Playoff Fever

January 3, 2009 — Chris Raney

On the afternoon of January 2, 2009 at Seau's in Mission Valley, it was apparent that NFL playoff fever has already taken ahold of San Diego. Hundreds of Chargers fans gathered inside and outside of Seau's at the Westfield Mission Valley Shopping Centre for a pre-playoff party and pep rally. Chargers fans waited in lengthy lines to get their hands on free Chargers swag from the local radio stations that had setup booths outside and were giving away prizes themed in yellow and blue colors, including beads, T-shirts, and beach balls. Of course, the lengthiest line was for the XTRA Sports 1360AM booth because that's where the Chargers cheerleaders were signing their latest swimsuit calendar with the proceeds going to charity.


Not the Same Ol' Song

November 25, 2008 — David Stampone

As far as tunes that name-check the team go, the new track "San Diego Chargers," by Mexican dance-pop-punk-funk duo Plastilina Mosh  won't take over first place in the hearts of Chargers faithful anytime soon — not when that deathless discofied ditty "San Diego Super Chargers" continues to hold the top spot — after 29  years.

"Super Chargers" came about through a marketing campaign initiated by Gene Klein, who owned the Chargers in the '70s. Recorded at a Los Angeles studio in 1979, the song was reportedly written in a day by David Sieff and Jerry Marcellino — the latter a recording-industry vet producer/arranger/songwriter who picked up 17 gold albums, six gold singles, and three platinum albums. (Marcellino worked with artists such as Bobby Darin and Michael Jackson from his Jackson Five days  on.)

L.A. R&B session vocalist James Gaylen was drafted to sing lead, and Marcellino put the recording out under the name "Captain Q.B. & the Big Boys." The song still rallies the crowds at the Q and is known far beyond SD; a copy of the original seven-inch single fetched $52.51 on eBay last  year.

In August, "San Diego Chargers" came out on Monterrey-based Plastilina Mosh's fourth studio album, All U Need Is Mosh. A promo sheet says the song is an "instrumental track that experiments with a drumline battery" and quotes composer Alejandro Rosso: "It's basically a testosterone song about football tackles. The arrangement is focused on the percussion. The song is a weird blend between two styles that I find original and  fresh."

A review on Mexico City website mehaceruido.com noted the song's "evident homage to the sound of Daft Punk"; James Hudson in the Tucson Weekly praised its "spine-tingling, halftime march"; reviewer Tamara Palmer on Metromix.com found it "[o]ne of the most charming songs on the album…a marching, drum-heavy groove. It features sounds that give the illusion of being sampled from an actual football game, but were actually created in the  studio."

Reached by email, Plastilina's Rosso explained, "I actually recorded some clashes and bought some sound library's football effects to use. I  wouldn't dare use any unauthorized NFL audio in a song — they would tackle my bank account faster than a  linebacker.

"I had the idea to do a song that involved…manly brutal clashing, etc.; I was in San Diego that day and decided the song could have football elements, and 'San Diego Chargers' sounded  nice.

"I am not a Chargers fan but think that they have a cool team, and  wouldn't like the song to be called 'Dallas Cowboys' — that would be distracting in a way because there's a lot of different things that could come to mind rather than football —  heh-heh."

San Diego Is Chargers' Problem

August 6, 2008 — Don Bauder

The Chargers say they have a problem: Qualcomm Stadium is antiquated. Sorry. The Chargers’ problem is much broader and deeper than that. The Chargers have a problem with San Diego. Period. It’s not big enough or rich enough to satisfy the financial ambitions of the ownership.

I recently had an email colloquy with Mark Fabiani, the team’s special counsel. His answers to my questions were revealing. He says the team is sedulously working to remain in San Diego. But I suspect he realizes that that is impossible, given the management’s monetary desires. I have thought for years that the team wanted the rich Los Angeles market. Economic and political conditions may prevent that for a while — perhaps a very long while. But unfortunately, the horrible City/Chargers contract inked in 2004 permits the team to walk off without saying a word beforehand. Therefore, the Chargers don’t have to move to L.A. and play in the Rose Bowl or Coliseum until a new stadium is finished. The Chargers can stay mum until a stadium is completed and suddenly move.

Other teams, however, want that juicy Los Angeles market. So the Chargers don’t have a sure thing. If they continue playing at Qualcomm, they will make plenty of money — just not as much as they could make in Los Angeles or a handful of other markets.

Says Fabiani, “Simply put, our stadium does not allow the Chargers to remain financially competitive with the top teams in the NFL (all of which are playing in, or about to begin playing in, new taxpayer-subsidized facilities). Qualcomm Stadium’s luxury boxes and club seats do not have the amenities for which customers in other markets are willing to pay top dollar.” He is talking about “luxury boxes, club seats, and electronic signage/sponsorship opportunities” that “create a huge and growing financial chasm between the Chargers and the top teams in the NFL.” (Because of so much revenue sharing, I don’t think there is any “huge” chasm, but that’s another subject.)

Fabiani goes on to say that luxury boxes and club seats were “both virtually sold out last season.”

That’s a mouthful. The Chargers virtually sold out the luxury boxes and club seats, but that’s not good enough. Let’s face facts: only a big, rich market could create the income stream that the Chargers’ management covets. San Diego cannot provide this. First, the business mix in San Diego does not lend itself to providing whopping revenues from super-luxury boxes. San Diego is filled with capital-intensive, cerebrally oriented companies (biotechs, telecoms) that can’t afford to entertain in luxury boxes and really aren’t suited to doing business at football games anyway. The real estate companies used to throw money around, but now they are struggling to survive. The big hotel owners still have money to burn, but there aren’t enough of them. Similarly, the average San Diegan is squeezed: the cost of living is 50 percent above the nation’s, but incomes are only 20 percent higher.

Bottom line: even if the Chargers built a new stadium, they would find that they couldn’t get that much more revenue from the corporations, superrich, and average fan. San Diegans, including most companies, live on psychic income. That won’t satisfy the Chargers. A new stadium would cost well over a billion dollars. The team could not recover those extra costs, even with a large government subsidy.

And that brings us to today’s macroeconomic situation. Governments at all levels are ailing. The City of San Diego is one of the worst off in the nation. Chula Vista, with which the team is now having discussions, is hurting. The recession will inhibit consumers for probably two more years. Building costs have soared. All around the country, housing markets are in desperate shape; teams’ hopes of financing stadiums with revenue from condos are, frankly, shot. The credit crunch is likely to last into 2010. The National Football League could have a strike or lockout in 2011; that prospect could cool off the building of new stadiums.

“Tax revenues are falling, governments are struggling,” says Dennis Coates, economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. With real estate in the Dumpster, the always-specious argument that stadiums spur development is a tougher sell.

Rodney Fort, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, agrees with Coates: in the near future, the private sector will have to put up more of the money. “Governments are less willing to foot the bill,” he says, so the teams will have to come up with more scratch. The NFL itself might put more into new stadium deals; it has always wanted desperately to return to Los Angeles, and in that 2004 contract, San Diego promises not to sue the league, which was already talking with L.A. at the time of the negotiations.

Fabiani admits that “Today, there is no chance that the Mission Valley project could be financed.” The housing market has “declined dramatically,” while stadium construction costs have skyrocketed. In my judgment, that deal was a fairy tale back in 2002 when the Chargers proposed it.

Fabiani believes a deal can still be worked out in Chula Vista. But 60 to 70 percent of the houses for sale in Chula Vista are distress sales. Fabiani hopes there could be a “consortium of universities” on the east side that could produce “a mix of development… that would include more than housing.” Sorry. “A consortium of universities” is not going to spring out of the ground in eastern Chula Vista. It might get a branch of a community college or of San Diego State, but that would be a long time away, and modest at best. Eastern Chula Vista is one of the messiest housing markets in the county. Fabiani admits, “We are a long, long way from moving forward” in Chula Vista.

He sums up, “The credit crunch, skyrocketing raw material costs, and [the] housing-market collapse are huge issues, and that is why completing our project in San Diego County becomes more difficult by the day.”

That is another mouthful. He is telling San Diegans to be ready for a departure, although he is not that blunt about it.

A billionaire developer named Ed Roski says he will build a privately funded football stadium in the City of Industry, 25 miles east of Los Angeles. He says he can start construction in October and claims he has financing. (He is a known dreamer/huckster, so eyebrows are always cocked at his pronouncements.)

In telling me that the Chargers are not likely to keep their plans secret from San Diegans, as the contract permits, Fabiani says, “When Ed Roski announced his City of Industry stadium proposal, we proactively told the media and our fans of the long friendship between the Roski and Spanos families and about the fact that Ed Roski and Dean Spanos [have] talked about Mr. Roski’s plans for a stadium in the Los Angeles area.” But the main focus is on San Diego, Fabiani insists.

But his statement should not be comforting to Charger fans. On the other hand, NFL owners are said to be talking about cities with “stadium issues” — that is, teams that reside in cities that won’t or can’t come up with gigantic subsidies or might even think there are better uses for public funds than supporting pro teams owned by billionaires. Teams considered the best candidates for departure are the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers. In the second tier are the Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills, and St. Louis Rams. (The Raiders and Rams were both domiciled in Los Angeles at one time.)

My guess is the Chargers are Roski’s lead candidate. The Chargers would have to pay a penalty of more than $50 million to leave between now and 2010, but the sum drops to $26 million in 2011 and keeps declining. In that 2004 contract, the City gave the Chargers every incentive to scram. They would like to do so. The year 2012, the year following a possible players’ strike or owners’ lockout, and possibly in a better economic/financial environment, seems logical.

Every entrepreneur wants to make more money. In the world of pro sports, there is no such thing as community loyalty, especially when such loyalty is spelled S-U-B-S-I-D-Y and the government is broke.


Before the Chargers Girls, 1961

January 16, 2008 — Robert Mizrachi

Before the Charger Girls, the team and fans had Chargettes. Here they are in 1961. According to a posting on glorifythepast.com, in 1970, "A lot of Bolts were caught up in an NFL drug scandal, and the original Charger Girls, the Chargettes, were disbanded after several of them appeared in a Playboy spread." The man in the photo is quarterback Jack Kemp, who went on to become the Republicans' 1996 vice presidential candidate.

To order this photo please contact the San Diego Historical Society at sdhscollections@sandiegohistory.org.

Why the Chargers Will Beat the Pats and...

January 16, 2008 — Patrick Daugherty

…destroy their perfection, thereby establishing athletic dominion over the continent, AFC-wise, and, at the same time, crush the hopes of little boys and girls living in Eastern Europe.

The Bolts will win for the simple reason that San Diego’s first team will be on the field. The Chargers’ brain trust finally deployed their best against Indianapolis, although not until the crucial fourth quarter. Happily, that turned out to be good enough. Playmaker Legedu Naanee, running backs Darren Sproles and Michael Turner, and especially first-string quarterback Billy Volek, sailed the Chargers into victory harbor. The defending Super Bowl champions are beaten by our varsity team. On to Boston.

The last time the Chargers went to New England, in Week 2, they lost 38-14. But, they were burdened by second-string players: Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and a surprisingly spry, at the time, Antonio Gates. They lost. What else would you expect?

Another reason the Bolts will win is the Big Dig. The mammoth construction project was first talked about in the 1970s; work commenced on underground tunnels and above-ground bridges in 1991. You, reading this, have lived long enough to see the job finished. Be happy. The project was turned over to Massachusetts authorities two and a half weeks ago, although lawsuits will continue for decades. As consequence, the city is unemployed and will be drunk at kickoff time.

The Bolts will win because Peter King, sportswriter and sports-TV gossipmonger, wrote, “New England (17-0). Eight quarters shy of history, I can’t see the Patriots losing. Not to the beat-up Chargers at home, or to the red-hot Giants or Packers.”

The Bolts will win because the Gray Hoodie is too strange to go undefeated. Look at Bill Belichick’s background. He was captain of the lacrosse team at Wesleyan University back in the day. He graduated in 1975.

