, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group studied exhaustive data on the quality of water in 100 U.S. cities. San Diego came in 92nd and was cited as one of the ten worst metropolitan areas. The study focused on 315 pollutants in tap water, more than half of which are not subject to health and safety regulations. A significant number exceeded federal guidelines. “I am amazed that nobody at city hall has addressed this study of contaminants in the water,” says civic activist Mel Shapiro. “Maybe there should be a regular investigation.” Frye says her Natural Resources Committee will soon docket the matter.

Meanwhile, Centre City Development Corporation, the downtown redevelopment facilitator, will look into whether it can lift the cap on how much future property tax revenue can be directed downtown. It expects to hit the state-mandated limit in 2023 or so. To raise that cap, Centre City would have to get permission from major state and local bodies. There is no question that the money would be earmarked for the Chargers, who expect to rake in a subsidy of $500 million to $700 million or more.

“I am real concerned about the financial condition of CCDC,” says Frye. The city administration won’t provide her with information she sought long ago. “I don’t see any point in rearranging things, trying to figure out how to restructure something [Centre City] that is out of money.”

But Centre City and its development-industry puppeteers are only interested in more construction, even though the current rotting infrastructure won’t support what is already in place. In football parlance, it is high time that all the city leaders who are under the thumb of developers got sacked.

Nuts and Bolts

The football game is one thing, fandom is something else.

December 2, 2009 — Matthew Lickona

December 2, 2007: During his radio broadcast of the San Diego Chargers’ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, announcer Hank Bauer gave a shout-out to Charger fan Alfred Silva, who was battling cancer. (Silva’s brother-in-law Jim Muse Jr. golfed with Bauer and had put in the request.)

By March of 2008, Silva had succumbed. But when he was laid to rest at Singing Hills, it was in a powder blue coffin trimmed with gold — Charger colors. His body was dressed in a jersey honoring his favorite player, Lance Alworth. (Not, however, the jersey that Alworth signed for Silva with his old Bambi nickname; that one still hangs, under glass, on the wall in the Silva home.) On his feet, his Charger shoes; on his head, his Charger hat. “It was awesome,” recalled his son Armando during a recent tailgate party in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot. “He was ready to go up and watch some more football.”

Armando, now 26 and living in Lemon Grove, also wore an Alworth jersey to the funeral. His was a $350 NFL authentic throwback from 1963; its royal blue darker, its weave tighter, and its fabric heftier than the current version. “These are supposedly the game-play jerseys,” he explained, “made to NFL specifications, all that good stuff.” He bought it for the occasion, along with a pair of Nike Air Jordans he found at Foot Locker. “They just matched too perfectly” — the blue and gold just a hair richer and deeper than the shades used today. “I saw them the week of Dad’s funeral, and I had to grab ’em.”

Fandom is a Silva tradition; Alfred had grown up being taken to Chargers games at Balboa Stadium by his father. “They were diehards,” said Armando, “and I was born into that and grew into that. There was no other way to be. It’s in the blood.” Armando and Alfred attended at least two games a season — “someone would have two tickets, and me and him would jump all over it, whatever it took.” Then, four years ago, Dad found he had the wherewithal to buy season tickets — a dream fulfilled before the end. These days, Armando comes to games — and the tailgates that precede them — with his mother Shelia and his cousins Troy and Matt. “Whoever else comes along, it’s always us.” And they all wear their jerseys.


It’s 10:30 on the morning of September 27, and it feels a mite early to be seeing a middle-aged woman in a lace-up Chargers-themed corset-shirt-thingy. But what are you going to do? Game time (against the Miami Dolphins) is 1:15, and the tailgates are already dropped in the parking lot surrounding Qualcomm, and so a gal’s gonna wear her party gear on the trolley ride in from La Mesa, even if it’s not the standard combination of short shorts and a jersey.

Jerseys: here at the Grossmont trolley stop there are 14, some fitted, some stretched by the belly beneath, but mostly baggy and big. Navy, white, and powder blue, full of minor variations that reflect both status and era (more on this later). Linebacker Shawne Merriman (#56) and tight end Antonio Gates (#85) get three apiece, two feature wide receiver Vincent Jackson’s #83, and only one honors quarterback Philip Rivers (#17). One woman wears quarterback Drew Brees’s #9, even though he’s currently playing for the New Orleans Saints.

After we board, a couple laments to the passenger across from them that they named their first child Ryan. “It was just Ryan,” insists the wife. “It had nothing to do with Ryan Leaf!” — the franchise quarterback who proved to be San Diego’s draft debacle of 1998. And lo and behold, they named their next child Andrew, right around the time Drew Brees came on the scene in 2001.

At the San Diego State stop, a bunch of Dolphins jerseys climb onboard; more than a few bear quarterback Dan Marino’s name and number. Marino retired in ’99. Sure, he was one of the greats, but the preponderance of #13s gives a nostalgic feel to the fandom: remember when?

A young man leans over toward his girlfriend. “You know why you see so many jerseys from other teams?” he asks. “Because who wants to live in Pittsburgh? Tennessee? New England? Nobody. Who wants to live in San Diego? Everybody” — even if it means coming here and then rooting for the boys from somewhere else. “Greatest city in the world,” finishes the young man. “Fuck, yeah,” affirms his girl, and they bump fists.

The trolley slopes down into Mission Valley, cuts over top of Interstate 8, and finally pulls into the Qualcomm station. Below, in the vast, pale gray parking lot, a city of shade tents sprawls out in every direction from the high walls of the stadium. The roofs are as uniform as any ancient Italian village, but where Assisi goes with red tile, Chargertown chooses blue nylon. Dozens of flagpoles poke up from the roofline: Old Glory and the California Republic, but mostly the San Diego Chargers. Out at the edge of the lot, rows of RVs form a sort of outer wall, a line of defense against the enemy fans as they drive in (or out).

The selling begins when you hit the bottom of the ramp leading from the trolley station into the lot: $5 for a game-day magazine, $10 for a team yearbook, and $17 for a Charger Girls calendar. A couple of the Girls, already suited up in their cheerfully fleshy uniforms, make their way past the rows of tailgaters — arms full of calendars as they head for the signing booth inside the Bud Light Power Party zone. Inside, just past the scaffolding supporting the 20-foot TV screens (What’s on? Football. Did you have to ask?), a cover band rasps its way through ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” Next to them, a mobile Carl’s Jr. sells burgers, etc.; a few tents down, you can get a 20-ounce Bud Select draft for $7. (You can get 16-ounce Bud Chelada for the same price: Budweiser and Clamato, premixed in the can.)

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.)

But unless you’re a coldhearted gambling machine, love tends to muck up even the most levelheaded process. “Last year, the Chargers went 8–8, so that means I lost eight of my games” — Fleming won’t bet against his boys. “They were high-point-value losses too, because they had all that talent” — they should have won! “They just didn’t put it together. And I like Chicago, but they cost me a lot of points last year. Right now, I have emotional attachments to New Orleans — I like Brees — and Minnesota, because I think Brett Favre’s coming out of retirement is a great story. And I like Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. I can’t stand his brother Eli, because I’m a Charger fan,” and Eli slipped away from San Diego to New York, where he led the Giants to the championship. “But I did pick him to win this Sunday, even though I’ll be rooting for Arizona.”

Sometimes, however, antipathy is enough to govern the bet. “Washington is due to lose again,” observed Fleming, “but I picked Washington over Philadelphia this week, because Philadelphia gave a win to the Oakland Raiders. So I don’t like them right now: ‘You can’t beat the team I hate? Then I hate you.’ How’s that for emotional involvement? It’s different from baseball — there, you’re looking at 162 games. In football, you’ve got 16 games, and you can be done for the season if you lose 5, the way New England did last year. They went 11–5 and didn’t make the play-offs. Your game is on Sunday or Monday, and you have five or six days until the next game. You read the paper, and you listen to the radio, and each day the anticipation gets bigger. Then your game is played, and it’s either tragic or phenomenal, and then it builds toward the next week.”

At least, if you’re a fan. Like Prida, Fleming is frustrated with Coach Turner, and emotion is a big part of the problem. “He’s a monotone, flatline emotionality coach. Football’s an emotional game; you’ve got to fire those guys up. The Chargers haven’t scored a touchdown in their opening drive in something like 20 games. That’s the coach. Always coming from behind defeats the troops.”


Back to the parking lot, pre-Miami. “Do you want a taco?” asks Jadette Lowery as I admire the array of food spread out across the tailgate of her pickup truck. “These are dolphin tacos,” she says with a smile, gesturing at the pile of battered fish warming in tinfoil atop a nearby kettle grill. “Last week, for the Ravens, we had Cornish game hens.” She’s kidding about the dolphin, and she’s quick to note that “for the Broncos, we’ll just have chicken — no horsemeat.” Together with her friend Mary Kingsley, she has been up since 4:00 a.m. preparing the spread: Mexican rice with cactus, homemade pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, sliced lime, refried beans, shredded cheese, and all that battered fish. Come to think of it, I do want a taco.

A few minutes later, Lowery and Kingsley carry plates full of food to their crowd, gathered under a couple of shade tents. I wander down the gentle slope of the lot toward the row of limousines in the section cordoned off by blue plastic flags. Six fans gather under a tent set up next to a Chrysler 300 stretch job. (One local service offers you eight hours of such service — including drinks! — for $749.) Past the limos is section H2, surrounded by a chain-link fence — the broad uniformity of Qualcomm gets properly carved up come game day (location, etc.) — and just inside the fence is where the Silvas have set up camp. When Dad first nailed down his season tickets, the Silvas did their tailgating in the lot’s RV section, but for the past two seasons, they’ve been here.

A long black beach chair emblazoned with the Chargers’ logo sits empty in the shade, a tribute to the man who bought the tickets and found the spot before he passed. More chairs line the left side of the tent; tables with warming trays line the right. Today’s feast includes tri-tip slathered in a sweet sauce, intensely yellow egg salad, beans, and chicken grilled on-site, skewered between chunks of tomatoes and onions. Armando takes a bite, and a tomato explodes all over his shorts. “No more tomatoes!” he exclaims. “But at least the jersey is clean, so I’m still good.”

Armando packed the truck at home and unloaded it upon arrival; his mother Shelia got everything ready beforehand. “Put in something about how they always fight in the morning before the game,” pleaded Troy. “Him telling her to hurry up; her telling him to shut up.”

“They always lie to us about when they’re leaving,” complains Shelia. “They’ll say they’re leaving an hour before they are, just so we’re ready.”

“And she’s still half an hour late!” marvels Armando.

Shelia wears a girl-cut powder blue #21 jersey — Tomlinson’s number. But these days, she’s thinking about #83, Vince Jackson. “I love LT, but there’s somebody new I’m checking out,” she says. “I saw him on a video clip, where they were doing a fund-raiser for kids. The Chargers giving back; that caught my attention. And then when I looked at him, I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I just need to find the right female jersey.”

Troy is wearing Antonio Gates’s #85, also in powder blue, while his brother Matt wears Merriman’s #56 in navy. “If I bought a new one,” he says, “it’d be Antonio Cromartie [cornerback, #31] — because he’s the best, the fuckin’ best. But I can’t see spending the money. Maybe when this one starts tearing up. I’d love to get it autographed, then hang it up and never wear it again.”

Shawne Merriman was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting reality television personality Tila Tequila. However, no charges were ever filed, and the case is now closed — and the episode doesn’t seem to have hurt his popularity. Besides Matt’s, I see a host of Merriman jerseys at the game, many of them on women. Still, says Armando, fanhood goes only so far. “Say Vincent Jackson got traded away. I think he’s a talent, but at the same time, the guy’s got some DUIs and off-the-field issues he needs to resolve. When I was a kid, I idolized all these guys. Those are the guys I looked up to. I’ve got a nephew — he’s only six years old, but I’m shaping him toward being a Charger fan, and I don’t want him looking up to people that way. ‘Oh, it’s cool that he excels on the field, so don’t worry about off the field. He can drive drunk when he wants.’ ” Not that he imagines there was ever a time when things were terribly different. “I think it gets publicized more now, that it was swept under the rug back in the day. And I think people know that. It’s probably why people are closer to these guys today — both the good and the bad is more publicized. They feel like they know them a little bit more.”

The Chargers are Armando’s team, but his loyalties to this or that player once he leaves the squad depend on circumstance. He still likes Drew Brees, who got shipped out because general manager A.J. Smith wanted Philip Rivers. “I think he handled being traded correctly and that we didn’t do as well as we could have. But I root against the Giants because they have Eli Manning,” who famously stated that he wouldn’t play for San Diego if they drafted him. “Can’t stand the guy.”

And if the Chargers pulled up stakes and moved out of town? “It’d break my heart. I’d almost root for people to beat them.”

The Silvas count themselves among the surprising number of tailgaters who watch football on TV while they prepare to watch football in the stadium. A Honda generator thrums away in one corner of their setup, pumping electricity to a flat-screen Polaroid TV, a Pioneer receiver, and a DirecTV box borrowed from one of the attendees. Armando’s cousin Troy points the satellite dish between two particular houses on the southern ridge above Mission Valley, searching for the signal. “You have to aim it there,” says Armando. “We learned this from all the people we studied.”