Which brought him into the orbit of one Kevin Lempa, a shadowy figure in Belichick’s life, who, besides being a San Diego Chargers defensive backs/defensive line coach from 1997 to 1999, was also a wide receiver coach for Wesleyan University in 1976, just one year after Belichick left.

Freaky.

The Chargers will win because Jay Mariotti, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote, “This is the Patriots… They are a sure thing — and you always go with a sure thing. There is just no way the Patriots will lose…the Chargers have no better chance in Gillette Stadium than Rosie O’Donnell has of winning a beauty contest in a thong.”

The Chargers will win because of Gary Callahan, sports columnist for the Boston Globe, wrote, under the head “Why bother showing up?” this about the Chargers/Indy game: “They didn’t win a championship. Not even a conference championship. They won a second-round playoff game and earned the right to travel across three time zones to play the greatest team ever on a day that is expected to be colder than naked ice fishing. If this was a title fight, someone in the Chargers’ corner would be screaming: ‘Stay down! Stay down!’”

When that many sports columnists, writing for different outlets in different cities, all say the same thing, you know to go the other way. Think, buying a house at the top of the market.

The Chargers will win because it’s time for the Patriots to lose. The Pats are no longer crushing every team they play. For bettors, this trend is more pronounced. New England is 15-8 against the spread (ATS) over their last 23 games, which means they’ve won games for themselves and then won the same games for bettors by covering the spread. This is what you would expect from a great team. However, New England is 1-6 ATS in their last seven games. At this point in the season, what counts is how a team is playing over their last two, three, four games.

Yeah, New England spreads have been high and, yeah, spreads are set to how people will bet not on matchups; even so, over the last six games, New England beat the Giants by 3 points, beat Baltimore by 3 points, and beat Philadelphia by 3 points. Another way of looking at those numbers is to consider that the Patriots have been one penalty call from losing any one of those three games.

On the other hand, San Diego is 5-0 ATS over their last five games. They’re hot. And, here’s a secret that apparently no one knows: the Chargers just beat the defending world champions, on their field, with backup players. Do you think that might mean something?

Somewhere Marty Is Laughing

September 20, 2007 — Patrick Daugherty

Happily, I got the "Norv Is a Hack" column out of the way before the NFL season started, so I can say "Norv Is a Hack" now without being accused of jumping on the bandwagon. Norv is a hack.

Perhaps something more. How did Norv Turner manage to take a 14-2 team, with 20 returning starters, and within the space of one off-season, turn that splendid crew into the thing we saw groping around Gillette Stadium on Sunday night?

Mayhap, Sunday's highlights will provide guidance. Gross stats: Patriots 38, Chargers 14. Pats gained 407 yards, Chargers 201. LaDainian Tomlinson racked 43 yards on 18 carries. On the bright side, 43 yards is in the neighborhood of twice as much as the 25 yards he gained in Week 1. Chargers 2007 scoreboard: Two games. Two weeks. Two first halves. 0 points.

You don't see how bad San Diego's play-calling was until you break the game down. Patriots received first. Brady throws seven passes in a row -- touchdown, 7 to 0. New England kicks off, touchback. San Diego takes over on their 20. Rivers throws an interception. New England goes for a field goal in the next series -- misses. Chargers receive, begin play on their 31. False start, 1st and 15 from the 26-yard line. Tomlinson runs off the right guard for two yards. Incomplete pass. Pass to Antonio Gates for 11 yards. Fourth and 2 on the 39-yard line. Norv calls for a punt.

New England goes on a 5:58 minute, ten-play drive. Touchdown, 14-0. Pats kick-off, San Diego returns to their 31-yard line. Offensive guru Norv Turner at the bat. Tomlinson off the left guard for 3 yards. Tomlinson off left guard for 8 yards. Tomlinson off the right guard for 2 yards. Delay-of-game penalty. Tomlinson up the middle for 4 yards. Tomlinson runs right and is pushed out of bounds, gains 1 yard. Pass to Jackson for 14 yards. Rivers fumbles.

Second quarter. New England makes a 5:35 minute, ten-play drive, settles for a field goal, 17-0.

Kick off. San Diego starts from their 30-yard line. Tomlinson runs left for 3 yards. Tomlinson catches a pass on the right side for 6 yards. Tomlinson goes over the left guard for no gain. It's fourth and 1, Norv calls for a punt.

Three series, eight plays to LT, one pass to Jackson, one pass to Gates. Toss in the odd fumble, sack, incomplete pass, interception, two penalties, two punts, and what do you have?

MARTYBALL! Let the good times roll!

Indeed, this is Martyball at its most pristine. Although, in fairness to Marty, I don't think, with LT on the payroll, behind 17-0, fourth and 1 on the 39, he would call for punt. For the second time in the game.

By the way, the next time San Diego has the ball, Rivers is intercepted by Adalius

Thomas, a 270-pound linebacker, who runs 65 yards for a touchdown. Those 270-pound linebackers are quicker than they look.

And so on...24-zip at the half. Should have been more. Bill Belichick is a cheat and a weasel and a better coach than we've seen in San Diego since Don Coryell.

Speaking of Belichick, it's inspiring to see how he withstood the shame and damnation heaped upon his person by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of mankind. The commissioner not only fined Belichick $500,000 for illegally videotaping an opponent's defensive signals, he fined the owner $250,000 and a number-one draft choice on condition New England makes the playoffs (they will).

Goodell's swift and decisive punishment shook Patriots owner Robert Kraft to his chakra. Kraft, no doubt reflecting on his shame, told ESPN, "What made it particularly disheartening, in our group of companies we hold people to very high standards, and this isn't what we're about. I've discussed that with coach Belichick."

It must have been an ass-chewing the likes of which Big Bill had never experienced. Belichick did seem a bit shaken when receiving the game ball from Kraft on Sunday night. Or maybe he was thinking about his new five-year contract, which will keep him in Boston until at least 2012.

In other news, Brett Favre played like he was 25 on Sunday, thumping the New York Giants 35 to 13 by way of 286 yards passing and three touchdowns. Favre hasn't looked this good in a couple years. San Diego plays Green Bay on Sunday. The Packers are undefeated. If San Diego drops this one, we can start the countdown clock on Norv. If called upon, I am prepared to recommend Dennis Green.

Housekeeping notes: We have restored the Vegas Line in response to Name Withheld's request. I invite readers to jaunt over to "Bad Sports" blog, now setting up shop on SanDiegoReader.com, where you will find O. J. news and betting lines. For the duration.

Chargers Preview Edition

September 6, 2007 — Patrick Daugherty

Before we get to the Chargers, I should note Division II dwelling Appalachian State and its convincing 34-32 victory over nationally ranked (number 5) Division I opponent Michigan. The game was played at Michigan. Follows is the weekend's best sports quote delivered by Appalachian State's chancellor, Kenneth Peacock.

Norv Turner

Chancellor Peacock traveled with his football team to the big game in Ann Arbor. To give you a sense of the disparity between the schools, Appalachian State University is located in Boone, North Carolina, population 13,000. Michigan State Stadium holds eight times the population of Boone.

The moment the Mount-aineers blocked Michigan's field goal, took possession with four seconds left in the contest, Appalachian students, watching the game from Boone, made their way to Kidd Brewer Stadium (sits 16,650, built 45 years ago). Students climbed the fence, tore down a goalpost, and dragged it onto Rivers Street, thence to Bodenheimer Drive, thence to Chancellor Kenneth Peacock's 9000-square-foot house. Specifically, to its front yard.

The news, as is its wont, travels faster than necessary, and before the Mountaineers left Ann Arbor a reporter told Chancellor Peacock that the Appalachian State goal post was resting on his lawn and wanted to know how he felt about that. Peacock said, "I can hardly wait to get home to see it."

* * *

San Diego Chargers press release.

February 19, 2007, marked a new beginning in Chargers football when President Dean Spanos introduced Norv Turner as the new head coach of the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers do not pick competent head coaches. Line up a half dozen head coaching applicants, and the Chargers pick a loser time after time after time.

Here's an incredible statistic: Turner lost 58 percent of his games as head coach. The last guy, the fired guy, Marty Schottenheimer, was a great regular-season coach, won 61 percent of the games he coached, but crashed in the playoffs. When he had to win, he played not to lose and therefore lost. It's a personality thing with Marty; he couldn't shake it.

Turner, on the other had, doesn't win in the regular season and doesn't win in the postseason. Here's his coaching résumé: Seven years head coach for Washington. Finished with a record of 49-59-1. He made the playoffs in 1999, lost to Tampa Bay in the second round. Fired 13 games into the 2000 season.

His next head-coaching position arrived four years later with Al Davis and the Raiders. You have to be desperate to work for Al in good times; working for Al in his senility is like being John McCain running for president in '08 -- you'll do anything to get the big job. Turner went 5-11 in 2004, 4-12 in 2005, then was fired to make room for NFL coaching legend Art Shell.

And that's it, head coach for two clubs, combined 58-82-1 record, 24 games under .500. He racked two playoff games, one win, one loss, both in the same year. Time to look around for a beer distributorship.

The party line says Norv made his bones as an offensive coordinator. He was offensive coordinator for Dallas in the early '90s. Did good. Lasted three years. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl twice while he was there, in 1992 and '93. But that was a long time ago. George Bush was president and the American army had recently invaded Iraq.

Turner was offensive coordinator for the Chargers in 2001 (they went 5 and 11) and for Miami in 2002 and 2003 (they went 9-7 and 10-6)...did not make the playoffs in either year. And, finally, last season, he was offensive coordinator for San Francisco. The team went 7-9.

So, he's not working because of his stats. His stats suck.

The Chargers say they hired Turner because he is "...Known as an offensive mastermind, Turner was the team's offensive coordinator in 2001 and installed the same offense that the team currently runs."

San Diego is running the same offensive as it did five years ago? This is a good thing?

My guess is that Turner was hired because he was the safest choice on the table. There was a saying IT managers had back in the 1980s, when desktop computers were flooding into corporations: "Nobody ever got fired for buying an IBM computer." IBM boxes weren't the best, but they were the safest choice.

That's Norv.

Norv also solved the number-one problem on A.J. Smith's trouble list. The Chargers general manager meant to hire a head coach he could dominate. No more guff from the hired help. Norv did not hire, and therefore one assumes he does not possess the loyalty of new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and new offensive coordinator Clarence Shelmon.

Nobody cares. The Chargers have the best talent in the NFL -- 11 Pro Bowlers and Turner has a four-year contract. No excuses this time.

Marty's Record Hardly Merits Public Lynching

January 25, 2007 — Don Bauder

The noose is tightening around Marty Schottenheimer's neck, even though the Chargers have retained his services for next season. According to some howling fans and nitpicking sportswriters, the Chargers coach chokes in playoff games. His regular season record -- 200 wins, 126 losses, 1 tie -- is one of the best in football history. But his playoff record is 5 wins and 13 losses. That's a major reason why the team owners, the Spanos family, got internal pressure to dump him.

But he has coached only 18 playoff games. Is that an adequate sample size -- enough games to merit this contumely? I interviewed eight statistical experts -- economists, financial gurus, physical scientists, mathematicians, statistical scientists. All work with numbers each day. Most have Ph.D.s. All but one are San Diegans. Only one works in sports. Since the playoffs involve tougher competition, and 18 games aren't enough to draw a conclusion, most said the numbers don't justify the opprobrium.

Mike Stolper of Stolper & Company makes a living sizing up the records of money managers. But there is a problem: "You need over 30 years for it to be statistically predictive," he says. "You never have statistical certainty because of the life span of human beings. Nobody gives you any responsibility until you are 40, and nobody trusts you after you are 60. People's life spans don't correspond to statistical purity." Thus, he says, "It is bizarre that they [fans, sportswriters, some in Chargers management] are focusing only on the [Schottenheimer] playoff record."