The day grooves toward its midpoint. There is beer, and there is football, and there is family. There is also Jackie from Sycuan, clad in Alyssa Milano jeans with Charger bolts on the back pockets. “We have a Sycuan skybox,” she explains, “but Shelia’s brother was married to my sister, and so we’ve been in the same family for years. When her husband passed away, I stepped up and bought his ticket and started coming here” for the pregame warm-up. “This is better; it’s more family-oriented. They introduce me to people as Auntie Jackie.”


After a sandwich, a skewer, and some more wandering, it’s time to head inside — past the guy selling Filet o’ Fish signs, past the cutout of the Simpsons sea captain holding a dolphin and roaring, “Arrrr — they blow.” (In his other hand, he grips a dead cat by the neck; the caption reads, “This cat ain’t so wild,” a reference to Miami’s option-heavy Wildcat offense.) Through security, listening to the recorded warning that privately taken pictures and video had better not show up on the internet. Up, up, up the circular ramp to the bargain-priced (I paid $67) family section, where your behavior is supposed to be kid-friendly. And it is; the rudest thing I hear is a fan shouting, “Where you at, Merriman? You need to stay away from the Tequila!” a reference to the linebacker’s arrest. The ban on alcohol, however, is ignored.

Beer and Football!

Inside the stadium, a Coors will cost you $8.75; a Gordon Biersch, $9.75. But even if the price doesn’t hold you back, there are controls on the flow of amber goodness. “All alcohol sales will stop at the conclusion of the third quarter,” reads the sign by the concession stand. “Service limit: two alcoholic drinks per transaction per person until the end of halftime. Third quarter: one alcoholic drink per transaction per person.” Registered designated drivers are entered into a drawing for Anheuser-Busch merchandise. And throughout the game, there are reminders from both players and fans to keep things under control. “You’re responsible for your language, actions, and behavior. It’s about being responsible. If you’re going to drink, have a designated driver. Most of all, it’s about the game. This is America’s Finest City; let’s be America’s Finest Fans.… The Fan Code of Conduct: refrain from abusive language. Don’t throw objects on the field.” Violators face “ejection, prosecution, and the loss of season-ticket privileges.” Harshest of all, violators may be reported via text message — you never know who might be tapping away and sealing your fate.

September is Hispanic Heritage Month, and so the pregame show features Mariachi Real de San Diego playing while Ballet Xochitl twirls its bright skirts across the field. “For more than 20 years,” beams the announcer, “Señora Martha Sanchez has been teaching area youngsters, educating them in Hispanic history, culture, and dance.” The cameras zoom in on happy children as they spin, and up it goes on the JumboTron. I can’t believe the sweetness — is this a pro football game?

Yes it is. The kids and the mariachis depart the field, and here come the Charger Girls, lining up to form a corridor leading out from the mouth of an inflatable Chargerdome. “And here come your AFC West San Diego Chargers,” cries the announcer, and boom go the cannons and whoosh go the rockets up above even where I’m sitting. As each starter hears his name, he trots out through the corridor, and a great cheer goes up, and two more rockets burst in the heavens. Darren Sproles gets the biggest shout of the bunch, but the fans are happy to see everyone, happy to shout and whoop, happy to revel in the spectacle. When the Coast Guard sends two Jayhawk helicopters buzzing over the stadium after the national anthem, it seems only right that they should be here. When Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” starts up before the kickoff, it seems perfectly natural (though it does get a bit old after the fifth or sixth go-round).

The game? The game is a parade of thrills, jolts, and disappointments, followed by more thrills, jolts, and disappointments. The cheering swells, inexhaustible, behind play after play. When Miami fumbles on the goal line after carving through our defense, I get my first taste of bedlam. It’s great. Even though the crowd up here seems as if it’s half Miami fans, the shouting is almost tangible. I get it again when the Chargers finally punch in a touchdown with 2:02 left in the third quarter, the cannons firing. A dolphin’s chirp sounds over the PA. “Hear that?” a father asks his son. “That’s Flipper, caught in the net.”

Of course, there’s a fair amount of standing around between plays and even more between quarters. Time for a distraction. “Now, we call your attention to the west end zone,” booms the announcer. “California Girls!” And there they are, golden pom-poms glittering in the sun so that you can follow ’em even from way up here: the Charger Girls, our very own professional cheerleaders, twirling, kicking, bending, thrusting, shaking, swiveling, stretching, jumping, throwing their hair from hither to yon and back again, and collapsing into an artful arrangement as the song comes to a close. (Here, the reader may be tempted to think that I just dipped into my Big Book of Gerunds and picked a dozen or so at random. But I didn’t.) An older dude a few rows below me, his tanned torso uncomplicated by any sort of shirt, dances along; no one seems to mind. The announcer comes back on, beaming. “The hottest dance team in the NFL: your Charger Girls!” and the fans applaud.

Surreal hiccup: Somewhere around the third quarter, the PA fires up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and the crowd shouts along. “Just a small-town girl/ Living in a lonely world…” There are 67,320 fans here today; even if only a third of them are singing, it’s an amazing sound. I’m half-tempted to look around for some sign that we’re in a music video.

By the fourth quarter, the score is 16–6 San Diego, and the fans start trickling out to beat the traffic. A comeback seems unlikely; Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington has been gone since the second quarter with a shoulder injury, and backup Chad Henne seems overwhelmed. Final score: Chargers 23, Dolphins 13.


A few weeks later, I head back down to the Q for a follow-up session with the Silvas, this time for a Monday-night game against the Denver Broncos. They get there around noon; kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. Shelia had to go to work this morning instead of prepping the food, so Troy picks up pollo asada from Tortilleria Salsa Market in El Cajon. “It’s a tortilla place, but they also do all this. Everything is made fresh today,” he assures me — the salsa, the guacamole, etc. The marinated thighs await the portable grill. Armando made the rice and picked up beans.

Once things are set up, Shelia breaks out a plastic water bottle filled with Patrón, pours a round, and raises a toast to the Chargers. After that, the group switches to Coors Light, Fat Tire, and blue Captain Morgan coconut rum Jell-O shots stored in individual salsa containers.

The team is coming off a tough loss in Pittsburgh that left them 2–2, and the Broncos are undefeated. Hopes are high, but it’s tough to hear the trio of Denver fans chanting, “Five and oh! Five and oh!” as they walk past. “How’d last season work out for you?” calls Armando, reminding them of the team’s spectacular collapse. (Denver was the first team in NFL history to be up three games in their division with three weeks left in the season, only to lose all three games and surrender the division title to San Diego.) Even so, the swagger belongs to Denver.

“We’re an elite team this year,” says Armando. “We’re Super Bowl contenders.” Or at least, we were supposed to be. “That’s what this city wants and has been waiting for, and that’s why we’re bellyaching now. We’re dissatisfied. We have these high expectations, maybe because we’ve been a bottom-of-the-barrel kind of team for so long — my whole life.” We did go to the Super Bowl in ’94, of course, but once there, they got stomped by San Francisco, 49–26. “My mom and dad lucked out; they got to go to the Super Bowl and everything. But we got taken out; it was not a proud place to be wearing your jersey.”

Laurie, a Sycuan server and card girl who has joined the Silvas today, has an even sadder story. “My dad is an original season-ticket holder for Oakland…”

“Don’t put that in there,” jokes Armando. “Raiders fans don’t get invited to the tailgate. You see how she had to dress” — blue Charger jacket, yellow shorts.

“I’m all spirited!” says Laurie. Anyway: “My poor brothers and dad. When the Raiders had their Super Bowl in San Diego in 2003, they didn’t win tickets in the raffle. They flew down here and stood outside with a sign. They got one offer that my dad almost took, but in the end, he didn’t.”

“My dad went out and bought a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat, just because of that game,” comments Armando. “He’s never owned anything but Chargers and Padres hats. I was, like, ‘What the hell?’ He said, ‘They beat the Raiders!’ ”

Laurie says she hasn’t gotten any family static over her attendance in Charger blue. “I told my dad. He hates the Broncos. I think he’d rather see the Chargers win.”

“It’s complicated,” agrees Armando.

Talk turns to the players and what’s gone wrong. Armando says he keeps track with “Chargers.com, ESPN, whatever I can get my hands on. ESPN kind of stays on the TV all day. I think Norv’s kind of got to get it in gear. I understand that everyone coaches in their own way, but I’d like to see some more passion out of him. I think LT is back from his injuries; it’s just that our offensive line can’t open any holes. Yes, he’s older, and he seems to go out of bounds more, but you can’t blame the guy. He’s been getting beat up for 11-plus years. And for the first 5 or 6 years of his career, we were horrible, and we rode him. We ran him 40 times a game, and he was a superstar for us. So I think he deserves respect.”

The couple in the next space wanders over and joins in the conversation: Rob and Jennifer Hyk from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They’re here to see our team win. “We came to San Diego on our honeymoon eight years ago,” explains Jennifer, “and while we were here, we came to a Chargers game and a Padres game. He’s been a Chargers fan ever since. We have a nine-month-old son, and I really liked the name Dane. He didn’t want the name; he said, ‘People will say you named him after LT.’ But after labor, he said, ‘If you want to name him Apple Turnover, I would be down with it.’ So we named him Dane, and when he went to work, people gave him crap. It turns out he was born on the 21st,” LT’s number. “We didn’t do it on purpose. But, yeah, we’ve got Chargers onesies and all that kind of stuff. My mom’s staying with him right now — we didn’t bring him to get his forehead signed or anything.”

It’s a good story, but the whole time, I’m thinking: “Wow. A Chargers game on your honeymoon. Are you that rare creature, the Happy Football Wife?” “At our house, you either absorb it or you’re miserable. I enjoy it. What I didn’t realize was that DirecTV was a gateway drug. You get your NFL Sunday Ticket, and you can get all the games. But there’s another package you can get called SuperFan, and that includes something called the Red Zone Channel. You know how you flip around from game to game, looking for the best action? This eliminates the need for flipping; every time a team gets into the red zone” — inside the opponent’s 20-yard line — “they cut to that game. It’s kind of awful, because it’s relentless. But it’s 17 weeks of the year. It could be worse — he could be a baseball nut.”

Her only concern: “We’ve got another day and a half before we go home. I made him promise me — I said, ‘I will go with you, but you have to swear to me that if we lose, you will not be grumpy and ruin the rest of the vacation.’ He said, ‘No, no, no — I won’t. But we’re going to win.’ I thought, ‘Oh, God.’ ” But she’s smiling as she says it.

A little later, she sidles up to me and offers, almost in a hush, “When you see all the merchandise, all the passion that people invest in the team, and then you hear about owners moving teams, blacking it out if they don’t get their money from luxury boxes…it makes me want to vomit. If you added up what people here have spent…they want to get every last penny out of the fans.”

Husband Rob is wearing a dark blue LT jersey. “I got this on eBay,” he says. “It was a ‘best offer’ jersey.” He’s hesitant to discuss the price in front of his wife, but, he says, “It was under $100. I’ve got a Rivers and a Cromartie and a Tomlinson — that one cost me the most. They’re all sewn.” He’s also got two “San Diego Chargers scrub caps — a buddy of mine who’s a Browns fan found them for me. I’m a nurse anesthetist, and I get to put a lot of Broncos fans to sleep. I like to give them a little jab right before they get knocked out. ‘They’re 5–0, but how great would they be if they had Jay Cutler?’ ” — the quarterback Denver sent to Chicago before the start of the season. “ ‘The Broncos are one player away from the Super Bowl, and he’s in Chicago. Nighty-night!’ ” It’s hard to tell if he’s entirely serious, though it does make a good story.

There’s a reason Rob has the SuperFan package. “The NFL has become something of a monster for me,” he admits. “I’ve found a way to make the NFL season last for 12 months out of the year. There aren’t 24 hours that go by when I’m not on the Union-Tribune website, reading everything from Nick Canepa, Tim Sullivan, Kevin Acee. Acee probably thinks I’m some kind of stalker; I like to air my dirty laundry over the internet, and I’ve emailed him. He’s replied a couple of times.”

If the NFL is a monster for Rob, then it’s a monster with lightning bolts coming out of its ears. “Everyone in South Dakota thinks I’m crazy for traveling out of state on the opening weekend of pheasant season — we may be the only state that gets to shoot its state bird. I said, ‘No — I’m going to a football game.’ Next weekend, I’ll be shooting our state bird, and on my way back home, I’ll be listening to Josh Lewin and Hank Bauer call the game on Sirius satellite radio. I’m a pretty rabid fan. Satellite radio is on a three-second delay, and so I’ll pause my live television and restart it so that I can watch it with the San Diego radio call.”

Eventually, the group gets itself fed and then settles down to a few hands of poker. They even bring out a proper table for the occasion. Everyone’s feeling pretty cheerful by this point, but the fates are against us: Denver wins 34–23.


After the game, Armando was so low that he couldn’t bring himself to talk to the Hyks. “I just kind of sat there,” he recalls, “and waited for everybody to get ready and drove home. Even the next day, people were coming over, and I was saying, ‘You don’t want to talk to me right now.’ But if we win, I’m on top of the world.”

Ex Pros: After the fourth quarter, where do they go?