Stolper points to a famous mutual fund money manager who did better than the overall market for 15 years, until he took a pratfall in 2006 and significantly underperformed. Some statisticians said the odds of such a 15-year run were 1 in 2.3 million. But others pointed to statistical probability. With the thousands of portfolio managers out there, the odds that someone would make 15 in a row, perhaps mainly by luck, were probably 100 percent.

"We have modest statistical evidence that Marty's playoff performances are subpar," says Jeffrey Norman, executive vice president of Freeman Associates Investment Management. He got a bachelor's degree in math at Princeton and went on to postgraduate work in computer science and nightly plays high-stakes poker on the Internet. "We have nowhere near enough statistical evidence to infer whether this is due to Marty's coaching, his having to coach slightly weaker teams, or mere chance."

Adds Norman, "Playoff records really aren't that meaningful." If one coach has a 60 percent chance to win each playoff game and another coach has a 40 percent chance, "It would take 30 playoff games before you could tell with 90 percent confidence which coach is better."

With 18 games, "You don't have a big enough sample size to have a robust conclusion," says economist/lawyer/author Todd Buchholz, former White House and Harvard economist. The Schottenheimer condemnation makes Buchholz think of Yale economist Ray C. Fair, who believes that he can predict the winner of presidential elections by how fast the economy is growing. But Fair hasn't looked at enough years to achieve statistical reliability, says Buchholz. Ditto for the Schottenheimer posse.

Rodney Fort, professor of economics at Washington State University and author of Sports Economics (and the only non-San Diegan interviewed), believes the 18 games would have been significant if they had all come in succession and if each time Schottenheimer had had a team as good as the Chargers, who had a 14-2 regular season, the best in football, this season. In previous years, "He might have had marginal teams" compared to this season's Chargers, says Fort.

Jason Schweinsberg, a Ph.D. in statistics who is an assistant professor in the math department at the University of California, San Diego, says that people "attach too much significance to occurrences that could have easily happened by chance." For example, National Football League teams play only 16 regular season games. However, if all teams were equal and the games were decided by a coin flip, more than one team per year would have 12-4 records. "One team every three years would finish 13-3 or better just by luck," he says.

"Marty Schottenheimer's career playoff record is 5-13. However, if one flips a coin 18 times, one will get 5 or fewer heads nearly 5 percent of the time. While it is unlikely that a coach will go 5-13 just by having bad luck, it is certainly possible," says Schweinsberg, who spent three years doing postdoctorate work in math at Cornell. He notes that the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach, who just resigned, had lost all four American Football Conference championship games that he coached until last season. "That would happen by chance only about 6 percent of the time." Then the Steelers went on to win last year's Super Bowl.

Al Rappaport, emeritus professor of management from Northwestern University, now a prolific author for Harvard Business School Press and the Harvard Business Review, says he has spent his life examining statistics, but they don't explain everything. "I am a numbers guy," he says. "But to look at numbers only is probably unfair to everyone concerned. The coach calls the perfect play, but the guy drops the ball in the end zone, and the team loses the game." After the Chargers lost to New England January 14, players said the same thing.

"The playoffs filter the competition," says Rappaport. It's tougher to have a good record in playoffs.

As it turns out, the Patriots' coach, Bill Belichick, has an astonishingly good playoff record of 13 wins, 3 losses, although a less impressive 111-81 regular season record. Stuart Hurlbert, research professor of biology at San Diego State University and an expert in ecological statistics, disagrees with the others: even though there is a small sample size, the huge difference between the playoff records of Belichick and Schottenheimer is meaningful. "Statistically, that is a real difference," says Hurlbert. "I guess if people in San Diego had seen that coach's [Belichick's] amazing record, they would have been more worried. But once you get a little boosterism going, it is like a virus." Hurlbert also thinks there is a significant statistical difference between Schottenheimer's overall record and his playoff record.

Helen Regan has a Ph.D. in mathematics and is an assistant professor of biology at San Diego State. "If you look at the raw data, it looks like he doesn't do as well in the playoffs as the rest of the games," she says, noting that she is not a statistician. "But you have to do well in the regular season to make the playoffs. The Chargers should hire Belichick and no one else. But if they aren't going to get him, whom will they go for?" Again, it's probabilities. How likely are the Chargers to land Belichick or a clone?

One of the ironies of sports fanaticism is that a coach of a great team gets the boot. Coaches with mediocre records often hold their jobs because the community hasn't gone gaga and then been deflated. I remember back in the 1960s interviewing a physics professor at Purdue University. After the interview ended, we talked about football. Those were the days when college teams played only nine games. This professor said he had figured the formula for coaching longevity. "Five-ninths. If you win five and lose four every year, people get neither hyperenthusiastic nor depressed. You keep your job," he said.

Marty's Curse

January 18, 2007 — Patrick Daugherty

I've been calling for Marty Schottenheimer's dismissal since the day he was hired. I take no pleasure -- indeed, it is troubling -- to find myself in the company of corporate media at this late date.

From the January 21, 2002, "Sporting Box" column: "San Diego's captive press reports Marty Schottenheimer will be named Bolt's head coach.... I, long ago, have given up trying to understand what the Spanos family wants to do with the Chargers.... Be forewarned, Schottenheimer is boring, arrogant, hates the press, has contempt for fans, and wants to win every game by a score of 5 to 3.

From the January 4, 2005, column: "Unlike those who bow and bootlick before the Schottenheimer as soon as the Chargers started winning, I have remained steadfast. I didn't like him when he was 4 and 12 and I don't like him today, when he's 12 and 4.

"At bottom, excessive, soul-suffocating caution is what I hold against Marty. Caution is unbecoming in life, ugly in sports, and a crime in the NFL. Take Sunday's game. Sure, other playoff-bound teams were holding out their stars, the star quarterback, the star running back, not wanting to get a franchise player hurt before the playoffs begin.

"But, Marty held out an entire squad: Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Randall Godfrey, Eric Parker, Tim Dwight, Antonio Gates, Keenan McCardell, Lorenzo Neal, and Jamal Williams. The equipment manager was on the bubble."

September 13, 2005: "We now know Martyball has not passed away, but lurks in the rancid underground corridors of Qualcomm Stadium. Remember last January when the Chargers hosted the New York Jets on the first day of Wildcard Weekend? The game went into overtime, San Diego drives to the Jets' 22-yard line. It's first and ten. The Chargers deal three running plays, the same plays that had not worked all afternoon, for no gain. Then, Schottenheimer sends in a rookie kicker who misses a 39-yard field goal. End of season.

"Martyball, the fear-ridden obsession of running the ball up the gut every time an important game is on the line, showed its rodent face again last Sunday. Or maybe not. Here's the situation: The Chargers are on the Cowboys' 7-yard line and have 47 seconds, four plays, and one timeout left to them. They need to score a touchdown to win. LaDainian Tomlinson is ignored, Brees throws four passes; the first three were incomplete, the last was intercepted.

"It sure seemed like Martyball: the stupid, repetitive selection of plays that do not work. But, and here's the rub, this series of stupid, repetitive plays were all passes, and purists will object if we call this Martyball.

"But, even purists must admit the foregoing was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole over and over and over again until failure is achieved. Isn't that what Martyball is all about?"

All right, now that I've shown you my bona fides, I trust you'll believe me when I say that Sunday's loss was not Marty's fault. Yes, he did make a bonehead call in the first quarter. It was one of those, "I can't do Martyball so I'll do the exact opposite of Martyball: I'll pass on 4th and 11." And he did waste a timeout on a moronic challenge in the fourth quarter. But, Marty didn't turn over the football four times, didn't blow a punt, didn't drop a ball, didn't miss a field goal, didn't pick up a 15-yard personal foul, didn't intercept the ball when he should have knocked it down, didn't fumble, and so on. The players lost the game.

Marty dumped Martyball this year, handed play-calling to his offensive and defensive coordinators much like an alcoholic, on his first week of sobriety, who tells his wife, "Honey, take all the vodka bottles out of the house and pour their contents down the damn sewer." Marty stayed sober, for the most part, and deserves our congratulations.

But, as is so often the case, good deeds don't count. Marty is cursed, and don't kid yourself, a 5-13 record in the playoffs is a curse.

You say there is no such a thing? Ask the city of Boston. The curse of the Bambino began after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. Karmic retribution ensued. The Red Sox didn't win a World Series for the next 84 years. Almost three generations. A story went around Beantown, goes like this: a bartender is talking to a couple of his noon regulars after another American League Championship Series defeat. The bartender, referring to the Red Sox, says, "They killed our fathers and now they're coming after us."

Despite heroic efforts at reformation, Marty is a cursed human being and should be fired, but not for cause. Karma giveth and karma taketh. Consider this: if New England wins the Super Bowl, Junior Seau will get his ring.

Will Owners Let Chargers Leave Bankrupt City?

December 14, 2006 — Don Bauder

San Diego has a bang-up football team and a banged-up balance sheet. And that presents a dilemma: will National Football League owners permit the Chargers, potential Super Bowl contestants, to leave a city the year it may be forced into bankruptcy? The team can flirt with other cities in January and elope after the 2008 season, but it probably won't woo any metro area publicly while this year's playoff turnstiles are spinning. A move could create a public relations disaster: the nation may see that pro football is not a game but an extortion racket by which money of poor taxpayers is distributed to billionaire team owners.

Art Modell, who owned two different pro football teams, once put it this way: league owners are "32 fat-cat Republicans who act like complete socialists." It is an apt description: the owners are consumed by greed, but through such arrangements as the draft, easy schedules for weaker teams, and player salary caps, they make sure that have-nots eventually become haves. Karl Marx would have loved it. Because of revenue sharing, every team will have its days in the limelight.

The trick is coming up with a good team at the time you're squeezing your home city for several hundred million dollars for a new stadium. The Chargers thought they had timed it right, but then the City was forced to reveal that it had been covering up more than a billion dollars of pension deficits. Now the city is falling apart.

The last election may have been sobering to pro sports owner/mendicants. In turning thumbs down on a plea by its pro basketball team, Seattle voted 3 to 1 for a measure that prohibits sports welfare unless taxpayers get a return on their investment. By the same margin, Sacramento voters rejected a bid for a new basketball arena that would have required a sales tax hike. Overwhelmingly, Pasadena voters said they didn't want to invite the National Football League in to help rehabilitate the Rose Bowl. Could pro football owners fear an Age of Enlightenment?

I asked five of the most prominent sports economists whether the league, concerned about deserting a bankrupt city, might turn down the Chargers' bid for relocation. I asked if the Chargers' claim that it needed a new stadium to remain competitive made any sense, particularly since they have done so well the last few seasons playing in a stadium they fallaciously consider out of date. And I asked if the Chargers might end up in the Los Angeles metro area, particularly Orange County, which I still think will be their new home.

They shot down the notion that November 7's election results portend a new realization by the public that it is getting screwed. "There is creeping enlightenment, but not a sea change," says Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College. "The level of resistance" to a Charger departure "might be higher than in the past."

That's too optimistic, say others. "There have always been a number of places that have refused to cave in, but in the end, there are always more places that will," says Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation. Yes, there were minor victories Election Day, but this year baseball's Washington Nationals "got the first 100 percent government-financed stadium."

"From time to time I think we really have become more rational, but then weird things happen," says Robert A. Baade of Lake Forest College.

And even if rationality were creeping into public discourse, there is little evidence the National Football League would be attuned to it. "The NFL is about making as much money as it can for owners," says Dennis Coates of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "They wouldn't have a problem moving a team if it would make more money for the owners. The league doesn't have a terribly strong sense of loyalty to cities."

"Nothing will deter the NFL from putting its teams where it will make the most money," says Rodney D. Fort of Washington State University, author of the text Sports Economics.

"If the NFL thought it could move the Chargers without too much in the way of negative publicity, the NFL would allow this. It is a bottom-line business," says Baade. Because of the emotional impact of Katrina, the league might want to keep the Saints in New Orleans "for at least a period of time to give the impression that the NFL is not a heartless entity."

The Chargers claim they need a new stadium so they can field a better team. Is that poppycock? In a word, yes, say the economists, mainly because of the share-the-wealth socialism. In all sports, "half the time they get better, half the time they don't" after wangling a new facility, says Fort. It's less likely to happen in share-the-wealth football, even though some revenues, such as from luxury boxes, do not have to be shared with other owners. By and large, new stadiums make football owners richer but don't make teams better. Teams such as the Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, and Oakland Raiders have had both stellar and smelly years in old facilities, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams have had both good and bad years in new stadiums.

So are the Chargers headed out of town -- particularly to the juicy L.A. metro area? If the team goes deep into the playoffs or to the Super Bowl, "San Diego might have a change of heart," says Zimbalist. Mayor Sanders might not be able to resist entreaties from his business backers and could give away the entire Qualcomm site.

A deal outside of the city, such as in Chula Vista or National City, might work, says Fort. The Oakland A's are angling to move to Fremont and the 49ers to Santa Clara, he notes. Of course, public financing is a stumbling block in San Diego County cities. And two logical alternatives would seem to be out of the question: the nabobs who want cities to subsidize the Chargers aren't likely to put their own money in, and big owner egos would prevent the team from staying at Qualcomm, an excellent facility.

L.A.? Coates says the league may want it for extortion purposes. "It is nice to have a big-market option to use as part of a threat," he says. The league does not want to add an expansion team until 2010, says Fort. At that point, 32 owners could split the $600 million L.A. expansion fee -- "a nice bonus," he says.

Baade was hired several years ago to assess the economic impact of L.A.'s Staples Center, an indoor facility. It's slight. "L.A. understands that pro sports are not a pot of gold," says Baade. He doubts that L.A. governments would offer a subsidy, and Fort doesn't think the National Football League would put up much money, even as badly as it wants a team in the rich L.A. television market. However, late last week the National Football League said it would lend $300 million to the Jets and Giants to underwrite construction of their new, privately financed joint stadium in the Meadowlands.

Los Angeles is competing for the 2016 summer Olympics. It might construct a new facility or renovate the Coliseum and then "use it for a stadium for the NFL, without it being called a subsidy for the NFL," says Baade. However, "in the absence of a subsidy, I don't know a team that would be willing to make the move." Maybe some of the Hollywood billionaires would jump in. Orange County might put public money in; Anaheim's mayor Curt Pringle is a close friend of Chargers owner Alex Spanos. "But I find it hard to believe Orange County is in a position to give much of a subsidy." The league is reportedly willing to pay $50 million for land next to Angel Stadium, but now a developer is offering $150 million for rights to the property, and some key councilmembers say the team owners have taken too long to decide. Pringle, however, is picking holes in the developer's bid.

Playing Hard to Get, Chargers Prefer L.A.

November 2, 2006 — Don Bauder

In France, a common mini-scandal is the ménage à trois, a person with two lovers, sometimes under the same roof. The San Diego Chargers, secretly and lustfully eyeing the Los Angeles market, may outscandalize the French with a ménage à cinq, or one team pursued by four wooers.

In next week's election, citizens of Pasadena will vote whether their city should try to persuade the National Football League to put a team there and help renovate the Rose Bowl -- a job that will cost half a billion dollars. Last year, the Pasadena City Council pulled out of negotiations with the league. But sports worshippers got enough signatures to put it on this month's ballot. If it wins, the Chargers might be able to choose among four L.A.-area bedmates, because the league is also considering rehabilitating the Coliseum, putting a new stadium in Orange County, or putting a new stadium somewhere else, possibly near downtown. This is an auctioneer's dream: one product, four bidders.

Of course, the Chargers are playing hard to get, pretending they really aren't interested in L.A. Yeah, and most husbands tell their wives they would spurn advances from Paris Hilton. The Chargers can begin talking with other cities January 1 and can leave after the 2008 season. The L.A. metro area has 13 million people and is the nation's 2nd-largest television market. San Diego has 3 million and is the 26th-biggest television market. The TV-conscious National Football League will subsidize a stadium in the L.A. area but not in San Diego. 'Nuff said. The Chargers will go to L.A. if league owners agree. Recently, in the wake of talk that a new or rehabilitated stadium would cost $1 billion, some owners are said to be getting cold feet. But a billion isn't what it used to be, and the prospect of big profits will warm those toes.

San Diego business leaders want to make this a real orgy. National City and Chula Vista are trying to seduce the Chargers, and the City and County of San Diego are together scouting out another location. If you're keeping score, this would be a ménage à huit, or one person with seven potential lovers -- something that would shock even the French. The idea of squeezing an otiose football stadium into a thriving port area is ridiculous, particularly in depressed and overtaxed National City. Don't those football flacks claim (wrongly) that a stadium stimulates business, rather than eliminates it? This one would kill port jobs, and there would be nothing but a stadium that is empty all but 20 to 30 days a year to replace that economic loss. The stadium would cost $450 million and infrastructure $350 million. It isn't going to happen.

Chula Vista? What amuses me is that the Chargers would be negotiating for land there with HomeFed, the real estate company that is what's left of the savings and loan seized by the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1992. These are shrewd dudes. The company is a developer of San Elijo Hills and Otay Ranch in San Diego County. Five years ago, losses were steep and the stock sold for pennies a share. Now, profits have been rolling in for three years, and (adjusted for a 10 for 1 reverse split in 2003) the stock sells around $68. HomeFed is controlled by New York's Leucadia National, which buys assets cheap and helps them flower, à la HomeFed. In 2002, Leucadia shareholders approved a relocation to tax-sheltered Bermuda, but the company hasn't made the move. Bottom line: the Chargers won't be able to denude Leucadia/HomeFed lawyers the way they took City of San Diego lawyers' pants down. Maybe the team can once again con the city and county, but why should it bother when a juicy market beckons immediately to the north? It appears some in the establishment now know the Chargers are leaving and will use this opportunity disingenuously to blame the departure on Mike Aguirre.

There are rumors that other teams covet the L.A. market. The Minnesota Vikings might like a more hospitable climate, but in this case, an entire state would put up a ruckus. There are rumors that aging Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis needs to dump part of the team for estate tax reasons. The Raiders might return to the L.A. market and share it with the Chargers, according to longtime San Diego sports announcer Jerry Gross, who believes the Chargers are headed for Orange County. There is a rumor that Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. would return as part owner of the Los Angeles Raiders. But DeBartolo was banned from ownership of a team after he got caught bribing a former Louisiana governor with $400,000 in cash to get a casino license. He was fined and got two years' probation, incurring the league's wrath. It's okay to consort with gamblers, but it's not okay to get caught. It's a long shot that the Raiders would return to L.A., with or without DeBartolo.

The New Orleans Saints would be a logical candidate for relocation, but emotion will trump logic on this one. Post-Katrina, the city's population is down 60 percent to 187,525. The metro area is down to a little over a million from 1.3 million pre-Katrina. It has sunk to the 54th-largest TV market. That's not enough to support a team. But in a stunning example of twisted priorities, $185 million was spent to rebuild the Superdome, and most of that came from the federal government's bungling Federal Emergency Management Agency. Although it appears the Saints' owner would like to hike out of town, this team won't move soon. Of course, Louisiana is a football-crazed state, as well as thoroughly corrupt -- two more reasons it has such an affinity with the National Football League.

The league doesn't want a franchise relocation to backfire. When the Cleveland Browns left that city in 1996, some in Congress threatened to reconsider the league's antitrust exemptions. Chastened, the league put an expansion team there. The owners don't want to suffer similar embarrassment with San Diego. But a financially ailing city is different from a hurricane-blown city. The Chargers have been trying to alienate San Diego for more than four years. The strategy may well work. The odds are good that the league will approve the move.

So expect San Diego's ménage à cinq or ménage à huit to begin making the headlines nationally sometime after the Super Bowl. The news will push some other pro sports scandals out of the papers. The Sacramento Kings basketball team is owned by billionaire casino owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. They want a new arena. Voters next week would have to approve a quarter-cent sales-tax boost. The brothers want more, such as all the revenue from the 8000 parking places. And a guarantee that there would be no competing restaurant nearby. (What's that about an arena bringing economic development to the neighborhood?) What's more, the brothers are reluctant to give details of what the voters will be voting on. Mercifully, the polls show the deal losing by almost 60 percent.

The Orlando Magic basketball team would love to get out of the headlines. This team also wants a new government-subsidized arena. The Magic recently admitted that it paid $200,000 to an antitax crusader, a local talk-show gabber, to keep his mouth shut.

The New York Yankees recently pulled off a heist. They will get $400 million of government funds to build a new stadium. They will destroy two parks and hundreds of trees in the process. Neil deMause, writer for the Village Voice and keeper of the website Fieldofschemes.com, learned that the team billed city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for some work. What did that work entail? Lobbying the city. So New York City was paying to have itself lobbied.

What do you call that? Ménage à un?

Air It Out

October 5, 2006 — Barbarella Fokos

'San Diego is somewhat noted for contributing greatly to offensive theory," says author and historian Todd Tobias. "In the 1960s, [Chargers coach] Sid Gillman started throwing the ball more than anybody -- most folks were running the ball back then." On Saturday, October 7, Tobias will discuss his new book Bombs Away! Air Coryell and the San Diego Chargers at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla. The book highlights the "Air Coryell" years (1978 to 1986), during which Don Coryell was the head coach of the Chargers.

Tobias writes, "Like the Sid Gillman-led Chargers of the 1960s, Coryell and his men thumbed their noses at popular offensive theory and put the ball in the air at a rate never before seen on professional football fields." Earlier in his career, Coryell helped implement the "I" formation, which, according to Tobias, "quickly became one of football's most widely used offensive alignments."

In the "I" formation, the quarterback, running back, and fullback are positioned in a straight line, making it difficult for the opposing team's defensive players to see them, limiting the defense's ability to anticipate moves in a play. "One of the main things with football is that you're trying to give away as little information about what you're going to do prior to the play starting as possible," says Tobias.

Tobias grew up in La Mesa and became a Chargers fan as a child during the Coryell era. "I've got friends who can tell you every statistic for the past 60 years, down to how many yards were thrown by [a player] in a game in 1964," says Tobias. "Other guys who love the idea of theory can sit down in a game and -- before each play is run, based on the previous play -- they say, 'Okay, if I was the coach, this is what I would do next,' and most of the time they get it right on. I have another friend who can tell you about the evolution of the football helmet, starting in the 1880s -- all the way back to leather helmets and rubber nose guards."

Tobias refers to fans who appear only when a team is winning as "bandwagoners." "Some people would say that I'm not a great fan because I don't hold season tickets, but I prefer to watch the game at home with friends. Everybody has their own different definition of being a fan."

Tobias is equally interested in events that occurred off the field. He devotes several pages to a controversy surrounding Dr. Arnold Mandell, who was retained in 1972 as the Chargers' "psychiatrist-in-residence." Upon discovering that some players were taking stimulants prior to games, Mandell ran tests on the drugs -- many of which were obtained in Mexico -- and found "impurities." In order to monitor the quality and amount of substances being consumed, Mandell began to prescribe amphetamines to certain players.

"This is the same question, like, 'Should high school parents buy kegs for their kids' parties if they're going to collect keys at the door?'" Tobias says. "Are you going to stop it? Or allow it to happen but try to control it so it doesn't get out of hand? And can you control it? It's debatable. I don't know to what degree guys are doing stuff these days, but drugs were going on in professional football a long time after Dr. Mandell."

In 1982, defensive lineman Don Reese shared his personal battle with cocaine with Sports Illustrated. In the article, Reese mentions partying with fellow player Chuck Muncie, whom a fed-up Coryell eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins. As a result of a failed drug test, Muncie never got to play with the Dolphins.

Fifteen years ago, Muncie started the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation to mentor at-risk youth. "After all my troubles, it is one thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow," Muncie shares in Tobias's book. "I am able to help kids and people not make the same mistakes that I made."