November 4, 2009 — Thomas Larson

If ever there were a San Diego Charger whose postcareer success has matched his years spent on the field, it’s the great Ron Mix. Mix’s glory years came in the 1960s, when the Chargers were in the American Football League. Back in the day, Mix was listed at 6’ 4” and 250 pounds, known as a weight lifter long before football players commonly pumped iron, and nicknamed the “Intellectual Assassin.” On the field, he achieved something that’s never been equaled: in ten seasons, he had two holding calls against him. Off the field, he blazed a trail by becoming one of the few players to earn a law degree — he graduated from the University of San Diego law school in 1969 — and one of the very few who got the degree during his career, not after he hung up his cleats.

Today, at 71, Mix still practices — law, that is, not football. From new offices in Mission Valley, Mix displays only one football memento: high up on a bookcase is his white helmet, emblazoned with the yellow bolt and his number, 74, on the side. It’s safe inside a plastic box, not only heralding an illustrious career, which got him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, but also reminding us that there is life after sport.

Mix says that too many athletes today have “dismal postcareer lives.” There’s a touch of anger if not frustration in his voice. He calls their troubles “startling, sad, pathetic, and outrageous.” He’s speaking of the rise in bankruptcies, marital infidelities, and divorces, as well as legal and personal screwups, the sordidness exposed by our gotcha media. The names in the circus of ex-football clowns are legend: Lawrence Taylor, Ryan Leaf, O.J. Simpson.

How much has changed since his playing days? Nothing and everything. In the 1960s, Mix tells me, athletes prepared for life after football. Unlike today’s players, they worked in the off-season, usually “part-time for a company and setting the foundation to build a career. Or they attended school.” It was, he says, “commonly accepted” that you’d be moving on. Back then, the money was good, “more than the average person made. But we probably spent more too.” After retirement, Mix says, even those who’d saved their money had only enough to live on for a year. Eventually, everyone needed a job.

Among the Chargers he played with, several got law degrees, one became a dentist, others earned degrees in business and education. Perhaps his most famous teammate was Jack Kemp, who died earlier this year and who had a short-lived career with San Diego. Kemp demonstrated an ability to mediate conflicts, helping, along with Mix and others, to establish a players’ association. Within a year of leaving the Buffalo Bills, he was swooped up by New York’s Republican Party, put on the ballot, and elected to Congress.

But then again, the culture of football hasn’t changed much; its problems are perennial. The socioeconomic profile of players, Mix notes, remains the same. Mostly low-income kids, raised by single mothers, with few differences between blacks and whites. Mix grew up in the Russian-Jewish ghetto of Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. His parents divorced early, and his mother raised the children. “Most of our time was spent on welfare.” Coming from poverty, he says, no one had “business sophistication in my family or in my circle of friends.” Another constant among players: young fatherless men value male role models, especially “coaches. So they grow up to trust adult supervisors.” They learn from these men that “sportsmanship — integrity and fair play — is at the root of the game.” But “the athlete becomes too trusting; he thinks people can be trusted. But that’s not the way of the business world. So he’s susceptible to being fooled and cheated.” Players are an “easy touch” for family and friends, Mix says, because the player is sympathetic to those who are stuck behind in the poor neighborhood.

What’s more, then as now, “Athletes don’t receive a good education in college.” And it’s not because they’re being denied one. Rather, Mix says, “Playing a major sport at a major university is more difficult than if the athlete is working a full-time job and going to school. They take up so much of your time: practice, meetings, games, travel. And injury treatment. If you’re a football player, you semi-live in that training room, before and after practice. Weekends for study? No, there’s a game to be played. What about Sunday? No, there’s injury treatment.”

Without an education, athletes, he says, have no “skills to offer an employer once they retire.” Even if they got their degree, after a pro career they’ve forgotten what they learned, and they’re at a disadvantage, starting out in a field where most of their competition is five to ten years younger.

When Mix retired from football, he practiced civil litigation. Six years ago, a friend, a former National Basketball Association player, told him that he’d been at a conference of retired NBA players and noticed most were limping. His friend asked the wounded warriors why they hadn’t filed workers’ compensation claims. “That was a foreign word to them,” his friend said.

The following year Mix was invited to speak. Recalling the confab now in a slow-measured cadence, the epitome of “don’t get excited,” Mix remembers telling the men that every team buys workers’ compensation insurance. Ex-players who have ongoing injuries can file claims against the team and its insurance carrier. “Nobody gets rich, but it can be significant money. Second-chance money.” An injured ex-pro may receive a tax-free award for permanent disability; a lifetime pension if he is 70 percent or more disabled, roughly $5000 to $10,000 a year; or lifetime medical care focused on the particular hurt. Mix signed up 100 players and came away from that convention “with a law practice,” “a nice little niche.” Since then, he has won every case he’s filed.

One case Mix is working on is that of former Charger star Eric Parker. The agile wide receiver and punt returner signed a five-year deal in 2006 that would have paid him $1.85 million in 2008. But a painful injury to his big toe — requiring three surgeries, and even then a bone in the ball of his foot refused to heal fully — forced him last year “to hang it up.” An end, he tells me by phone, he doesn’t regret. During a short but intense career (between 2003 and 2008, he was third in receptions, with most of his catches from Drew Brees), “I had nothing but smooth sailing with the Chargers.” Parker recalls two concussions as well as injuries to his ankle, back, and shoulder. “Nothing uncommon,” he says. He retired because, as a receiver, “I couldn’t take off on the foot or stop on it like I used to.” He’s hoping his claim will pay for a trauma he’ll always need to nurse, especially in his new job as wide receivers’ coach at Helix High School. The hardest part of retiring for Parker was being unable to compete, which he’d done since age three. “It’s over so fast. Imagine a musician who can’t play anymore, can’t do what he’s so good at. I feel just like that.”

In addition to position-related injuries, Mix says, “All players — and notice I didn’t say ‘some,’ but all — have early degenerative arthritis in all their joints and spine. It comes from what we call ‘cumulative trauma,’ which means wear and tear over their career.” (Eric Parker says he was told at various Charger seminars that most guys would develop arthritis from playing in the NFL.) “The body is subjected,” Mix continues, “to thousands of mini-traumas when players hit and get hit, run, jump, lift weights. Lifting heavy weights is a major contributor.

“Those who play sports that involve head contact,” football and soccer (heading the ball), “often have neurological problems. Diminished memory. Inability to focus or concentrate.” Those with head trauma or concussions have, Mix says, “a much higher incidence of early Alzheimer’s disease than the general public.” Confirming this is a just-released study, commissioned by the NFL, that Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases occur in ex-players aged 30 to 49 at 19 times the normal rate.

In addition, Mix continues, all players take a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medications, and “when these are ingested regularly, they can lead to gastrointestinal problems and kidney irregularities.” All these conditions greatly “diminish their ability to compete in a marketplace” against guys who have not endured the battles of the professional athlete.

Mix filed and won his own claim for injury. And, he insists, every player has a “legitimate claim.” All of them should file a claim within a year of retirement. Sadly, he says, the majority don’t. Making it tougher is that none of the players’ associations in the major sports have created programs to help retired players. They have made the financial and medical benefits of active players sweeter. But that’s it. Mix says that current players have no “legal responsibility” to help their ex-brethren. “But they do have a moral responsibility.” He says it’s wise for players now to plan their postcareers. “They may spend 10 years as a player, but they’re going to spend 40 years as a retired player. They’re one injury away from retirement.”

One final myth that Mix likes to deflate is the American belief that “all exercise is good for us” and that a life spent conditioning and training for sport will spell continued health. Not true for the pro. It’s a myth that victimizes athletes the most. They “figure that once they stop playing, the pain will go away,” he says. “But it doesn’t. Degenerative arthritis is progressive. Many of them are surprised when they take a few months off, do nothing, and then feel worse.”

Talk About Feeling Worse

The ongoing effects of wear and tear in the NFL have certainly surprised former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Todd Washington. Though he’s employed as the offensive coordinator with the University of San Diego football program, Washington’s retirement involves much more than simple nostalgia for a career that culminated in a Super Bowl ring. He’s still amazed that he survived eight years as an NFL lineman, where, as one savvy observer put it, every time the ball is snapped, the collision of opposing players is no different from a car crash.

In August, Washington took time out to speak with me just before opening camp for the Toreros. He’s still a big guy, not quite the 317 pounds of his playing days. Once with hair, now without, Washington played from 1998 to 2005. He spent his last three seasons with the Houston Texans. He retired during training camp with the Cleveland Browns in 2006. His first five years (1998–2003) came with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was on the 2002 team that beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Local fans recall that game, played at Qualcomm Stadium, January 26, 2003, when the Bucs collared the Raiders, 48–21.

Prior to the NFL, Washington graduated from Virginia Tech. “I can honestly say that the NFL was a secondary thing for me. My father coached me in high school; teaching and coaching is what I’ve been around all my life. Everything I did during my career at Virginia Tech was geared toward becoming a coach when I graduated.” He knew, going in, that his career would be temporary. Eventually he’d coach college. But not before he suffered major body blows in the NFL.

Washington played some of the game’s toughest positions. Even in the second person, he’s blunt: “Once you start playing in the NFL, your body will never be the same.” His position was offensive lineman, guard and center, and he defended on kickoffs. As a lineman, he crouched down, stood up with the snap, backed up or ran slants, blocked the defense’s charge, all to protect his quarterback and running back.

After five years, he discovered that what had taken him 30 minutes as a young player — dressing for practice and getting his ankles taped — took him two or three times as long. The agility of youth is first to flee. By 2000, “I’m in the training room, stretching, getting massages and heat packs, just to loosen up so I can practice for two and a half hours.” In 2006, at 30, he had just agreed to a contract with the Browns, even though he was pushing the age limit for linemen. After one week of practice, he realized that “I can’t move anybody; on pass protection, I can’t redirect fast enough; running drills and conditioning after practice, I’m the last to finish. That wasn’t the case when I first got to the NFL.” He called his wife and said, “Honey, I’m done.” Then he told the coach: to continue playing at his diminished level would diminish the team’s strength.

For most players, whether they stay the three- or four-year average or they stay longer, as Washington did, wear and tear spells the end. Though he “was blessed” not to have a concussion, he did suffer the typical lineman injuries: sore knees, neck, and shoulders. One position Washington played was blocker for the kickoff return team. Once the kick was in the air, he and three or four other linemen would form a barrier, or wedge. They would block for the kick returner, racing like a Humvee up the field. A 300-pounder, Washington would get “hit by 250-, 260-pound linebackers, coming full speed, headfirst.” (One linebacker described the collision as running all out for 50 yards and smashing into a garage door.) “Concussions were very, very common,” Washington says. “The joke we used to tell in the NFL was, ‘I came in at 6' 4", now I’m at 6' 2."’ ”

Beginning in 2009, the NFL banned the wedge because of the number of helmet-to-helmet hits that resulted in head trauma. The astonishing statistic for pro football is that there are 5 injuries for every 100 regular plays and 7 for every 100 kick plays; there are many more of the former than the latter. “Unfortunately,” the ban “didn’t happen when I was playing,” Washington says. “Still,” he notes without any bravura, “I did it for eight years.”

(Two years ago, the NFL instituted concussion guidelines. The rules include a neurological baseline test; a policy that instructs coaches that a trainer’s or doctor’s medical decision overrides any competitive consideration; and a whistle-blower system so men can report medical problems anonymously without fear of jeopardizing their careers. The big problem for ex–football players with concussions is depression: according to the American College of Sports Medicine, those with three or more concussions are three times more likely to have depression than those who don’t suffer head trauma.)

Though Washington so far has no symptoms of memory loss or confusion, he says he has seen former teammates “struggle with later effects of head injuries. They’re forgetting things, taking longer to do things, or starting to feel weird.” He says “some doctors,” those who diagnose these injuries, “are not educated about what NFL players go through.” Washington knows guys who are “depressed and have stopped being active. For some of these guys, it’s too late.”

The Virginia native is paying a price for his years of bone-rattling contact. His biggest problem (and the reason he has filed a workers’ compensation claim with Ron Mix) is that at 33 he has degenerative arthritis. Arthritic pain and tightness trouble his neck, wrists, abdomen, fingers, and knees. He wakes up stiff, and it takes him a long time to loosen up. “Things hurt where they’re not supposed to hurt. You can be sitting down and turn your head one way or the other, and you’ll have a sharp pain in your neck.”

Worse, it’s compromised his ability to coach.

“I really take pride in being a hands-on coach. I’ve had coaches in my life who were hands-on. They were actually able to show me how things were done. I’m trying to show the same things to my players, but I have to be careful because I can’t do those things anymore. I can’t run like I used to run. I can’t bend down in the stance. I can’t bend my knees the way I feel comfortable. All these things take their toll. I have to find alternative ways of coaching — whether it’s by words, by video, by diagrams, by handouts. I can’t be hands-on.”

Washington tells me that he hasn’t sought treatment for his arthritis yet, but he does stretch more and uses heat pads. “If it flares up real bad, I’ll rest. I know I’ll seek medical attention in 10 or 15 years. Hopefully, by then, there’s some procedure or treatment that will get the job done.”

Like many players I speak with, blame doesn’t enter his vocabulary. Injury, he says, “is something I have to learn to live with.” He adds that he’s often been asked — and he’s asked himself — would he do it again? “Injuries or not, I’d definitely do it again.”