Tobias acquired firsthand accounts from 50 people -- most of them players involved with the team during the Coryell years -- in a section called "In Their Own Words." Quarterback Dan Fouts relates, "The beauty of the pass offense is that you are geared to adjust on the fly...the receiver adjusts as he is running down the field, and I am adjusting as I am going back."

Fouts remembers Coryell's encouragement: "There were times when I would start a game off and miss maybe eight of my first ten throws. I would come over on the sidelines all pissed off...Coryell would come over and say something like, 'You okay?' and I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm okay. But, shit, I can't hit a barn.' Then he'd say, 'Well, you've got 30 more throws. Let's go.'"

According to Fouts, this kind of support was rare. "A lot of coaches would be looking over your shoulder to see if the other kid is ready to go in." -- Barbarella

Bombs Away! Air Coryell and the San Diego Chargers
Discussion and booksigning with author Todd Tobias
Saturday, October 7
7 p.m.
D.G. Wills Books
7461 Girard Avenue
La Jolla
Cost: Free
Info: 858-456-1800 or www.dgwillsbooks.com


Pro Football Too Corrupt for Sin City?

May 18, 2006 — Don Bauder

Las Vegas is trying to woo the Chargers. Sports reporters say there could be a roadblock: major professional sports leagues claim they are reluctant to see teams relocate to Sin City. The gambling industry might be a negative influence on the purity of pro sports.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Pro sports and the gambling industry have been living in sin since the leagues began. Back in the early 1950s, the Senate's Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known as the Kefauver Committee, noted that gangster money poured into pro football, baseball, and basketball -- football in particular.

Verily, pro football was born as a vehicle for gambling, and its owners and players have long been connected with organized crime and gambling, according to the 1989 book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football by investigative author Dan E. Moldea.

Hypocrisy reigns. The National Football League warns that "associating with gamblers or with gambling activities in a manner tending to bring discredit to the NFL" will lead to severe penalties, including a life suspension from the league.

Ho ho ho ho ho ho. "Betting has made football, and the NFL knows it," writes Moldea. "The underworld has infiltrated every level of the NFL."

You want some names? George Halas, founder of the Chicago Bears in the 1920s, received loans from an associate of Chicago's "Scarface" Al Capone family, says Moldea. Tim Mara, who paid $500 for the New York Giants in 1925, was a bookie. Charles W. Bidwill, "a bootlegger, gambler, racetrack owner, and an associate of the Capone mob," says Moldea, bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1933. The team is now in Arizona and still run by a Bidwill. Big-time gambler Art Rooney bought the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933. His son still runs the team. Horse-racing enthusiast and gambler George Preston Marshall bought a team in Boston and moved it to Washington, D.C., in the 1930s, says Moldea.

After World War II, the All-American Football Conference was formed to rival the National Football League. Many of the owners were high rollers, says Moldea. Del E. Webb was a partner in a New York team in the new league. Webb was the contractor whom mobster Bugsy Siegel handpicked to build the Flamingo, the first major hotel-casino in Vegas. Webb had a 10 percent interest in that casino and later built and owned other gambling meccas in Nevada. Ben Lindheimer, whom Moldea labels "the overlord of Chicago's racetracks," bought into a team.

The classic owner was Mickey McBride, owner of a racing newswire, whom the Kefauver Committee called "public enemy number one," in part because he was paying the Capone family $4000 a week. McBride launched the Cleveland Browns. When things got too hot, other gamblers bought the team.

Finally, Art Modell purchased the Browns. Modell was a partner in a horse-racing stable with Mushy Wexler, whom the Kefauver Committee said was one of the "leading hoodlums" in McBride's racing wire service. Modell also got married in the home of the president of Las Vegas's Caesars Palace. I was living in Cleveland at the time. The story of the wedding ran on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's society page. Cleveland was so mobbed up that nobody thought anything about it.

San Diego's reputation is hardly spotless, either, and this book points it out. Barron Hilton purchased the Chargers and moved the team to San Diego in 1961, after a lot of arm-twisting by Jack Murphy, sports editor of the San Diego Union. "A long-time gambler, Hilton was a top executive of the Hilton Hotel chain," writes Moldea. Hilton was a close associate of Sidney Korshak, described by law enforcement agencies as "the link between the legitimate business world and organized crime." Hilton also had close ties to Gilbert Lee "the Brain" Beckley, whom Moldea describes as "the Mafia's onetime top layoff bookmaker." (Bookies lay off bets with other bookies to protect themselves from big losses, rather the way insurance companies spread risk around to other companies.)

Hilton's company also controlled two major casinos in Las Vegas. While he was in the process of selling the Chargers to Eugene Klein, Hilton ran into some trouble -- later smoothed over -- when trying to put a casino in Atlantic City, because of the Korshak ties.

Klein, who also had ties to Korshak, bought control of the Chargers in 1966. Although he was a big swinger in Los Angeles, he eventually moved to Teamsters-financed La Costa in Carlsbad to run the team. In March 1970, Klein was registered in the 21-room Acapulco Towers in Mexico, not knowing he was under surveillance of the Illinois Bureau of Investigation. Registered at the same time were notorious hoodlums Meyer Lansky and Morris (Moe) Dalitz. Klein told Copley newspapers it was a coincidence and he didn't know Lansky.

Allen R. Glick of La Jolla plays a major role in Moldea's book. In the early 1970s, several Charger players became involved with Glick enterprises, even though at the time he was the second-largest casino owner in Nevada. According to the book, Glick and his partner Dennis Wittman operated several partnerships with former Chargers Lance Alworth, Steve DeLong, Sam Gruneisen, John Hadl, Ron Mix, and Walt Sweeney.

According to the book, Mix later filed a fraud and breach of contract suit against Glick and his cronies, claiming that they reneged on an agreement to pay Mix a $105,000 finder's fee for introducing Al Davis, the controversial Oakland Raiders owner, to Glick and the boys. The case was eventually dismissed. Davis and Glick were involved in a major shopping center investment at the time Glick was being probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Pete Rozelle, who was league commissioner (and later became a San Diegan), didn't like the partnership but didn't force Davis to get out of the deal, according to the book.

What about current Chargers owner Alex Spanos? He is described as "a horse-racing enthusiast."

Now Indian casinos are discussing ways that they might invest in a new Chargers stadium. They already have promotional relationships with both the Chargers and Padres.

This book has many details on questions that frequently enter into pro football discussions. For example, it delves into the suspensions of two stars, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, for gambling. It tells about other players and their associations with professional gamblers and what the league did or didn't do. It talks about how players shave points to beat or not beat point spreads. It discusses whether Super Bowl III, in which the Jets upset the Colts, was or was not fixed. (Many say it was.)

The National Football League has always denounced Moldea's book. Critics will no doubt say that because it was published in 1989 it is no longer relevant. Oh? The book delves into the DeBartolo family of Youngstown, Ohio. Its company built shopping centers and operated racetracks; the centers were sold a decade ago. Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. was listed in the Justice Department's Organized Crime Principal Subjects List. Moldea says the senior DeBartolo had ties to such hoods as Lansky and was a big-time gambler.

After several unsuccessful attempts to purchase pro baseball teams, in 1977 he purchased 90 percent of the San Francisco 49ers and gave control to his son, Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. The senior DeBartolo helped finance the gift. The younger DeBartolo then launched gambling businesses in the Bay Area. In late 1997, he was caught giving $400,000 in cash to a former Louisiana governor as grease to get a casino license. The ex-governor went to prison, and young DeBartolo got two years of probation and a hefty fine. The National Football League banned young DeBartolo for life. So his sister and her husband took over the team. The league likes to keep things in the family.

The Chargers Are Coming Home

April 27, 2006 — Patrick Daugherty

Yes, I understand that $500 million is a lot of money to steal in seven months. Or is it expropriate? Or legislate? Perambulate? Something like that. No matter, $500 million is the going rate for a new NFL stadium, and we must face up to that fact.

Mayor Jerry "We're Broke And I Don't Have The Time" Sanders admitted San Diego has so righteously fucked up its finances that the city can no longer afford the tribute that a second-tier NFL franchise commands. With that, Sanders gamely announced he would try to amend the city's agreement with the Chargers so that, between whenever the agreement is legally amended and December 31, 2006, any city in San Diego County would be permitted to enter into talks with the Chargers in hopes of relocating that treasure to their jurisdiction.

Pretty damn generous of Jerry Sanders to open the gates and let every San Diego County municipality in. Gentlemen, let the stampede begin.

As you would expect, I've called around and taken preliminary soundings. First up was Gary Brown, city manager of Imperial Beach, who told me, "No. Our city would not be one of those [cities negotiating with the Chargers]." An officious female at El Cajon's city offices ordered me to call back. Poway was not interested. Ditto San Marcos. Lemon Grove was not inclined, neither was La Mesa. Santee is out. Oceanside, Chula Vista, and National City will cough up $500 million as soon as gasoline hits 50 cents a gallon.

Just a damn minute, people! It's beginning to look like no city is interested. Where are the men of yesteryear, captains of industry, men willing to take their measure against skies of blue and fields of yellow and thundering surf of white and majestic mountain tops of purple?

Well, I know such a man. Robert Mitchell is his name. He bestrides Jacumba like a colossus.

Jacumba just about fits all the requirements needed to bid for the Chargers. There is no doubt that the village of 440 is in San Diego County. True, it's three miles from the Imperial County line, but that's still San Diego County, bucko. Ask any lawyer. Yes, Jacumba is on the border with Mexico, but not over the border in Mexico. Again, ask any lawyer. Jacumba, while not technically a city, does have a water district, and said water district does have elective officers. Mr. Robert Mitchell was once a member of that water board, vested with the responsibility of overseeing the people's business. And that's good enough when you're talking about free money and over-the-counter bribes.

I have Mitchell on the telephone. "Bob, I called to learn Jacumba's attitude toward the San Diego Chargers."

Mitchell says, "Seems to me, quite frankly, if San Diego wants to consider putting an airport out here, and they've been playing that up in such a large fashion, then it's most appropriate to put the stadium here, too."

Robert Mitchell arrived in Jacumba several decades past on a mission to buy the town. He's been making steady progress ever since. I mention the half-billion-dollar cost of a new football stadium and ask, "How are the folk of Jacumba going to finance this?"

"Like America was financed," Bob says, "with lotteries. We'll have a lottery."

Spot on, Robert. Hmm. I wonder what his civic responsibilities are nowadays. Mitchell tells me, "I'm the president emeritus or something and life standing board member of the arts council."

Perhaps, I better flesh that out. "What?"

"Jacumba Arts Council. I'm on the board of directors, past president, and founding member."

For those who came in late, Mr. Mitchell was also the founder and publisher of the late Jacumba Plain Speaker. Bob is president of Jacumba Hot Springs Spa and Cabana Club, Jacumba's sole hot spot, restaurant, bar, and hotel. Due to space considerations, I will not speak of the diamond business, commodities trading, international currencies, Mexican time shares, or any other of the several dozen perfectly legal businesses Mr. Mitchell has been associated with in the past.

Just brainstorming now, I offer, "I think an official invitation to the Chargers..."

Mitchell interrupts, "I think it's a wonderful idea. We have an Arts Council meeting coming up in a few days. I'm going to have the council send a letter to the Chargers, requesting them to come out here and begin discussions with us.

"Absolutely, we want them," Bob adds. "We have an Indian casino up the road, we've got our music festivals. We're refurbishing the town. Hell, we're the prime place. And the old Chargers training camp was just up the road. For 20 years they trained in Boulevard, had a big training camp at Rough Acres Ranch. So, it's perfectly natural they'd come home."

Jacumba, Bob Mitchell and the Arts Council are real and will host a big music and arts festival on June 10 and another one on June 21. Hie thee to www.jacumbaartscouncil.org for particulars.

Chargers' Influence Broadens

January 26, 2006 — Don Bauder

The public thinks of pro sports as a game -- an athletic contest. The billionaire pro sports owners consider it a game too -- a high-stakes poker game, with the mainstream media helping the team pull off its bluffs.

The game has been going on for many years, and today, the San Diego Chargers are in the national limelight, along with the Florida Marlins, Sacramento Kings, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, and numerous other organizations seeking taxpayer-subsidized facilities.

Local media, which have an economic interest in seeing a team remain in their city, usually help to stack the deck in the team's favor. And many pro sports teams have a natural advantage at gambling tables: the owners are longtime high rollers and associates of gangsters, as the 1989 book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football, by Dan E. Moldea, pointed out in detail.

On January 9, the Chargers announced that they will not ask voters in November for a go-ahead on a city-subsidized stadium. The team's lawyer/spokesman Mark Fabiani blamed the change in plan on city attorney Mike Aguirre. Potential development partners were turned off by Aguirre's alleged intransigence, insisted Fabiani.

The team wanted to construct 6000 condominiums along with hotel and retail buildings on 60 acres at the current 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site. The team would then build a stadium, it claimed, and a park. The 60 acres would be a gift of the city, although in reality, the gift would have been all 166 acres, not just 60, because under current development rules, the team would have had to provide a park or open space anyway, and it would be getting the rest of the stadium land too.

The Chargers' purported proposal never made sense. There is a gasoline plume on the site. Traffic in that area of Mission Valley is already bad. Condos are overbuilt citywide. The team never made an effort to submit a preliminary environmental impact report. The land is part owned by city water-and-sewer-fee payers, who by law would have to get fair market value. From 2000 to 2005, sewer rates soared more than 40 percent; from 2003 to 2007, water rates will zoom 30 percent, says lawyer Pat Shea. Mayor Jerry Sanders says more rate increases are coming. The acreage that was to be bestowed on the team could be worth half a billion dollars, says Aguirre. "It's unlikely ratepayers will want to give away that land," says councilmember Donna Frye, who voted against the recent water-rate boost.

In playing their weak hand, the Chargers sought help from local jock columnists and broadcasters. Until late last week, the team had not met with the city's negotiating committee. "The Chargers have been negotiating through the media," says Frye.

The team has received lots of dubious help. In an editorial on January 1 of this year, the Union-Tribune declared that the Chargers intended to build a stadium "at the team's expense." Really? When the city would chip in half a billion dollars' worth of land? The paper and other media did not report the critical information that Sanders in 2004 was listed among 14 prominent citizens on the "Chargers Championship Leadership Team" set up to promote the team's interest.

During his campaign, Sanders declared unequivocally, "The city cannot afford to provide any funding for the stadium project." He has backed down. He now wants "a plan that protects San Diego taxpayers and fulfills the needs of the Chargers." The mayor has met privately with the team. Some say the mayor was influenced by an unscientific opinion survey by the Union-Tribune asking any interested person to answer questions about subsidizing the Chargers. Supposedly, 84 percent want Qualcomm Stadium replaced, 69 percent want the city to donate the land to the team, and 80 percent think Aguirre has not acted responsibly on the matter. Such quizzes are not taken seriously because they can be rigged and hacked and because they are not random. Only people with an ax to grind participate. The mayor's spokesman refuses to comment. San Diego Libertarian activist Richard Rider jokes that such polls indicated that the Libertarian candidate would win the White House in 2004; the party's candidate got three-tenths of 1 percent of the vote.

Back in early 1997 when the Chargers were fleecing the city with the stadium-remodel lease, the Union-Tribune hired Marquette University's National Sports Law Institute to analyze the contract. Not surprisingly, Marquette concluded that the city was getting a good deal. The controversy over the 60,000-seat guarantee was "overblown," concluded the so-called scholars in a statement they would later regret. But the Marquette report did include one important bit of information: it raised a serious question about the so-called triggering event by which the team could demand renegotiation and ultimately terminate the lease and leave the stadium. "It is hard to understand why the Chargers should be given a break for such a triggering event," said the institute. "The city seems to be giving them an undeserved out."

But that "undeserved out," which turned out to be critical, got only slight (and distorted) mention in the Union-Tribune's report on the Marquette study.

The press is assisting team-poker players in other cities. Washington, D.C., will put up $535 million for a new ballpark for the Washington Nationals. But it wants Major League Baseball, which owns the team, to pick up cost overruns. Baseball is resisting. Steven Pearlstein, columnist for the Washington Post, explains, "Land turns out to be more expensive than expected." But that's good, because the land around the stadium will generate more tax revenue, he argues. Neil deMause of the website Fieldofschemes.com, points out the flaw of such alleged thinking: if land costs are higher, property tax receipts go up whether or not a stadium is built. Pearlstein also argues that since the city has spent $60 million in preparation costs, it might as well spend $600 million on the ballpark. Yikes!

As the Minnesota Twins lobbied for a huge handout last year, columnist Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune told taxpayers, "You'll pay less than you leave in the tip jar at Dunn Bros.," a string of coffee shops. But the actual cost would have been $320 per resident, economists calculated. Big tip.

When the New York Jets were trying to get a stadium last year, some people wanted a referendum on the topic. New York Post columnist Eric Fettmann said that would be a copout: "That's why we choose a mayor -- to use his or her knowledge, judgment and experience to make these tough choices." Of course, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already made his choice: he wanted the subsidy. Mercifully, it was defeated.

Similarly, during the Twins debate in the state legislature, St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Bob Sansavere wrote, "These legislators need to suck it up, deal with the Twins' bill, and then head home. And let's not hear they're concerned about procedure." The Twins' president had been complaining that legislators were "following traditional procedure." That's a sin? "We don't need no stinkin' democracy," cracks deMause. The proposal expired recently without any action, but a new package is likely to be introduced this year.

The Chargers are hiding some cards from the fawning media. First, the team has an ace in the hole: Qualcomm Stadium, which is still a money machine. I believe the team is going down two tracks: it really wants to get into the Los Angeles market. But an abrupt move would be a public relations disaster for the National Football League, as were the departures of the old Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts. The team by repeatedly screwing the citizenry is deliberately creating ill will, so the league's front office will smile on a decampment. Fabiani would not reply to queries.

And if the Chargers don't get L.A.? San Diego will forgive their arrogance and embrace them. Whether or not the Chargers get a new stadium, they will rake in a huge pot each year. It's fun playing poker when you have nothing to lose.

The Secret Stadium E-Mails

An interoffice look at the Qualcomm hustle.

December 1, 2005 — Matt Potter

Poor, benighted Qualcomm Stadium. It's been around since 1967 and for its first three decades was one of the city's most popular landmarks. Winner of national architecture awards, the dual-use arena, owned jointly by the City and County, was hailed as a miracle of efficiency and wise public stewardship. Then came 1995, the year Mayor Susan Golding launched her effort to expand the place to keep the Chargers from leaving town. She bumped the County out of the partnership, and she proposed closing off the open east end and adding 10,500 new seats, ostensibly to provide enough capacity for the NFL to conduct semi-regular Super Bowls here.

After a heated struggle in 1997, Golding got her way, avoiding the voters -- more than 20,000 of whom had signed petitions to put $18 million of public financing on the ballot -- by selling the naming rights to the stadium. The team promised to stay in town until at least 2020 and accepted a rich, taxpayer-subsidized ticket guarantee for its trouble.

But after only a few years, the Chargers, owned by Stockton developer Alex Spanos, began grumbling again. Baseball's Padres, who had been given their own brand-new downtown ballpark, thanks to a $300 million public subsidy, moved away in 2004. It wasn't fair, the Chargers said, that they didn't have their own new Taj Mahal.

In December of 2003, Spanos, who was worth $860 million at the time according to Forbes, sued the City in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that going without a new stadium in San Diego was causing him "financial hardship." The case was ultimately dropped, and after a long series of backroom wheelings and dealings in the summer of 2004, the city council agreed to let Spanos out of his Golding-era lease.

The new deal gave the team an exit clause after the 2008 season, and Spanos agreed to end his politically disastrous ticket guarantee in exchange for a reduction in his stadium rent of about $5 million a year.

Since then, the Chargers have come up with a new plan. The team and a development partner would pay for a new stadium, infrastructure, and an urban village of homes, offices, retail shops, and a hotel, says a statement on the team's website. Additionally, the development team would provide almost 30 acres of public parks. In exchange, the City would give the team 60 acres on which it would build and then sell more than 6000 units. The City would retain ownership of the new stadium and the land on which the offices, shops, and hotel are built. Pitched by the Spanos family as a dream deal for taxpayers, critics say it would be an obscene giveaway of public assets at a time the City can least afford it.

Spanos and his backers claim it's impossible to renovate the stadium. Editorial writers for the Union-Tribune, who have taken to calling Qualcomm "leaky, creaky and crumbling," say that fixing it up isn't an option.

Some have wondered if the alleged lack of maintenance has been deliberate on the part of the City, as a way to make construction of a new stadium inevitable. Stadium manager Bill Wilson, who retired in October, says absolutely not, but doubters remain.

To shed some light on the situation, a request was made to the City under the state's Public Records Act for e-mails and other documents pertaining to stadium management.

The records provided show that maintenance problems have been rife and staffing inadequate, but they also suggest that the City has neglected basic fix-ups that would benefit fans in lower-priced seats in favor of high-end patrons and the media.

While the hoi polloi struggled with broken seats and leaky roofs, the records show, members of the media and fat cats in the luxury VIP boxes were treated to new loveseats, high-definition television sets, and a variety of other upgrades.

Besides catering to the rich, the e-mails show, members of the stadium staff are careful not to run afoul of Nick Canepa and Tim Sullivan, sportswriters at the Union-Tribune who frequently talk up the need for a new stadium. Meanwhile, accessible seating for the handicapped, which the City agreed to install only after a lawsuit that lasted almost a decade, has been late in coming.

Following is a selection of this year's e-mails written by Chargers' staff and the City employees who maintain the stadium.

On May 6, well before the football season began, the city's stadium marketing manager, Mike McSweeney, wrote Charger vice president Ken Derrett about a request to cover up the stadium's advertising signs during a special event to be held in June.

You may have heard through the grapevine that we are looking at a major private corp event here inside the stadium June 21. Qualcomm, the wireless company is celebrating their 20th Anniversary. It is also the passing of the control of the company from Irwin to his son.

Its a big production. 10,000 people, 84 pc orchestra, Natalie Cole is entertainment. Food and Bev on field.

They are asking/considering several scenearios re: the ring signage inside the stadium. I can't find any references to these in documents here at the stadium. They are:


  1. Can the signs be covered? I think they are asking that they be covered in a black out type of blanket/cover. I'm guessing this might only be permissable in a religous event. Perhaps they are just not turned on, but left uncovered.

  2. They are asking if the signs that are in place can be taken out and a special Qualcomm sign replace it. My answer would be no. Too much hassle, potential breakage of the existing signs, goes against the spirit of the contract with the current advertisers. They should be able to reach all attendees in the stadium.

Your thoughts?

Mike

Twelve days later, on MAY 18, Charger vice president Derrett addressed the situation, sending a stern "no" to Linda Champagne, whom Qualcomm had hired to run its anniversary event:

Linda, In response to your recent email regarding signage at Qualcomm Stadium, this will advise that we have entered into contractual agreements with many marketing partners that provide them with advertising presence at the stadium on a year round basis regardless of the nature of the event. Our inability to deliver their signage at the stadium clearly puts us in breach of their contract and some thing we have never had to experience. The end result could be extremely damaging to the San Diego Chargers from various points of view including legal, relationship and financial. Thus while we have a strong relationship with Qualcomm we find this request very difficult to comply with. If you would like to discuss this matter further please feel free to call me directly.

On MAY 22, Derrett returned to advertising banners, this time warning the stadium's marketing manager, Mike McSweeney, that a proposed event with a Hispanic soccer tie-in to Tecate beer was also treading on thin ice because Anheuser-Busch had signage rights in the stadium.