His experience brings clarity about the pro’s conundrum. “It’s hard to beat running out on the field on game day. Your adrenaline kicks in, and you feel perfectly fine. But as soon as it’s over, your body is back to where it was, and whatever injury you have, it’s worse.”

A Much Deeper Issue

Perhaps the most telling tribute I read in the wake of the death of Steve McNair, a victim of a murder-suicide last July in Nashville, came from his former teammate, Tennessee Titan running back Eddie George. A married man, McNair had purportedly been seeing the woman who shot him. For George, McNair’s end was by no means his friend’s story or legacy. How to explain his murder? The Titan quarterback was lost after retiring from the game he played with such passion.

“I just know from experience,” George said, “that when you’re used to doing something for so long that you love to do, how do you fill that void? You’re in search of something. Most players may go back to things they used to know. They may revert back to drugs, divorce rates go up, obesity. You’re looking for something comforting. For Steve, it was uncharacteristic for him to be out there with this young lady like that. However, he was in search for something. So there’s a much deeper issue here than just Steve and extramarital affairs.”

That deeper issue is summed up by former San Diego State and St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk. “I played 12 years” in the NFL, Faulk told the Union-Tribune. “You think it’s forever — it’s a blip. You have to find something to do. You’re kind of lost. I was paid to play football, and now I’m paid to talk football. Are you kidding me?”

How Bad Is It?

One of the ex-player’s core problems stems from money, its lack or its misappropriation. Retired players from the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball are “suffering a financial epidemic,” says a recent article in Sports Illustrated. Seventy-eight percent of former NFL players after two years of retirement have significant debt or are facing bankruptcy. Sixty percent of NBA players, five years into retirement, are broke. Joblessness and ongoing medical bills accelerate debt. One near-certain consequence is divorce. Most estimates put the divorce rate for ex-athletes at between 60 and 80 percent.

An explanation for this trend comes from Matt Birk. A veteran offensive lineman, now with the Baltimore Ravens, Birk writes in a July column for Sports Illustrated that many “former players live in physical and mental pain because of injuries suffered while playing — some with symptoms that didn’t manifest until long after their NFL career.” Birk says their savings are exhausted, they can’t find work because of their injuries, they can’t get health care since they have preexisting conditions, and few are getting disability through the league. “I have seen these guys with my own eyes and heard their stories with my own ears. You might not read about this very often, but this problem is real.”

Birk points the broken finger at the NFL Players Association. Team owners, he says, pay a percentage of revenues to the players, and retired players get only 2 percent of that. “The NFLPA wants the money to go to current players because football salaries already lag behind their baseball and basketball counterparts.” Since it was the old players who built the sport to its stratospheric level — by securing such things as “free agency, top-notch medical treatment [for active players], and million-dollar contracts” — he wants current players to shoulder more responsibility for the health of their forebears.

How do players and ex-players lose their money? According to Sports Illustrated, they buy too much risky real estate. They avoid financial planning. They hire unqualified relatives to manage their investments, with disastrous results. They seldom know when to say no to those long-lost friends and their surefire schemes, such as opening a restaurant with their name in lights. They pay the nightclub bills of their entourage. They overspend on frivolous stuff like sport-utility vehicles, private jets, Rolex watches. (NBA guard Kenny Anderson blew $10,000 a month on “hanging out,” lost the $60 million he’d made as a player, and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005.)

Relationship trouble accompanies the money woes, ex-players and sports psychologists tell me. Players often marry their hometown sweethearts at an early age. Being away half the year, players depend on their wives to do everything with bills, kids, and home, which can lead to resentment in both spouses. Players succumb to the easy availability of women, some of whom, hoping to get pregnant or secure a free ride, want a tryst with any high-profile player. Players father kids whom they can’t support. In postcareer divorces, it’s not uncommon for a player to lose half his fortune to an ex-wife, a girlfriend, and the mother of a child, who are sometimes three different women. Apparently the record is held by former NFL running back Travis Henry, who has fathered 11 children by 10 women. The estimate of his yearly child-support payments is $170,000, his lawyer says he’s broke, and he’s just been sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of trafficking cocaine.

Though conditions may be worsening for ex-players, they are not alone. People like Ron Mix are helping. Whether it’s former players, coaches, or the sports consultant and psychologist, caring people abound for the lost, divorced, depressed, and broke ex-pro.

To the NBA and Back

I’m sitting on bleachers in the Temecula Community Recreation Center, watching former “NBA legend,” as the flyer describes him, Lamond Murray hold a basketball camp. The sounds of the thumping ball, the ringing metal hoop, echo in the high-windowed gym. For more than an hour, Murray’s been running drills and barking orders (“Push it! Push it!”). Now it’s game time. The kids, aged 10 to 16, girls and boys, are impossibly mismatched: midgets versus giants. Towering over all is 6' 7" Murray. Though retired, he’s still agile at 36. Game on, I notice right off how every player has his/her NBA moves down pat — the no-look pass, the hand slaps after a foul shot, even the Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. A dream come true, a few get Murray’s behind-the-back pass. “Shoot!” he yells.

In 1994, the Los Angeles Clippers — ten years after the franchise abandoned fair-weather San Diego — drafted Murray, the seventh pick in the first round. They signed him to a five-year, $13.5 million contract. After he bounced around the league for 12 years, he returned to the Clippers briefly in 2006. Twelve intensely rewarding years as an NBA player, he tells me after camp. So why retire? “It wasn’t my choice,” he says. “When the Clippers let me go, I couldn’t get a job anywhere playing ball. I wasn’t injured. In my mind, I could still play, contribute. My body was maturing. I was a lot smarter. I had better tempo to my game. Everything was a lot easier. The older you get, the easier the game becomes.

“But I guess they wanted younger talent. Once you have over ten years in the NBA, they have to pay you a certain amount of money. They’d rather cut costs because most guys at our age aren’t going to be contributing. Unless you’re a Shaquille O’Neal, who’s a future Hall of Famer,” they’re not interested. “Thirty-five is like a cutoff point.”

I ask Murray, who sports a dapper mustache and well-trimmed goatee, if he prepared himself in college (he played three seasons at Cal) for life after sport. He says he figured, if he went pro, he could always come back to school. He also figured he’d need to earn the money to finish school. Yet it never occurred to him that he could finish college during his career on the court.

While playing, did he think about retiring? “As an athlete,” he says, “you never really want to think about that.” Instead, “Your life begins and ends with ‘Am I starting tonight? How many minutes am I going to play? Will I get my 20 points?’ That’s all you worry about. People in your family tell you, ‘That’s all you need to worry about.’ ” Guys would “never talk about it,” he says. They’d only talk about investments that would help them in their “transition out of basketball.” But think about it? Not with practice and games and travel. “Never. It was never an issue.”

But, he says, things change. “It doesn’t hit you until you’re out of the game a couple years. Your routine is changed. You’re at home. You don’t have that camaraderie with your teammates.” Leaving was “a shock.” He was used to working out every day. Besides, he’d never been cut from anything. He played at high levels in high school and college. But over time, he says, players “get caught in the shuffle” of management, new coaches, new systems, player trades. Eventually, Murray left Los Angeles, then went to Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey (his wife and children following him every step of the way).

The hardest part for Murray was losing the structure that basketball gave him. “Practice, team meals, meetings, games. Being a player. Having a role, something I could look forward to when I got up in the morning.” When he retired, he says, “Now what do I do? You get depressed really quick. There’s nothing to do. Even my kids have to go to school.” Speaking of which, Murray at last was a part of his kids’ lives. That took getting used to, “driving them to school, going to school functions.”

It takes a year or two to make the adjustment, he says. It takes longer for “guys without kids or a stable family. They want to go right back into coaching because that’s all they know. ‘I want to be on the bus. I want to be around the guys.’ But everybody can’t coach. There’s only so many jobs out there.” Murray, surprising me, compares the player to an alcoholic. “You’ve done something for so many years, and you have other ‘alcoholics’ you deal with, and suddenly that’s taken away, you have no one who’s at the same level as you. Who do you talk to? Guys lose it. They want to kill themselves, self-sabotage with drinking, drugs, food. I’ve seen a lot of retired ballplayers who blow up to 300 or 400 pounds because they just sit on a couch.”

As a young player, Murray was bored, chin in palm, whenever the NBA threw programs at him about managing his life or saving his money. The lightbulb went on when he watched a few teammates, journeymen players, paying serious attention. He realized that he should have been listening so that at retirement he’d be ready. During his four preseason games with the Clippers in 2006, “I could feel something changing in me,” he recalls. That was incandescent, a realization that has led him to want to help other players avoid going through what he did.

Murray’s goal, once he finishes his degree in sports psychology, is to become a paid staffer in an NBA organization as head of player relations, helping rookies transition into the league, teaching them things that “their parents, their agents, their teams are not going to tell them.” The main thing players don’t know, he says, is that pro ball is a business. No one told him that his name is a brand, that his behavior could affect his brand, that he needed to protect his image. Too, teams don’t tell players enough about the “day-to-day grind. Social issues. How to deal with women. How to deal with other players. How players are different from each other. That’s the new frontier. The NBA does everything for you physically. But there’s not enough to help you mentally.” In short, players, both active and retired, need mentors. He cites Sam Perkins, who runs a mentorship program with the Indiana Pacers and is now their vice president for player relations. Murray hopes to be one of those mentors because “I’m living proof there’s life after the game.”

A Degree in Sports Psychology

Lamond Murray is one of dozens of ex-players who have studied psychology with Dr. Cristina Versari, a Brazilian who founded and directs the San Diego University for Integrative Studies. For the past 20 years, she has made it her business to study the psychology of pro athletes. “No one else is doing this,” she tells me in her Old Town office. “That’s why I started this school.” Part of the school’s mission is to train a new generation of sports psychologists who will answer this question: Why is the transition to a second life so hard?

In 1989, Versari was hired by the National Basketball Association to counsel its players. The youthful-looking former swimmer says that, before her, no one helped athletes prepare for a second career, a different lifestyle, or a college degree. “During their active career, they have small problems,” she says. “They have a lot of people taking care of them: trainers, massage therapists, managers. Once they retire, everything is taken from them overnight. The structure that kept them together is gone. That’s when they really have problems.”

Retired players, she says, typically move back to their hometowns, and they lose contact with the organizations and team. The active players don’t have any contact with retired players. “It’s a strange dynamic,” she says. “Overnight, people who used to call stop calling.” Players find themselves suddenly friendless. They have no support system. Since most have played for several teams, they and their families have been uprooted often, which adds to the isolation in retirement. “There’s nothing outside of sport that makes them feel the way they’re feeling when they’re playing. Nothing.”

As a way to understand the psychology of basketball players, Versari uses the Myers-Briggs personality assessment test. She has found, by studying more than 1000 players, that basketball players are predominantly introverts. They are sensing types who focus on the present and on concrete information. They are analytic thinkers and have an organized approach to life. She uses this data to help coaches and players understand who they are as players but more importantly how their personality traits might be harnessed for a second career. (She has studied 22 sports and found that basketball and baseball players are alike, while swimmers and wrestlers are extroverted, intuitive, and sensitive. Because of the many different positions in football, tests on players as to their personality type are so far inconclusive.)

During two long stints with the NBA, the last ending five years ago, Versari has found that almost every current player has “one focus — to stay.” In 2009, the NBA drafted 60 players. According to Versari, after the first season, typically half of those drafted are gone. “They are cut, and we don’t even notice. Their careers are over.” A few go to Europe, but not many. These young men have spent half their lives preparing for a career, “and it only lasts one season.”

She understands why most players are “in denial about their future. They have to focus on staying.” This gives birth to the rampant NBA fantasy: “I’m going to play one more year.” Active players always think they’ve got one more year to play, even if they don’t have a contract.

When the career is ending (the average stay in the NBA is a bit more than five years), “I get the phone call. They’ve been cut. They’ve been injured. They’ve been traded. They get a cold, and being sick makes them think, ‘What am I going to do if I can’t play anymore?’ That’s when they call me. When they’re ready. They’re not in denial anymore.”

Though many ex–NBA players go back to college and finish their degree, they don’t do it for the money. “They do it,” she says, “because they have promised their mothers.” Some NBA players, who haven’t blown their stash, don’t need a degree because they don’t need a career. It makes no sense for a player making $20 million a year “to go to college and graduate three years later so he can make $40,000 a year.” Instead, they have promised Mom because Mom has insisted that they get a degree when their sports lives are over. Hanging the diploma on the wall means Mom beams and the kids are motivated to take school seriously.

Retiring players face a fast adjustment with their wives. Versari compares an NBA wife to a military spouse, keeping the home fires burning while the husband/boyfriend is away. During the player’s career, his wife has managed everything: children and school, the home environment, holidays and parties, finances, the sudden move prompted by a trade. For her part, the wife can lose interest in the man when he becomes a “nobody at home,” Versari says.