Mike as you can fully appreciate the Tecate event is extremely sensitive because of AB having exclusive signage in the building 365 a year. The Hispanic soccer angle is a great one but competitive beer signage is about as critical as it gets. Happy to talk to the promoter but you may wish to give her heads up. I'm around Monday am to talk further -- also spoke to Qualcomm's event organizer and explained what you and I had already talk about.

On MAY 25, Steve Wightman, the stadium's turf manager and building-maintenance supervisor, wrote McSweeney and their boss, stadium manager Bill Wilson, about plans to build a new X-ray room for the Chargers.

Just had a long conversation with the current Charger X-Ray company who will be bidding on this year's new Charger contract. Since this item (X-Ray) is on the Charger wish list which you both will be discussing with Bruce on Fri, I wanted to let you know what was talked about.

Apparently, the new x-ray technology will be eliminating the need for a darkroom and hazardous chemicals. However, the Chargers want to have an x-ray room conveniently located near the locker room area eliminating the need for the van they had last season that was parked next to Cris Leyco's office in the west tunnel. The room that has been mentioned by the Chargers to this company is the one that was used for the last Super Bowl located next to Rudy's office. That room is currently used by the stadium as storage. Whatever location is decided upon, it would require 220 electrical (a cost that would need to be calculated). Steve

On MAY 31, Charger chief operating officer Jim Steeg wrote the city's stadium manager Bill Wilson, stadium marketing manager Mike McSweeney, and then-assistant city manager Bruce Herring about what the team expected the city to do in the way of maintenance and stadium upgrades. Centerplate, referred to in the e-mail, is the company that provides concession services on game day. The e-mail's subject line read: "ACTION ITEMS FOR QUALCOMM STADIUM FOR 2005 SEASON."

Bruce, I thought I would put together the list of items we discussed last week and the appropriate timing on the follow up to ensure that we are progressing to having the items done by the initial preseason game.


  1. wireless internet in the working press area

done


  1. x-ray equipment in the locker room

City will authorize at cost estimated to be $10000


  1. power to Gate C ticket office sign

City will proceed, estimated cost of $1140


  1. best locking system replacement on suite doors

City will proceed, estimated cost of $3700


  1. obtaining new bicycle racks

City will purchase $4999, Chargers will investigate supplemental purchase


  1. repair turnstyles

City will investigate and also look to see where others exist


  1. new chairs in the press box

City has already ordered, estimated cost of $23000


  1. replacement of monitors in working press & announce booth ,

Chargers will explore with Sony, city will pay up to $40000


  1. JTECH security pager system

awaiting survey next week, City will fund reasonable amount


  1. reassign endzone films position

City will effectuate the demo of NW corner booth


  1. reconstruct the 50 yard line film position

Chargers will attempt to expand


  1. new bar area in loge level endzone

Chargers will investigate feasibility of moving season ticket holders, Centerplate would be pursued for the cost to build


  1. wireless scanners fore parking & ticket gates

awaiting final bid...proposed split with chargers/city


  1. Sirius radio installation in press box

apparently not feasible


  1. Marquee on Friars Road

City will pursue replacement


  1. drink rails in club lounges

Chargers and Centerplate to discuss


  1. new barstools in club lounges

Centerplate to pursue


  1. trash can in club level

City to address and fix


  1. new carpet in premium level and lounges

City to pursue the concourses, Centerplate to be asked about the lounges


  1. vinyl wall covering in up to 40 suites

City to replace at cost of up to $30000


  1. new parking lot signage and color coordination

attempt to get new parking lot vendor to provide


  1. restripe parking lot

attempt to get new parking lot vendor to provide


  1. video wall in working press area

to incorporate into plan to replace monitors


  1. suite remodels

Chargers to pursue with HOK


  1. new furniture for suites

Chargers to provide City with list of needs for barstools (50?) and sofas (20?)


  1. suite repairs

ongoing City maintenance


  1. addition of restrooms in Spanos suite

Chargers to handle


  1. cleaning, leaks, painting

ongoing City maintenance


  1. construction remodel of premier suite

City to provide up to 80 chairs ($165 each), Chargers to continue buildout, City to assist with permit issue


  1. relocation of phone room

City/Chargers to find suitable location


  1. relocation of Custom Antennae office and storage area

City/Chargers to find suitable location


  1. down converter for HD for FOX, ABC and ESPN

City to secure


  1. Command booth remodel and expansion

Chargers to remove the wall, and find replacement seats for other events

As the football season approached, the Chargers' stadium operations manager, Christian Webb, sent a list of maintenance problems to building-maintenance supervisor Steve Wightman. The subject of the JUNE 28 memo was "Suites Stuff"; Webb gave suite addresses and outlined problems with each.

Steve -- During my quick rounds I have these items to note'

P9B -- there seems to be a whole chewed (rat?) in one of the ceiling tiles by slider door. Please check

P3A & B -- door handle sticks, needs adjusting

P2A -- smells

L16B -- door threshold leaking

Also -- can we still get together and discuss steps taken for rusty ceiling tile frames. There are many on press level.

I was hoping to hear that Mac would be doing similar to Tom Ritz in the way of preventative maintenance. Tom does a great job with ice makers, HVAC and fridges.

Would love to have all door handles and hinges checked by Mac.

Thanks

On JULY 12, Wightman e-mailed Sean O'Connor, the Chargers' director of marketing and events, with a recap of the team's demands for new furniture for some stadium skyboxes. Subject: "Charger Upgrades."

Sean -- Just wanted to touch base with you about our meeting yesterday with Bruce and Jim relating to the upgrades. In particular, we need to look at getting the new chairs for the Premier Suite ordered since it normally takes 4-6 weeks. I spoke with our Purchasing Dept and if we use the city's existing contracts there's no bidding. I'll get you the companies we have on contract and, hopefully, you can pick style, color, etc out from their catalogs. At $165 per for 80 chairs that is $13,200. Let's talk about some of the other items also. Thanks -- Steve

The next day, JULY 13, Wightman wrote Christian Webb, the Chargers' stadium operations manager, about the progress in obtaining the new chairs.

Christian,

Spoke with Arenson Office Furniture (co we have on contract) and they do have that chair! I'm initiating the paperwork from our end and it should be submitted before the end of the day to purchasing.

Steve

Not all the e-mails had to do with stadium business. Many times, they dealt with obtaining tickets to coveted games, like this one, dated JULY 27, from Christian Webb to Mike McSweeney, the stadium marketing manager. Subject: "hate to even ask..."

So John Lucas has hit me up for tickets for Friday night. I hate to ask, but do you know if you will have any extra to offer me/him? He is looking for 6, I told him he'd be lucky with 2 or 4.

Thanks. sorry

CSW

McSweeney responded soon after.

Let me see what I can do. Happy to do it.

On JULY 28, Charger chief operating officer Jim Steeg queried stadium manager Bill Wilson and McSweeney about stadium upgrades.

Can you help me get the list of how the $500,000 you have allocated to the stadium is being spent?

That same day, Webb e-mailed O'Connor and Steeg with details on "drink rails/ new table tops" for the stadium's premium club level. The e-mail refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act and to Centerplate's manager, Scott Marshall.

Attached you should find two (2) quotes for the new drink rails and table tops for the Club Level. Quick summation: Ten (10) new drink rails to be added -- 8' $239.10 each x8 = $1,912.80 labor -- $1,450 brackets for each rail: $36 per, 4 per table = $1,440 total for drink rails: $4,802.80 Raising the current table tops to belly-bar height of thirty-seven (37) existing sit-down tables: 26.40 per new shaft to raise tables x 37 = $976.80 Labor -- $2,950.00 Total for raised belly bars: $3,926.80 ADA will not be affected by these changes as we are leaving current ADA tables the same, as well as current drink rails for them Obviously there are some other factors we must look at: City will need to remove and replace carpet swatches where seats are being removed on Club Level. If City will do the labor in installing the drink rails and new shafts -- that could save some labor costs ? Scott Marshall has been inquiring on this as well. Let me know next step CSW

Later that day, McSweeney, the stadium marketing manager, wrote Bruce Herring in the city manager's office, briefing him on the progress of the drink rails.

Bruce,

We finally have an idea as to what exactly the concept is. Between Centerplate, Chargers and us, there were several versions floating out there. Rails on one side only, raised tables-no chairs-no rails etc..After conferring today, it is finally


  1. Raise the 36 tables to bar height. Excepting ADA designated tables

  2. Take out all bolted chairs.

  3. Install 11 8' drink rails on both sides of concourse. Placement of bars is Centerplate and stadium responsibility. (Centerplate recommends we go with 6' vs. 8' rails as they will be easier to place. 3.Stadium repatches carpet holes.(Jehovah Witnesses will perform the work, we have carpet in stock)

We need to confirm that parts supplied from Edgemold is contained in the Commecial Sales quote. We're ready to go.

Mike

About a week later, on AUGUST 4, McSweeney, the stadium marketing manager, e-mailed the Chargers' Sean O'Connor and cc'd Christian Webb and Jim Steeg with details about who would pay for what.

Moving this off center ground.

Commercial Sales Bid: 4400

Edgemold 1678

Total: $6078

Chargers buy, Commercial does the labor. City reimburses Chargers $6078. Christian coorndinates. (Sorry Christian) Good to go?

Mike

The same day, Charger chief operating officer Jim Steeg replied, alluding to the fact that assistant city manager Bruce Herring, who has since resigned, did not want the city to write a check directly to the Chargers. Subject: "Drink Rails."

I thought bruce was trying to avoid a check to us ... Will do if that is the way to go, but want to make sure that is what bruce wanted ... Otherwise YES!

On AUGUST 16, Cecilia San Pedro, an employee of the city auditor's office, wrote Steve Wightman, the stadium building-maintenance supervisor, with a question about an order for loveseats.

Hi Steve,

Can you please let me know what these chairs are for? Thanks.

Wightman responded the same day:

Hi Cecilia,

I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to...

I believe you're referring to the 113 Charger Executive Suites that each have "loveseats" or couches. The Suites each have a carpeted area with loveseats, chairs, barstools, tvs, refrigerators, ice makers, bathrooms, sinks and countertops that all have a field view separated by glass doors that go to outside seating. The stadium (city) is responsible for maintenance, repairs and refurbishment of everything inside and outside of those suites.

If it's chairs that you're referring to, then it could be the 200 chairs for the pressbox or the 80 executive chairs for the Charger Suite renovation.

Let me know if it's not any of these items.

San Pedro responded the next day, AUGUST 17:

Good Morning Steve,

I apologize for not providing any details. I have a PO for approval to purchase 20 Houston Blue Lovseats from Mor Furniture, and you were listed as the contact person. Are these for the Suites? What do we do with the old ones? Thanks.

Wightman came back about an hour later:

Cecilia,

Yes, those are for the suites. The old ones we use for the security, ushers and parking personnel offices and sign-in areas here at the stadium. Basically, we move the old tattered, ripped and broken ones from the vip suites to the operational areas if they can be used at all.

Thanks...Steve

On AUGUST 19, Charger honcho Steeg complained to stadium manager Wilson about Padres signs around the stadium. His e-mail was headlined "A real stupid question."

Why does every "how to get to your seat" sign have padres information that does not even exist anymore? It is really embarrassing and appears that no one ever walks the building...think you have liability issues as it has misinformation on the signage...would make mike aguirre cringe

On AUGUST 20, the day before the Chargers played the Saint Louis Rams in the first preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium, Steeg e-mailed Wilson, who was planning to retire in October. Subject: "Extremely disappointed."

I am coming to understand that I must lower my expectations as to what is acceptable at Qualcomm Stadium. I just walked the building and came away totally unimpressed, if not embarrassed fro everyone that will claim they work there. It seems that there is no concerted effort to strive for excellence. The building not only has things that look sloppy (which I do not understand since it has been unoccupied since January), dirty, not up to date, but projects that were green lighted in March are no where near completion. It seems that if our contractors and the Centerplate contractors were not doing things that are not their responsibilities that the building would be a total embarrassment. It seems to me that on your last days in this facility that you would want it to "shine". I can not believe that you want your last games to be remembered with this legacy.