But the major problem is depression. “Without exception, they all go through it.” The adjustment takes four to eight years. “They eat more. They eat less. They sleep more or they can’t sleep. It’s a very long process.” Most don’t know they’re depressed, she says. They think they are alone: their friendship circle or network of support has dwindled so much they become frightened by their isolation and loneliness. They feel estranged from the game, from wives, from children they don’t really know. It’s rare for former NBA players to go into therapy. They’ll only go, Versari says, if “someone else [in the family] needs help. A son or a daughter.”

The psychological profile Versari is now working with she calls ADD: athlete development deficiency. “Players do not develop other parts of themselves.” She describes the teenage Kobe Bryant, a megastar with the Los Angeles Lakers the past ten years. He “spent every Saturday at home” as a teenager, “watching videotapes of basketball games.” He didn’t develop social skills; he didn’t develop his ego. He ate, slept, and dreamed basketball. “When players retire, they have to go back and build those other parts of themselves, parts that are missing and were never developed. It’s developmental arrest. The same thing happens to people on alcohol and drugs.”

The Paradox of Awareness

What’s curious about Marc Sagal, a professional soccer player turned sports psychologist and consultant, is how he balances his knowledge of the athlete’s mind with an honesty about his own. Over lunch, he tells me right off, his fingers poised above a chunk of salmon, that his message to clients is that he can help them “perform more effectively under pressure.” He and two partners at Winning Mind counsel 50 clients. Be it in business (corporate executives), military (Navy SEALs), or sports (pros from around the world), we “understand the psychological characteristics that successful people need to have to stay focused and remain calm in pressure situations.”

Sagal’s journey to consultant began with his career in soccer: “I was one of the first American soccer players to play professionally overseas.” After college (a Phi Beta Kappa in philosophy at Colorado College), he played for a team in Sweden. Of Sweden’s many leagues, Sagal was in a “mid-tier” league, “down a notch or two from the top.” Though he never reached the fame and fortune of the top, he did three years as a pro. But barely. His career was shortened, or better, compromised, by an injury he had even before he got to Sweden.

In his last game in college in 1989, he was hit from the side and suffered a meniscal tear in his knee. Though he “played hurt” the rest of the game (he doesn’t remember if anyone told him not to), it was a moment “I’ll never forget.” (I prod Sagal about the injury; at one point he laughs and says, “You’re making me relive something I don’t want to.”) Sagal thinks that he didn’t realize the severity of what had happened. In fact, he would not have realized it as long as he had an opportunity to play. The injury might have been worsened by his playing that day. He’s not sure. He’s had several operations, and part of the meniscus has been cut out, a procedure that’s not recommended nowadays.

Off-season, “I pushed myself to get playing again. When you’re young, you don’t think about the consequences of real proper recovery.” He rehabbed the knee, went to Sweden, and was on the field every other day. “The coaches and other players were aware I was managing the pain,” he recalls. “Honestly, I think I played hurt every single time I went on the field.”

I ask Sagal whether he uses his experience to help his clients. Not much, he says. “It’s funny, but when I thought about talking to you, I didn’t include myself.” And yet here he is, the consummate wounded warrior and, so common in our sports-obsessed age, the wounded healer. Advising others in whom he sees himself.

What does he see? For the injured player, it’s a combination of several things: competitiveness — “They want to get back on the field as soon as possible because that’s what they love to do”; “aggressiveness,” a macho thing; and “immaturity.” Add to that a medical staff that “knows what an acceptable amount of pushing [the injury] is.” But here the athlete takes the blame. He will downplay pain to get back in the game. Doctors and trainers, Sagal says, must give the okay, but too often they are roped in by the athlete’s avidity, a horse who just wants to run, bum leg or not.

In college Sagal had terrific medical care, but he also had enough “freedom to push my irresponsibility more than I should have.” The dilemma is, when to put the reins on an athlete whose greatest asset is his native aggressiveness, which, though it may have got him injured and contributes to an inadequate recovery, also drives him to win.

Reviewing his MRIs with orthopedic surgeons, Sagal realized that “there was nothing to be done.” His doctors were “surprised I could even play.” Since leaving the sport, he’s had two more surgeries. He can no longer run, and he can barely walk. He’s a candidate for knee-replacement surgery. His story is not uncommon. He thinks that about one-third of soccer players have “some kind of injury they’re managing.” Depending on the psychology of the athletes and their awareness, “Some guys can just put it out of their mind, while others are constantly aware of the difficulty.” In that spectrum, Sagal says he was one of those “unfortunately aware of my injury.” He was constantly thinking, “How am I feeling? Am I okay?” But that awareness, though it did begin to impact his playing, also got him to listen to his body and to realize that he should hang it up.

It’s paradoxical, Sagal says, for an athlete to have an “intellectual orientation” because it goes against his training, which tells him not to think but to lose himself in the sport or activity. That “desire to solve problems,” in the midst of the game, is what gets you into trouble.

To help athletes think about themselves as people and not about themselves as performers — that’s the hardest part, he says.

When Is It Time?

Another consultant at Winning Mind is Geoff Miller. At 35, Miller has been a “mental skills” coach for five years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Miller lives in San Diego but is on the road constantly, traveling with the Pirates and their eight minor-league teams, spring, summer, and fall. Anyone who knows Pirate baseball knows that the team must rely on its young players because it doesn’t have the money to buy expensive players. A lot like the Padres.

Miller, in his knit shirt and khaki pants, accentuates the positive. Over iced tea, he refrains from using the term “psychological,” for it connotes a problem. He employs the word “mental” to focus on learned behaviors: “Mental is, do I know what to do, and can I do it when it counts?” The applications on the diamond are many. One weapon in the arsenal of mental skills is to get young hitters to understand “what is happening when they’re failing.” Failure might be defined as follows: say a kid from Rancho Bernardo hits .490 in high school, then hits .260 in the minors; he hears from his coaches, “That’s a good average.” How’s he supposed to respond? The pros are typically a comedown from high school or college glory, so players must learn how their performance is valued and adjust accordingly.

The way to get players to “redefine failure” is to get them to focus on the bigger picture: to think life more than career, career more than season, and a season more than an at-bat. “I give them a process. It’s a transformation from seeking the results you want to seeking a process that will bring you the results.”

This process orientation is key to career- and life-building, says Miller. It’s inevitable that a successful ballplayer, whether or not he makes it to the “bigs,” will begin to think about his life after baseball, to ask the question, “When is it time?” (The average career for the major leaguer is a tad under five years.) This is important because even though the minor leagues have room for an awful lot of players (some 1500 are drafted every year), very few get to the majors. One estimate is that only 10 percent of players who sign a minor-league contract play one game in Major League Baseball. So, for our kid from Rancho Bernardo, the career that he aspired to and worked so hard at from Little League to PONY league, from high school to college, from the minors to the majors, will most likely be over when he reaches 27.

Five factors compel ballplayers to start the transition.

Pay: during a player’s first contract season, according to the Minor League Baseball website, he makes $1100 a month.

School: to coach baseball in college or high school requires a degree.

Options: players, whose discipline is a plus for any employer, get offers from businesspeople to move on.

Calling: Miller says there’s a lot of Christianity in baseball; at times, players feel called by God to stop playing and go in a new direction.

Women: ballplayers are hit on a lot by women, who make themselves available not for the money but to hitch themselves to a future star (remember Bull Durham?). Leaving baseball allows the player to find the right person who’ll love him for more than his fielding ability.

It drives Miller bonkers to hear about prima donnas like Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, high-maintenance celebrity hitters who’ve both admitted to using steroids. His experience has been with players who are just the opposite: “Most professional athletes are responsible, they care, they live good lives, and they end up getting lumped in with guys who make headlines.”

One of those good guys, who’s been counseled by Miller, is Dan Schwartzbauer. Schwartzbauer retired from professional baseball two years ago at 25. When he made his intention to retire known, his coaches and fellow players all said, “What, are you crazy?” Even his father, who came to every game it seemed, was “disappointed.” Only Miller helped him know “when it was time.” Schwartzbauer had played ball since he was 7. In college, he studied finance and investment management but kept his eye on the prize — baseball every day, even indoor practice sessions during winters. At 21, he entered A ball with the Pittsburgh Pirates. One team he played with was the Hickory Crawdads in Hickory, North Carolina. In 2007, he learned, just as spring training was breaking, that his hoped-for move to a second-base opening in AA ball had fallen through: a major leaguer was sent down to AAA, and the AAA player who was sent to AA got Schwartzbauer’s slot. He was devastated.

It occurred to him that he had spent his baseball life never thinking about his postcareer. “There was no room mentally for me not to think about baseball.” When Schwartzbauer announced his retirement to his manager, the man said, “What in the world are you going to do?” Schwartzbauer replied, “I don’t know. I guess I’ll go get a job.”

Even now, Schwartzbauer still gets calls to play with semipro teams. And, he says, “I don’t have a good reason why I don’t want to do it.” In our long conversation, he sounds as if he’s struggling to let go as much as the sport won’t let him go — when teams, coaches, and former players keep hounding him: why did you dump the dream? His business degree, something that most of the guys he played with do not have, cushioned his leaving.

But most guys, he says, take a long time to hang it up, some barnstorming well into their 30s. For his teammates, playing ball “may not be something they know they’re going to do forever, but they don’t know what else to do.” They get to the point where they cannot face that “it won’t work,” so they end up doing “whatever it takes” to stay.

In a culture that billboards the idea that everyone should pursue a dream, Schwartzbauer says he gave little thought to a second career. Why think about something he didn’t want to do when he was spending most days doing exactly what he wanted to do?

Today, Schwartzbauer knows what else to do. He sells orthopedic medical supplies.

“I Blew Out My Knee”

That’s how James Grossman pinpoints his sudden leap from jock to what he calls “human being,” recalling the blow that ended his four-year minor-league baseball career. “Today, that’s a six-month rehab. At the time,” 20 years ago, “it was 2 years,” to which he said no thanks. Still, that wasn’t what spurred his interest in helping ex-athletes, which he does now with his consulting firm Legacy Sports. Playing football at the University of Arizona, Grossman tells me, he had a 6' 9", 255-pound roommate who bought the “false mythology” of being an athlete forever “who sacrifices everything to get there. There were 110 lockers in that locker room, and even the 110th guy thought that he would have a career in the NFL if he could show everyone what he was capable of doing.” (Of the 9000 college-level players, only 215 get chosen for the NFL each year.) Consequently, for most of these guys, Grossman says, education was “secondary.”

After Grossman’s stint in minor-league baseball, he worked with basketball coach John Thompson of Georgetown University, who started aiding ex-players. Later, Grossman helped implement the National Hockey League’s Life After Hockey program. Over time, his advocacy has been met with opposition. One lockstep thought is prevalent: throwing money at players “will cure their problems. In reality, money brings a different set of problems, and money brings a certain leverage to those problems that makes them larger.” More money for guys who don’t know how to manage money “is inappropriate.”

Grossman argues with league authorities that players “are not commodities” but should be seen in terms “of their humanity.” His voice rises testily, and he tells me that he “has to apologize; there’s a lot of water behind the dam.” League authorities say, in reply, that “we’re in a business, we pay them a lot of money, and that’s our exchange value.” Grossman eventually realized a “commodity” approach to the problem: he tells the bosses that by not taking care “of their athletes” after retirement and by not providing them options, their brand will suffer. That gets them to listen.

Few I interview have Grossman’s insight. “I would argue that the greatest challenge of the athlete’s life is the day he realizes he can’t be an athlete anymore. Here’s the challenge: first, very few people in this world identify a dream to pursue; second, have the opportunity to pursue it; third, realize that dream; and fourth, are confronted with the task of now having to replace it. That is monumental.”

In short, it is near impossible for an ex-athlete to find a calling that will summon him the way his pro career did.

Still young in his 40s, Grossman is searching for how to respond to the conundrums ex-athletes face. He says he knows guys in their 50s and 60s who “are still lost.” One described retirement like this: I was riding in a car down the freeway, and someone just threw me out the door. “The blessing is, to have lived a life filled with passion is extraordinary,” says Grossman. “But the curse is, when it’s gone, you understand what it was like to live with passion — and you can’t go back.”

This. And That.

September 23, 2009 — Patrick Daugherty

The Box has taken the pledge to stop writing Chargers Suck columns, and I think a fair-minded person would have to say I’ve held up my end of the deal. That’s not easy when Norv Turner is the head coach. So, I should warn you I’m making an exception this week. For the greater good.

Sunday’s play-calling was quintessential Norv and says everything you need to know about why he’s been a failure as a head coach everywhere he’s been a head coach (Washington, Oakland, and San Diego). Who else, with the ball on their opponent’s five-yard line, ten seconds left in the half, behind eight points, two downs to work with, would call for a field goal? On third down?

Norv took charge of a 14-2 Chargers team on that bleak, vile day in February 2007, when the Spanos brain trust announced the hiring of yet another incompetent head coach. Turner has managed to turn that jewel of a team into the 8-8 slug we saw last year and through two games this year.

I was thinking about Norv while watching Monday Night Football, enjoying Peyton Manning as he put together another comeback, his 37th fourth-quarter comeback. Indy ran 35 plays in that game. Miami ran 84. Indy had possession for 14:53. Miami held the ball for 45:07. And yet Indy wins off a 48-yard Manning pass to Pierre Garcon with 3:18 to go (a win later sealed by Antoine Bethea’s end-zone interception). And you knew, going into that last drive, Manning would find a way to score.

Someone said that the only man who ever held Michael Jordan under 20 points was Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach at North Carolina who insisted on playing traditional basketball. Yes, it’s ugly, but it’s only a small exaggeration to say that Norv Turner is the only coach who could keep Peyton Manning from coming back to win a game in the fourth quarter.

In other news, Roger Clemens is on Twitter, writing the same inane bullshit as everybody else: “hey cool stuff. My friends have a place there. I need to come and golf down there!!!” But what’s interesting is he’s only got 878 followers. You could do as well if you’d open an account and accept all the spam that comes your way.

Minnesota beat Detroit 27-13 and Brett Favre started his 271st game, a new NFL record. The nation will now turn its attention to other matters. But listen up, people, the Favre question is still on the table. To wit: Is he all monstrous ego, or is he all monstrous ego who can still play? Check back after Thanksgiving for the answer.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) lost another tournament. This one is the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill. Anheuser-Busch will not be renewing its sponsorship, which seems particularly ominous since Anheuser-Busch owns the Kingsmill Resort and Spa. At least they used to before they were bought by not-a-household-name InBev. The PGA Tour played there for 22 years, handing it off to the LPGA seven years ago. It was a big tournament on the ladies’ tour, a $2.2 million payday, voted by the players as their favorite event in 2007 and voted fan favorite by fans in 2008. The LPGA 2009 prize money ($50 million) is $10 million less than it was in 2008. There were 34 events in 2008, 27 in 2009, and so far, only 17 events are under contract for 2010.

Commissioner Carolyn Bivenso recently resigned after 15 of the tour’s best players (Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen, Se Ri Pak, and Natalie Gulbis, among others) wrote a letter to the tour’s board of directors asking that Bivenso be gone. The LPGA is the oldest, continuously operated women’s professional sports organization in the country. Founded in 1950. They’ll make it. TV money will pay the bills, but I hate to see the tour fall so far, so fast.

Something is going on with the 49ers. Their defense reminds me of the Chicago Super Bowl 20 team: every player is after it on every play. The defense is very fast and very aggressive. Day and night difference from what has gone before. Remarkable. The Niners are 2-0 this season, have won 6 of their past 7 games, 7 of 11 since Mike Singletary took over as head coach.

Looking at the NFC West, the Niners have already beaten two division rivals — one was last year’s NFC champion, and they beat those guys at their house. Arizona won the division with a 9-7 record last year. San Francisco can win this conference.

And here’s a little something to take home with you: The Raiders have won three of their last four games.

Chargers Won’t Fulfill Desires in San Diego

September 9, 2009 — Don Bauder

Experts say the San Diego Chargers could make the Super Bowl this year. However, the team’s desire to build a new stadium in San Diego could be — well, economically inSuperable.

The team now plays at Qualcomm Stadium, which is a black hole for the City of San Diego but a super-ecstatic hole for the Chargers. It costs the City $2.8 million a year to put on Chargers games, while the team’s rent is capped at a mere $2.5 million, down from $7 million under a former, more favorable agreement. This sweetheart rent deal is one reason that the team’s debt-to-value ratio is only 14 percent, about in the middle of teams in the National Football League, according to Forbes magazine.

But as Forbes points out, the teams that have (or will soon get) new or elaborately rehabbed stadiums are the most valuable. The ten richest teams, all worth more than $1 billion, are, in order, the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, and Denver Broncos — almost all playing in palaces. (A team’s worth doesn’t necessarily correlate with on-the-field performance. Last year’s Super Bowl winner, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are valued 16th of 32 teams, and the squad that almost beat them, the Arizona Cardinals, are 23rd, just ahead of the Chargers, whose value is calculated at $917 million.)

“New stadiums generate revenue for teams that is unshared by the rest of the teams in the NFL,” says Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani. The new stadiums bring luxury and club seat sales, advertising rights, and sponsorship income that a team can keep for itself. Ergo, the Chargers want a new facility. And, insists Fabiani, “Our search remains focused in San Diego County.”

And that is the hole in the Chargers’ plans. “The Chargers are trying to pound a round object — their desire for a new stadium — into a square hole — which is economic reality,” says Mike Aguirre, former city attorney with whom Fabiani constantly tussled. (Fabiani alluded to Aguirre’s “toxic, bilious personality,” while Aguirre allegedly called team owner Alex Spanos “a welfare queen.” I can’t argue with Aguirre’s characterization: I have described pro football team owners — and bankers getting bailouts — in the same terms.)

The Chargers claim they want to build a privately financed stadium somewhere in the county, whether it be Oceanside, Escondido, East Village near Petco Park, or elsewhere. The team wants to fill the luxury and club seats and attract advertising, including naming rights, in a metro area without the necessary economic base. County incomes are low compared with the cost of living, and local companies tend to be small, capital-intensive, and cerebral. (How many biotech and telecom executives would entertain clients at a football game?)

Fabiani says that the ability to sell these upscale products “in an NFL marketplace will determine whether a new, privately financed stadium is financially feasible.” But there is a change in that marketplace: companies are slashing entertainment budgets and banning employees from taking expensive freebies, such as football tickets. Corporations may sensibly put fewer dollars into sports advertising and promotion, such as naming rights. Money is tight. Since the Chargers claim a new stadium will be privately financed, “The team will be required to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to finance the project,” says Fabiani. “So we need to be sure that sales from the new stadium will support the significant private debt.” That’s the hole the team may tumble into.

There are other negative economic factors: any new, privately financed stadium (even if land, development rights, and infrastructure were subsidized by government) would have to be accompanied by “gargantuan real estate development with commercial and residential properties integrated with the stadium,” says former councilmember Bruce Henderson, who adds that “without extraordinary growth in population, there is no indication that such a project would be viable in the next decade.”

Think back just a few years ago. The Chargers were looking for a development partner so they could construct 6000 housing units, a hotel, offices, and other commercial buildings at the Qualcomm site, where a new stadium would be built. When no development partner surfaced, Fabiani said one reason was Aguirre’s obstinacy. But what would have happened if that project had gone ahead? Throughout the county, condos, hotels — residential and commercial real estate of all kinds — have hit the skids. That’s what would have happened to the Qualcomm project. “It is likely that the private developer would have been forced to delay some or all of the urban village project,” waiting for the economy to recover, concedes Fabiani.

“It would have been a disaster,” says Aguirre. Henderson agrees and chuckles that he and Aguirre should get a bouquet of flowers from the Chargers. (Actually, Henderson never thought that proposal was a serious one.)

A privately financed Chargers stadium is not going to make it in the county. And governments don’t have the funds to provide subsidies. That leaves locations outside of San Diego. Las Vegas, with whom the Chargers have had contact, is in worse economic shape than San Diego, at least in real estate.

The one logical candidate is the City of Industry, a snug and smug town of only 88 tightly controlled voters in southeast Los Angeles County, just north of Orange County. Developer Ed Roski, a close personal friend of Alex Spanos, says he will build a stadium that will be mainly financed privately. The accommodating town early this year passed a bond measure to provide half a billion dollars of infrastructure improvement. (The vote was 60 to 1, and civic leaders may be trying to find out who that one dissident is.)

The L.A./Orange County market is the nation’s second largest, with 13 million people. Inclusion of Riverside and San Bernardino adds another 4.1 million. San Diego is the nation’s 17th-largest market at 3 million. Unlike San Diego, the L.A. area has a broad and deep mix of businesses to spend on sports luxuries. “If the NFL cobbles together government and private subsidies for a new stadium in Southern California over the next decade or so, it will be built in L.A.,” says Henderson. On the bright side, he points out that Qualcomm Stadium is one of the best in the world for football, and the Chargers are making a bundle of money playing in it.

It’s generally believed that if Roski builds the stadium, he will want at least part ownership of a team. Fabiani says that pro sports owners through the years have sold stakes in their teams for various reasons. “So an owner would probably never rule out such a possibility — but as I’ve said, the Chargers’ search remains focused in San Diego County.”

But Henderson says the Chargers are looking at local sites only because they will have to prove to the NFL that they gave San Diego every chance. Also, if the Chargers wait until after the 2010 season to announce they are leaving, they will only be obligated to pay $25.8 million of the remaining debt from the 1998 remodel of the stadium. If they make the announcement this season, it will be more than double that.

For Chargers fans, this may be holey depressing.

Homeless SDSU Football Coach

September 9, 2009 — Patrick Daugherty

The Chargers are playing at Oakland Monday night, on the B side of ESPN’s double-header. Normally, I don’t count watching a game that includes the Raiders as more interesting than watching termites colonize the back-porch steps. It was the news that Raiders head coach Tom Cable allegedly sucker-punched his subaltern, Randy Hanson, breaking Hanson’s jaw, causing not one but two Hanson trips to hospital, and the announced-but-unseen involvement of the Napa Police Department and NFL lifestyle marshals that got my attention.

So, I’m looking for a column headline. Let’s see…“Homeless SDSU Football Assistant Finds Work as Owner’s Mascot.” Or, “Homeless SDSU Football Assistant Says, ‘Two Years in the NFL and I’m Already Head Coach.’” Or, “Homeless SDSU Football Assistant Screams, ‘I Will Kill You!’”

Every statement is media-true in that it’s been reported in the press, but there’s something missing. Cable was a homeless SDSU graduate assistant, and he was in the NFL for a paltry two years before becoming interim head coach, and he did, allegedly, promise to terminate with extreme prejudice a junior coach. All media-true except…allegedly attacking a fellow coach in a room full of witnesses…a toady doesn’t do that.

Cable has lived a coach’s life: offensive and defensive tackle on the Snohomish High School football team, four years as offensive guard for the University of Idaho, stayed on as a graduate assistant for two more years, then to San Diego State for a year as an unpaid, homeless, graduate assistant, then a year at Fullerton State as defensive line coach, a year at UNLV as offensive line coach, Cal for six years, Colorado for a couple years, last one as offensive coordinator, back to Idaho as head coach, lasted four years, then a couple years at UCLA as offensive coordinator, then up to the NFL as Atlanta’s offensive line coach, then Oakland, same position, then Raiders interim head coach, and, finally, February 4, 2009, knighted head coach.

Couple things stand out. Cable’s always had a job, ten jobs in 20 years, but continuous football employment. He’s only been head coach once, for Idaho, which doesn’t earn him props since he’d already spent six years at Idaho as a player and graduate assistant. He was fired after amassing a dismal 11-35 record. Cable got to the NFL in 2006 as a humble line coach. Now turn around, take a deep breath, and behold: Al Davis makes him a prince. At the press conference announcing Cable’s investiture, someone left a mic open and you can hear Al talking to one of his flunkies, “Who’s going to introduce Tom Cable? I don’t know that much about him. Get something, get his press packet.”

This could only happen in Raidersworld. Still, no matter how he got there, Cable is an official NFL head coach now, and that is money in the bank for the rest of his life.

And here he is, brass ring in his pocket, just scored a job as rare and hard to get as Dear Leader, allegedly sucker-punching an assistant coach in front of other coaches, then wrestling said assistant coach to the ground while screaming, “I am going to kill you. I am going to kill you.” Does not fit.

Okay, who is Randy Hanson, alleged victim? Hanson was born in Sacramento, played quarterback at San Joaquin Delta College (Stockton), Walla Walla Community College, and Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon). Part-time coach at Eastern Washington University, graduate assistant at the University of Washington (defensive line and special teams), back to Eastern Washington as assistant secondary coach, then Portland State as secondary and special-teams coach. Hanson made the leap to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings as offensive assistant/assistant quarterbacks coach in 2003, moved to St. Louis Rams in 2006, and on to Oakland as assistant defensive line coach the following year. Hanson made his NFL debut three years before Cable cashed his first pro paycheck.

Hanson did not get along with the previous Oakland head coach who once suspended him for five days. On the other hand, he was lauded by Oakland’s defensive coordinator. Minnesota’s head coach praised him, and he did a good enough job at St. Louis to come to the attention of Al Davis, who personally hired him. Does not fit.

I wonder what would make it fit? Well, one rumor has it that Hanson was a snitch and that’s why Cable hated him to the point of allegedly launching a physical attack coupled with a promise of murder.

But if you believe that, then you’d have to believe Al Davis hired someone just to spy on and rat out his own coaches. Is that possible?


If We Didn't Advertise We'd Go Broke Treating the Poor

Healthcare is like burgers — sell, sell, sell.

June 24, 2009 — Thomas Larson

Many of us watched the Chargers’ season-ending run this past winter and, amid the cheers and groans, saw a 30-second TV ad starring LaDainian Tomlinson. Well-dressed and calm, he’s holding a postgame news conference.

A reporter asks, “L.T., what got you the win today?”

“There’s three things you got to have to be successful,” L.T. says. “There’s planning, teamwork, and constant communication.”

Cut to designers huddling over architectural plans.

“What’s the key to team success?”

“Well, you got to start with the right foundation. That’ll get you through the season and beyond.”

Cut to hard hats pointing at blueprints and standing before a giant pit and an earthmover hoisting a shovelful of dirt.

“So, L.T., what do you see looking forward?”

“Great things are happening.

You just got to execute the plan.”

Out pops L.T.’s million-dollar smile, and a companion glint flickers off his diamond ear stud.

Cut to a graphic artist’s computer rendering of a giant new building.

An athlete putting his name on stuff is hardly surprising. What is surprising is where the ad ends. The heraldic music rises to a crescendo to deliver the last five-second punch: “Palomar Pomerado Health. Specializing in You.”

A hospital? Not a car or jewelry or shoes or Viagra or ESPN’s SportsCenter. But a hospital. Why does a hospital have to advertise?

When I phoned Don Stanziano, public relations director for Scripps Health, and asked that question, he turned it back on me: Why wouldn’t we? As in, doesn’t everybody? As in, the only way to distinguish your product and service (as well as your brand) in the competitive health-care world is to aggressively market what you have and who you are. Who would know we exist if we didn’t advertise?

The short answer to why hospitals must market is roads. Gone are the days when a hospital served only its immediate geographical area. Now, freeway-linked, a person living in Rancho Bernardo does not feel obliged to go to Palomar hospital in Escondido but can shoot across Highway 56 to a heart program at Scripps Green on the coast. Facing knee-replacement surgery — as expensive as it is painful — the smart patient goes hunting. Some insurance providers allow her to shop for nonemergent care, and shop she will, getting second and third opinions, seeking the most competent doc and one with whom she’s most comfortable. For choosy consumers, it’s a feast of movable options.

To attract the choosy, hospitals must market. To survive in the competitive health-care field, they must fill their beds, which means selling their services, which means branding their names with catchphrases and slogans. UCSD: “The Power of Academic Medicine.” In addition, hospitals are held captive by health-care consumers’ expectations. Reacting to the publicity new hospital programs generate in the media, San Diegans want what they believe is already available elsewhere. We should have the new prostate-cancer treatment that New Yorkers have. What’s more, consumers require that their health system offer fast, accessible, topflight care, no matter the ailment, no matter the cost.

Because health care also seeks the elective-surgery crowd, it must finance fancier offerings and charge customers extra. When I was young, a hospital was a place where the sick lay bedridden amid the drab purgatory of beige walls and industrial views. These days the hospital is (sold as) a homey institution, located on a campus, sporting a park and work-out track. The contemporary medical center may include the resort’s fitness room, the spa’s Jacuzzi, and the luxury suite’s state-of-the-art TV, video conferencing, toilets for the disabled, and beds whose built-in computers monitor the patients’ vital signs.

Catering to our expectations and keeping pace with their competitors, hospitals now and those planned for the future, specialty clinics and cancer programs, weight-loss centers and robotic-surgery units are all muscling themselves into our consciousness, marketing the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson as well as patient video testimonials. If you haven’t noticed the extent to which hospitals are slipping slick radio ads into your drive time and infomercials onto your late-night TV, then you’ve been hunkered down in the backcountry far too long.

San Diego’s Big Four

Along with Palomar Pomerado Health, San Diego’s big hospital systems are Sharp HealthCare, Scripps Health, and UCSD Medical Center. But note: these systems have two or more hospitals, medical groups, and specialty clinics. Two, Sharp and Scripps, are comparable in size, budget, and market share, each having about a quarter share of the market. Together, these four serve 66 percent of San Diegans and their medical needs.

At Sharp HealthCare, there are four acute-care hospitals, three specialty hospitals (among them Mary Birch Hospital for Women, which sets the annual California record for births), two affiliated medical groups, three skilled nursing facilities, 2600 affiliated physicians, and more than 14,000 employees. Sharp is the largest private employer in the county. Most San Diegans know Sharp Chula Vista, Sharp Coronado, Sharp Memorial, and Sharp Grossmont, the largest with 481 beds. The Sharp Health Plan has 45,000 members, one of which is the City of San Diego.

Scripps Health has five acute-care hospital campuses, ten Scripps Clinic locations, and nine Scripps Coastal Medical Center locations. The Scripps Mercy trauma center, located in Hillcrest, is placed south of I-8, where almost half of the county’s trauma occurs. Scripps employs 12,000 and has 2600 affiliated physicians.

The Palomar Pomerado system comprises Pomerado Hospital with 107 beds in Poway and Palomar Medical Center with 319 beds in Escondido; there are also outpatient centers and satellite sites, like the PPH expresscare clinics operating inside Albertsons in Rancho Peñasquitos and Escondido. Palomar Pomerado employs 3700 and has 700 doctors. The service area for Palomar Pomerado is 800 square miles, much of it in the county’s sparsely populated backcountry.

Finally, UC San Diego Medical Center includes schools of medicine and pharmacy on the University of California campus as well as two hospitals, whose employees total 5200. One medical center, Thornton Hospital, is on the UCSD campus, and the other is in Hillcrest. Both are served by one faculty medical group, some 800 physicians, most of whom practice, focus on research, and teach at the medical school. There are a few primary-care and specialty clinics, like the Eating Disorders Clinic, the Shiley Eye Center, and the Moores Cancer Center.

Inpatient discharge data, compiled by the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, is used to measure market share among hospitals. As one marketer told me, “We watch it like hawks.” In 2007, Sharp applied for — and won — the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, given by the president to recognize “performance excellence” in health care, education, and business management. In the application, Sharp reported comparative market shares for San Diego health systems. As of 2005, Sharp had the largest market share at 27.27 percent, followed by Scripps at 22.18, Palomar Pomerado at 10.68, UCSD at 6.51, and all others at nearly 34, including Kaiser at 9.62 percent. Kaiser is a member-based health-care organization that has almost 3.3 million subscribers in Southern California as well as 22 hospitals, clinics, and medical offices in San Diego County.

Compared to the thousands of doctors and nurses and administrative staff, the marketing and communications staff in each health system is small, at best, a few dozen employees. Marketing, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is an activity that creates, communicates, delivers, and exchanges “offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” The four marketing departments focus their “offerings” on advertising, web design and operations, customer strategy, media relations, multicultural relations, physician liaison, and more. Not counting call-center personnel, Sharp employs 55 people, 15 of whom design and run its website as well as produce its videos, perhaps the biggest new thing in hospital marketing. Scripps marketing has 51 employees, Palomar Pomerado has 11 full- and part-time people, and UCSD has 20 employees. Their marketing budgets are also small, in the range of $1 to $2 million, much less than the usual 3 to 5 percent of profits spent on marketing at multibillion-dollar companies such as Budweiser and Home Depot.

Revenues of the four health-care systems are huge, ranging from $1 billion to over $2 billion annually. All profits from any not-for-profit hospital are reinvested. None of it goes to award shareholders, owners, and executives as it does at for-profit hospital chains. The three largest hospital systems are defined as not-for-profit corporations. Only Palomar Pomerado is a nonprofit community hospital with a publicly elected board, financed through taxes, bond issues, patient revenues, and donations. The not-for-profits are self-supporting: patient revenues, foundations, and donations from estates and annual parties or balls sustain them. They must, as one marketer told me, “attract a favorable payor mix.” Payor money comes from patients, insurance companies, and Medi-Cal and Medicare reimbursement and has to compensate hospitals for those they serve who can’t pay.

Tomlinson Scores Big with Palomar Pomerado

The guy who signed up L.T. with Palomar Pomerado is Gustavo Friederichsen. He’s also the marketing guru behind the system’s “Hospital of the Future,” coming to Escondido in 2011. The 50ish Latino possesses abundant energy, talks inveterately, and is, in his words, “involved with everything.” Before he got to Palomar Pomerado in 2004 as chief marketing and communications officer, he was the marketing head at Scripps and Sharp, five years at each.

On board, Friederichsen was expected, he says, to campaign for “community health improvement, prevention, education.” To understand his client base, he began with focus groups and in-house interviews. He found three concerns: the managers were “too conservative” and the marketers “risk-averse,” the latter doing little more than profiling doctors poring over X-rays in magazine ads; too few in the community had a clear idea of what the hospitals did, where they were located, and how to pronounce the name; and the foundation wasn’t bringing in enough money.

What troubled Friederichsen was that the system had “zero brand equity. If I put us against Sharp or Scripps, we lose every time.” Focus groups said they wanted a spokesperson with whom to identify. They recommended that “I get a face, an image, a something.” He remembers one person saying, “I don’t know what you stand for.”

His solution: brand the hospital.

So, in 2007, Friederichsen sought the superstar running back of the Chargers, coming off his greatest year ever. Friederichsen persuaded the season’s most valuable player to become the hospital spokesperson for five years. “It’s not just a strict endorsement deal, where he’s just pitching. He’s doing a whole lot more.”

L.T. is paid $400,000 per year — the hospital’s marketing division pays him $200,000; human resources, $100,000; and the foundation, $100,000. In turn, L.T. raises money, hosts TV and radio spots, recruits new doctors and nurses, visits patients, and talks to kids at schools about health. Friederichsen says that the reason L.T. signed up was, “He gets it. He has a family history of illness — stroke, heart disease, diabetes. Mother, father, grandmother.” Kids love him, he’s got a famous San Diego face, and he’s amenable.

The health system’s gala fund-raiser is called Night of Nights. Friederichsen says that L.T. has to raise “half a million dollars every year, minimum; it’s in his contract, recession or no recession.” He’s especially proud that the event with L.T. last year brought in $642,000; the highest total for a previous fund-raiser had been $30,000. This, as well as all the other educational things the running back does, justifies his salary. Yes, he says, “There’s a culture here that thinks we can’t pull the LaDainian thing off.” This is the old guard, who says to every (costly) innovation, “We can’t afford it.”

In short, Friederichsen needs to justify the L.T. expense.

How? He’s selected a number of standards for measuring the campaign. One is the number of diabetes patients admitted to the emergency room. L.T. talks to the public, mostly fifth-graders at school, about diabetes; he’ll present information about lowering their risk and changing their diet. After 24 months, Friederichsen will look at whether the number of diabetes patients coming into the emergency room has dropped. If it has, he’ll use the data as proof (mostly to the board) that his marketing strategy has legs. Already, he says, he’s gotten a call from a nutritionist who is treating “her first 300-pound Latino fifth-grader.”

I asked Friederichsen how an ad campaign might reverse the eating patterns of Latino boys, who many surveys suggest are addicted to fast food and soda. He says it’s not that ambitious, although he believes prevention is the way hospitals will care for patients in the future.

Friederichsen ran the 30-second L.T. spot, called “You just got to execute the plan,” during the playoff games (one win, one loss, and out) for $20,000 (he got two free runs when one of the games went to overtime). He’s mum about the cost of his other ads, which include other 30-second TV and radio spots, Union-Tribune and Chargers Media Guide ads, signage in Qualcomm, movie theater and online videos, transit posters, and bus tails (people stuck in gridlock need to look at something). He won’t discuss costs because “I’ve got a lot less [money] to work with than Scripps and Sharp do. I wouldn’t want a competing health-care system to know what Gustavo is spending on TV, radio, and print.” It’s all negotiable and, he says, suddenly cheap in a recession. If his negotiated price is exposed, Scripps and Sharp will renegotiate theirs. Ad venues don’t like that, he says.

He is spending more than the annual $250,000 that his predecessor spent on “showcasing physicians surfing or playing golf because their campaign stressed they were ‘normal’ folks.” His budget, he says, teasing me with a near figure, is 30 to 40 percent less than what his competitors at Sharp and Scripps spend.

Sharp Hospitals and the Sharp Experience

On Sharp’s website is the real-life video clip “Emergency Heart Attack at Sharp Grossmont.” A woman is being helicoptered onto the Sharp hospital roof. Though she’s suffering grueling chest pains, once in the emergency room she’s quickly stabilized. Soon, she’s on her way to the cath lab for angioplasty, one of the most common surgical procedures in medicine today. In the short procedure, her artery, which had a blockage, is ballooned opened, and she’s out of danger.

The video resembles an episode of the television show ER, with much of the frenetic activity but minus the actors and the fiction. It’s all real, the family arriving and looking bewildered, the husband wiping back the tears, the fast unfolding of the cath procedure, the doctor and nurses and technicians speaking to the camera during the procedure. A nurse says, “I feel so grateful to do what I do every day.” A doctor testifies that “every day I know I’ve made a difference; every day you’ve touched a life.”

Later, the woman’s recovery is filmed with triumphal musical flourishes. Son kisses mother. “She was going to leave us.” He cries. The doctor smiles. Love, like a glass of wine, is raised all around. A viewer can’t help but be touched by a tragedy undone.

Part of the savvy behind these spots is six-year Sharp veteran John Cihomsky, senior vice president for public relations and communications. He’s a youthful-looking, smartly dressed executive whose rapid-fire marketer’s tongue is endemic to the biz. In 2000 and 2001, just before Cihomsky began, Sharp conducted more than 100 focus groups to assess patient preferences. Cihomsky says that though responders expected superlative care at all San Diego hospitals, they rated each hospital the same: average. “Sharp is okay. Scripps is okay. UCSD is okay. They didn’t feel any difference with health-care providers. And, they said, ‘The state of health care isn’t so great.’ People said they weren’t treated as a person, didn’t feel their pain was well-managed, didn’t feel their loved ones were kept in the loop. We learned,” Cihomsky says, “that we have a lot of room to improve.”

The upshot was to launch the Sharp Experience. “Stories of the Sharp Experience” profile “real people, real experiences.” Short clips, like “Emergency Heart Attack,” are strung together into 28-minute-long hospital infomercials, shown on late-night TV. The idea is “to capture our people in action” who are “role-modeling behavior.” Is this information- or image-based? Cihomsky sees little distinction between the two. No matter the ad, there’s always “educational information embedded in those segments.”

“The Sharp Experience” is a phrase printed on most every marketing item Sharp produces. Cihomsky says that he knows the campaign is working well when people call or email to say, “I want to tell you about my Sharp Experience.” It’s a brilliant marketing ploy. Is this too slick? Cihomsky says no. “It’s very personal. We’re not talking about what brand of soda to buy. We’re talking about relationships. A relationship with a caregiver over a long period of time.”

In attaining its top market share, Sharp, like all hospital systems, targets women more actively than it does the two other main audiences: seniors (65-plus) and Spanish speakers. Most health-care choices are made by women who consult with family and friends about their options. (One marketer told me that to be effective with men and their prostates, “You don’t talk to men; you talk to the women in their lives.” Another marketer wrote an ad claiming the sexual advantages of a healthy prostate for the wife.) The entry point to hospitals for most women, Cihomsky says, occurs just before childbirth. Prenatal care is so important for women that given a good experience, “We are very likely to hold on to that entire family as patients. If they don’t have a good experience, we won’t, and they will tell ten friends.”

For female consumers, Cihomsky fashions English- and Spanish-language programs as well as two annual health conferences focused on education, with keynote speakers and local physician presenters. To measure their interest, Sharp surveys attendees’ satisfaction: a complimentary gift often assures a response. And yet, measuring outcomes is difficult and complex for any marketer. Cihomsky says that since women face a bewildering array of “access points — getting into the system — it’s very challenging to chart a woman who registers for an event and then shows up six months later in Dr. Smith’s office.”

Scripps — A Venerable Name Playing Catch-up to Sharp

“Just think about the name ‘Scripps,’ ” says Jean Hitchcock, Scripps’ corporate vice president for marketing and communications. She’s a 28-year veteran of marketing whose bluntness is enjoyable in the sometimes hemming-and-hawing world of marketing-speak. The “Scripps” brand conjures up the trust of science and medicine, the oceanographic institute, the publishing family descended from E.W. Scripps, the Scripps Howard news syndicate, the 1924 establishment of Scripps Memorial Hospital, even the family home, Scripps Ranch, which became a bedroom community. “We have an excellent brand,” Hitchcock says. “We tested it. People say that it’s high quality, very respected, and traditional in the sense of the pillars of health care — research, education, and treatment.”

What are the marketing priorities at Scripps? Hitchcock says it’s a question of “appealing” to different audiences, whether it’s selling Scripps’ bariatric surgery programs to obese people on diet websites via “search-engine optimization” or its obstetrics care. (Hitchcock is “incredulousness” that young women will shop for a hospital “based on ambience and gifts, not if there’s a neonatal unit.”) Scripps concentrates on obstetrics because the program faces stiff competition from providers and brings lifetime loyalty from women.

She says that even in a new hospital, “where each bed costs about $3 million” to build, the hospital still loses money. It loses money even when every bed is full.

Consequently, Hitchcock’s focus is on marketing programs and services in which Scripps has “clinical experience” and which “make money.” She is quick to add that although Scripps makes “money in trauma, we don’t want people to be traumatized.” Advertising a trauma center, she notes, is not easy. Marketing is a “very delicate dance you have to do, legally and ethically.”

After working in Chicago, where she saw up to 20 hospitals advertising in the Sunday papers, she sees San Diego as “a little sleepy giant. The competition here is mild compared to other big cities.” Why so sleepy? “We’ve been the poster child for managed care,” she says. Originally, San Diego, like most health-care markets, was “underbedded and underphysicianed. If you built a bed, you filled it.” Things changed about 1989, when the HMOs arrived and hospitals needed to court them. Joe the Health-care Consumer picked not a hospital or a doctor; he picked a system. He got everything at Scripps, for example, because by then Scripps was full-service. From this one-stop-shop approach to medicine came the for-profit hospital chains that built their empires on the systemic idea: an HMO or hospital system would negotiate the best contract for each group.

A new program Scripps and other big hospitals are marketing is robotic surgery. Hitchcock says the secret to advertising this program is not to “market its technology, because technology is only as good as the people who know how to use it.” She’s speaking of the $1.4 million da Vinci robotic system, a surgical technique that uses micro incisions. Each big hospital bought a da Vinci robot “to be competitive with each other. We’re not selling the robot, but some people are.”

As for where to advertise robotic surgery, Hitchcock rules out TV and newspapers: “There’s too much overlap, and they’re too expensive. TV’s [costs are] obscene.” She says TV rates here are as high as in the Chicago and New York markets, way out of line for hospital-ad budgets. As for the Tomlinson TV spots, Hitchcock says, “Shame on them. Those were tax dollars. They didn’t ask the people they taxed if it was okay to spend $2 million on him.” Scripps, she says, has taken care of four San Diego Chargers who “offered their services for free, but we had to pass because of L.T.” Other “free” celebrities include Tony Hawk and George Winston, the piano soloist, who does an annual concert at Scripps Encinitas for the patients. Neither man is paid and neither wants his appearance advertised, though mentioning them here exposes both.

Hitchcock likes billboards and radio “because people are in their cars so much,” and she likes the web and its social networks, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace. She says Facebook has become the number one place to look for new hires, especially nurses, who are always in demand. A viral site like Facebook spreads an ad via the profession’s social network.

Should a health-care marketer build brand or business? Name recognition or clientele? Hitchcock, who teaches a class in marketing at UCSD Extension, says, “I always say that in not-for-profit health care, you better do both or else you’re wasting money.” Still, the “tightness” of her budget precludes anything but following the dictates of the “strategic plan,” something every health-care organization is tied to. For Scripps, it’s ramping up a new heart program and a new cardiac center — not a surprise — new doctors, new technology, new facilities. She’s spending the marketing dime on attracting patients to heart programs because Scripps “already serves almost half the heart patients in the county. If you already have the market and you’re doing really well and you’re recognized for your clinical strengths, of course you’re going to put your effort there.”

One of Hitchcock’s primary jobs, besides offering external programs meant to “educate consumers,” is an internal one: to make physicians happy. “It’s the physician-relation thing,” Hitchcock says, echoing Bush 41. “You’ve got to have happy docs to have happy patients.” The doctors need to know “where we’re going as an organization,” so Hitchcock spends lots of dollars on talking directly to Scripps’ physicians about how they can navigate the system and why it’s important to support the technology.

Hitchcock says her core marketing focus concentrates on the quality of the patient experience. Patients evaluate not the health-care building or technology but the person: “The nurse responded to the bell. The doctor listened to my call. The real simple things turn it. Some health-care systems have gotten away from the basics.” She says she can’t help but “get bristly when I see people promoting buildings and technology. What does the patient get out of it?”

In each of the last five years, Hitchcock says, her budget has either held steady or gone down a bit “because we’ve been at capacity.” The way she’ll “grow market share” is by acquiring more facilities and more physicians. Like the other big three, she won’t get into numbers except to say, “We’re not a drop in the bucket” of Scripps’ $2.2 billion annual revenue. Hitchcock says that recently she spoke to a colleague in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Health, a highly competitive organization in a highly competitive market, who said just one of her TV ad campaigns cost $1 million. “That’s more than my entire budget for advertising.”

The Academic Brand at UCSD Medical Center

If there’s a field on which the three big county health systems play, UCSD and its two medical centers have yet to join the league. While UCSD has a much smaller market share than Sharp and Scripps, it spends roughly the same amount on ads as its competitors. So says Pam Bylen, who’s headed UCSD marketing for 13 years. Bylen notes that because UCSD concentrates on research and teaching, “our marketing is not geared to what the other hospitals are doing but to our own needs.”

Bylen and her staff market UCSD’s academic credentials. “To advance research and education, to provide leading-edge patient care, we offer specialized services that aren’t offered by other hospitals.” The Moores Cancer Center is one of 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the country and the only one regionally. She concentrates on testimonials from patients “who want to share the care they’ve received.” Launching a new campaign, she will place such testimonials — “the patients are our spokespersons” — in print, on radio, and on the website.

Because health care is so competitive, UCSD has to, Bylen says, “educate consumers so that when they’re choosing, they make informed choices.” Does UCSD Medical Center have a brand? “Yes, we use a tagline that says, ‘The Power of Academic Medicine.’ ” What does this suggest to consumers? “Academic medical centers are typically on the forefront of research and clinical trials. So when a patient experiences treatment at an academic medical center, they are being treated not just by a physician but by groups of physicians and researchers who look to the best course of treatment for that patient. They’re collaborating all the time with colleagues, not only within UC San Diego but with other colleagues all over the country in other academic medical-center settings.”

Does Joe the Health-care Consumer know this? Do you have to sell him the idea?

“It’s why we advertise. There may not be an overwhelming knowledge base. We do find that people who move here from the East Coast are more aware” than San Diegans “of the benefits of going to an academic medical center.” Places like New York City or Boston or Chicago, Bylen says, “have five academic medical centers, and people are aware of the benefits.”

Bylen notes that “because we care for 38 percent of the indigent in San Diego County,” she needs to market to the insured customers, i.e., the paying customers, to get their business. “It’s critical for our financial solvency that we have the right patient mix. To maintain our buildings and facilities and to actually grow and serve the community.”

Outcomes are measured when she looks at calls made to an 800 number, inquiries that come into the website, and the number of new patients. “The volume growth of new patients” tells her when she’s being successful. She says that “patient satisfaction does not drive marketing. The strategic plan drives the marketing.” In a follow-up email, I asked for details about the “strategic plan.” “This plan is an on-going plan,” she replied, “and is proprietary information, [and] therefore is not available.”

Bylen believes that “our marketing is successful” because UCSD has “a payor mix that allows us to be solvent. When I first joined the university 13 years ago, the medical center was about to lose money. That has completely turned around. In 1996, UCSD Medical Center was $20 million in the hole. That debt is gone.”

UCSD is also going the way of the personal-testimony video clip. A new one shows a young woman who needs her gall bladder removed but doesn’t want embarrassing stomach scars. “We are one of the few hospitals,” Bylen says, “who remove gall bladders through the vagina or through the mouth.” This procedure should bring in lots of paying customers.

As Palomar Pomerado’s Gustavo Friederichsen noted, hospital marketers prefer not to disclose media purchases. Payments made to advertisers are “trade secrets,” in part, to preserve competitive advantages. Nevertheless, the Reader filed a Public Records Act request for media-purchase records from Palomar Pomerado and UCSD, institutions that receive public funds. Both complied, but Palomar Pomerado redacted what they paid for their media buys.

UCSD Medical Center’s marketing department pays Sexton Communications to produce ads for radio, TV, billboards, and print. Media-buy records show that a purchase order issued to Sexton in 2005, with “change orders” in 2006, totaled $2.4 million. One email dated December 3, 2007, says that UCSD has been “averaging about $90,000 each month with Sexton on ads.” For 2007 and 2008, the total was $1,808,557.

Among the most costly invoices were ones for the June 2008 radio campaign promoting “The Power of Academic Medicine” at $53,253 and the October 2008 print ads in the Union-Tribune, San Diego Magazine, the La Jolla Light, the North County Times, and other coastal and inland North County newspapers at $40,342. Other ads included “Salute to Nurses Week,” “UCSD Healthy Heart Expo Campaign,” and the “Lap-band Campaign,” an ad for a new weight-loss surgery in which an adjustable band around the stomach helps control appetite. I counted 16 lap-band invoices for radio ads in 2007 and 2008; the cost was as low as $2400 for November 2008 and as high as $19,337 for February 2007.

Marketing Public Health

One marketer who has thought a lot about the morality of marketing is Justin Campfield, the founder of Campfield Public Relations, a marketing and communications company in Vermont. Impressed by his recent article “The Ethics of Hospital Marketing,” of which he is a coauthor with William Nelson, I phoned Campfield and asked him why, when I asked the marketers about ethics, they seemed reluctant to comment. “In a lot of cases,” he said, hospital marketers “weren’t doctors and nurses to begin with. They’ve been a marketer their whole career and been in industries completely different from hospitals. Who knows where they came from? They’re marketers first before they’d view themselves as a health-care professional.” Marketers, Campfield said, need to be reminded of the creed of the American Marketing Association: “honesty, fairness and avoiding conflicts that promote the organization’s interest over consumer needs.” He also noted that the association issues strict ethical guidelines for ads: no “unsubstantiated, false, deceptive, or misleading” claims.

I asked Campfield whether hospital marketers, in general, put the health of the organization over the health of the community. He said they sometimes get “too zealous” with their time and money on advertising specialized care. But, for Campfield, the marketer’s job is vital to the community’s health. New hospitals, more beds, more technology, more public awareness, more control over indigent and emergency-room costs, more diversity in the payor mix — all of it, Campfield said, enhances public health. Whatever enhances public health, he noted, must be sold to the community through whatever means the public can understand. “Sometimes that means using a football player as a healthy role model.”



Listen to Thomas Larson discuss this story on KPBS's These Days with Maureen Cavanaugh and on KOGO Reader Radio.