I gave everyone one game to see what they believed to be their standards, and now understand that the pride is just not there. I am going to write you Monday on everything that is wrong. If you can not complete then we will have to hire outside firms and bill the city to complete the projects.

You took offense to the letter I wrote Bruce and now I take offense to the quality of the work done in the building. I thought you might use that letter as motivation to prove me wrong.

The last game was in January ... no longer can the excuse of not enough staff be used -- I figure that there have been over 160 working days between games, with 22 staff that is over 3500 days of work.

We are not going to accept half efforts, this is not going to be the

same old, same old!

On AUGUST 22, the day following the game, Wilson responded.

I agree with most of what you say. Think it is time for you and I to sit down with Steve Wightman and hear what we have to deal with. This will not be an "excuse session" but just the facts.

On AUGUST 24, Charger chief operating officer Steeg was back at stadium manager Wilson with more complaints. Subject: "Stadium issues from 8/21."

Bill,

I have attempted to compile a list of the concerns that I saw and those that were communicated to me during and immediately following the game against the St. Louis Rams.

This is a summary of the immediate concerns that we have to prepare for the game on September 1 and is not an all encompassing list. It also does not address the long term maintenance issues that exist.

I am traveling tomorrow and Friday, but would recommend that you talk this over with your staff and then we can meet Monday morning to discuss these in detail.

Jim

Wilson e-mailed back on AUGUST 25.

Jim,

On Monday I am taking an all day physical, however Tues. is completely open, I have discussed the list with Steve Wightman and we will get to all the Major operational issues that we can. Some items take time, like ordering goal post pads.

The comment about the field puzzles me. There was some thatch that came up from the 3 hour scrimmage the day before, but it played exceptionally well. We will have to resod it but probably not before the 4 High School games. (Dec. 13th.).

Send Steve Wightman an email or call him about a time to meet Tuesday. We'll be there.

On AUGUST 28, Centerplate manager Scott Marshall e-mailed Christian Webb, the Chargers' stadium operations manager, about the condition of television sets in the premium club level.

Hi Christian,

We tested all the televisions on the Club Level today, the following is a list of televisions that are not operational and need repair:


  1. Club 21 Concourse (Large TV)

  2. Club 30 Lounge (third from right around the room when facing into lounge).

  3. Club 33 Concourse

  4. Club 35 Concourse

  5. Club 36 Concourse

  6. Club 37 Concourse

We have marked the ones that need to be fixed with a white repair notice. I'm not sure who jurisdiction this falls in, so I thought I start with you!

Thanks!

Scott

On AUGUST 31, the day before the Chargers played the San Francisco 49ers, television sets were at the top of stadium manager Bill Wilson's list. In an e-mail to the Chargers' Jim Steeg entitled "Press TV's," Wilson worried that Union-Tribune sports writers Nick Canepa and Tim Sullivan might complain about the new press room TVs being too small for their taste.

Jim,

Just a heads up. In my travels today I noticed the new flat screen 27" TV's in the press box. My guess is Canepa and Sullivan are going to sound on the size. They are used to those big babies that we are keeping in storage in case you decide to re-install them.

In general the place looks pretty good. We will be painting Guest Services next week in time for the opener. A lot of TV work needs to be done and there is only one guy (who is busy installing the new stuff on the press level).

At 11:07 p.m. on SEPTEMBER 1, after the Chargers game against the San Francisco 49ers, Charger guest services director David Anderson reported yet more television troubles to Chargers senior director of ticket sales and service Todd Poulsen. This time the problem was in the luxury suites, where the most exclusive stadium seats are located.

Todd, I was called up to 2 suites in regards to the condition of their televisions. They were both very upset with our response to their situation. In Press 61A, both of their outside televisions have been broken since last year. One of them doesn't even turn on. In Loge 39B, the one outside television has also been broken since last year. Needless to say, they are not happy. What can we do to rectify this problem? They are both expecting resolutions before the Dallas game. Thanks DA

On SEPTEMBER 2, another game-day issue arose. Chargers staffer Amy Schreiber wrote Poulsen and vice president Ken Derrett about break-ins at some skyboxes. The e-mail was headlined "Serious Issues with Suites Yesterday." Somebody, it seemed, was stealing food and beer.

There a couple of very serious issues with suite yesterday.


  1. Press 1A (Tarrah Asphalt) & L30A (Attila-tek) both had their refrigerators stocked after the St. Louis game and when they arrived yesterday everything was gone. We checked with Centerplate who inventoried their items and they did indeed have it in there so sometime between St. Louis and San Francisco someone came in and took their beer, water and soda out of the fridge. Both were very upset and at least L30A would like an explanation of what happened and wants someone held accountable.

  2. I found out this morning that someone entered Mesa Distributing Suite sometime between an hour before the game and kick-off and basically "looted" them. See email below. My staff is up there to prevent this from happening but we don't have enough people for someone to be stationed in front of one or two suites and check tickets * they are roaming.

"This is to follow up on my voicemail to both of you on the incident that occurred in Mesa's Skybox (Loge 36A) last night. When the retailer that was given access to yesterday's box arrived about half an hour prior to kick off, he found that all but one soda had been drank and that half of the hot dog bar was either on the floor of the suite or had been eaten. The retailer was forced to pay out of pocket for additional food and drink. Also, one of our draft guys went into the suite to check on it about an hour before the game and it was fine, so that gives us an idea of when this occurred. Please advise on how we can avoid this security breech from happening in the future."

Please advise!

Responding to the reports of theft, stadium manager Bill Wilson fired off an e-mail to Jim Steeg the same day.

This has been a long standing problerm over the years. Many eons ago we kelp the Sky Boxes closed until the holder showed up. If anything was then stolen it was because they left the box after the game and left the door open. To eleminate the accusation that the clean up people were the culprits we just spent a considerable sum to re-key all the locks. None of our people have a key to the luxury suites. In these two cases it looks like roaming theives who came in with tickets. There is a lot of migration after the games (I have seen it in Center Plate's suite). This is a serious security issue that must be addressed.

Steeg demanded action.

Can we put a police presence there for a few games? Have them roam and challenge? Arresting and jailing one person will end it

Wilson agreed and then went on to cast suspicion on Centerplate workers.

Police in uniform will prevent thefts. If you want to catch the bastards I recommend Elite in soft clothes, blending in with the fans. They (the thieves) are probably trying doors. Of course it could be the Center Plate people also. We have caught them in the past.

On SEPTEMBER 4, the day after the SDSU Aztec game against the UCLA Bruins, Jim Steeg was back complaining to Bill Wilson about TVs. Subject: "Well...strike 18"

One of the last points of emphasis to our TV group and Valdez in particular...the preident of SDSU and the new AD were using the Spanos box for the game vs UCLA, so the TV's need to be right for that...well what do we get? There is no direct feed from the truck so they have to watch ESPN 2 which is on a 5 second delay plus has the USC game on prior to SDSU.... What do they get ....the USC game well into the 1st quarter and then the delay on the TV. As they say you only have one time to make a first impression. Certainly impressive for donors!

I assume that the university is now as livid as we are.

To give another the sports council box got nothing at all unless you consider that FOX6 came in with the UCLA radio broadcast as the sound, seinfeld is great with the UCLA radio.

Tuesday is a big day!

The same day, Steve Wightman, the building-maintenance supervisor, told stadium manager Bill Wilson and stadium marketing manager Mike McSweeney about a rowdy fan who got out of control at the Aztec game due to lack of security.

The security guard (Paul), a City Events employee whose post is inside the East Tunnel before and during the game, does a great job...is very conscience. During the early part of the 3rd Qtr a drunk got from the E-ADA elevators out the side door and into the East Tunnel where he was challenged by Paul. The guy decked Paul and left up the tunnel to the parking lot. Paul went down and got the groundcrew who then called security and asked them to bring PD. After a lengthy time a security guard showed up without PD and talked to Paul. The other guard then went up to the lot where the guy was and began talking to him...don't know what happened after that I think the point is, that SDSU needs to have 3 guards in this area on large-crowd games (1 guard at bottom of E-ADA elevators, 1 guard at top of E-Tunnel and 1 guard at bottom of E-Tunnel). Paul does not have a radio either which I think would help.

Steve

On SEPTEMBER 6, one of the biggest disputes of the season erupted between the city and the Chargers when the team demanded that the word "Chargers" and the team's logos be emblazoned on the stadium turf, in violation of previous custom. Building-maintenance supervisor Steve Wightman gave the news to his boss, Wilson. Subject: "Charger Logos."

Bill -- Sean has talked to Bill Gibbs and wants San Diego in W endzone and Chargers in E endzone along with a larger bolt in the center and 2 opening day logos as per NFL. He hasn't talked to me and I'm assuming he hasn't talked to you either. What do you want to do?

Steve

The same day, Wilson e-mailed Charger chief operating officer Jim Steeg:

Jim,

I thoughjt we agreed at our last meeting to put a Charger Helmet in the center (will cover up the Aztec logo nicely), two opening day logos at the 20's and San Diego in both end zones. If we didn't have three tenants in the Stadium it would be no problem to put Chargers in one end zone, however it will be impossible to cover and repaint something else in the Charger end zone for Aztec (particularly the three back to back games) and for the Holiday Bowl and Pointsettia Bowl games. Additionally we don't have time to resod and repaint that Charger end zone for any of the afore mentioned events. Also it would be apprectiate if these requests would come through our supervisors and not at the level of execution.

Thanks.

Steeg was not deterred, so Wilson wrote him again on SEPTEMBER 7. Subject: "Field Decorations."

Jim,

I implore you to reconsider your decision to paint Chargers in the East End Zone because of the negative impact it will have, not only on the playing surface but the ill-will it may create with the Aztecs and the Holiday Bowl.

There are five Aztec games (3 back to back) and two Bowl games that will be affected. There is no way for our three man crew to overlay any Aztec or Holiday Bowl decorations which they may request especially for the back to back games.

Over the years all of our Tenants have somewhat-happily coexisted with San Diego in both end zones, with the use of a little different background color to the block SAN DIEGO. I realize Dean and Sean have wanted Chargers in the end zone and we will be more than happy to resod the entire end zone or both for any and all post season games and paint CHARGERS in one or both end zones.

When Steve talks about resodding it is usually done between the numbers. We have never had to resod an entire end zone. It looks like we will be resodding at least twice this season down the middle and I have asked Steve to go a little wider after observing the extensive wear from the 4 championship High School games.

This morning Bill Gibbs told me the Aztec logo will be gone by Sunday and he would rather paint the Lightning Bolt in the Center. I'm O.K. with that, what say you? We will also paint the opening day logos on the 20's.

Let me know if you can go with the San Diego until the end of the season and I promise the end zones will look good.

Thanks.

Apparently, it was all too much for Steeg, who fired back at Wilson 21 minutes later:

Something has to be done to change the attitude and this is very important to us. I am so depressed about the facility and the work ethic, all I get is excuses and statements that issues "magically" occur. When we "loan" suite to sdsu the carpet gets trashed ... Somebody PLEASE show me that they care! Wouldn't it have been refreshing if sdsu offered to clean the carpet?

Let's be honest about the Aztecs -- they have no national TV games and will probably draw less than 20000 for each of the remaining games. The rent sdsu pays is ??, ours is $2.5+ million, correct? Have they contributed anything to upgrade the stadium this year? Just tell me where they have spent any money to make things better. Tell me how tenants coexist in giants stadium -- let's look at other stadium fields -- metrodome, superdome, foxboro, arizona, Pittsburgh -- all these have tenants including college teams playing with the nfl team ... Now as far as the holiday bowl, how is it solves in tampa, miami, Jacksonville, new orleans, atlanta, houston, phoenix, detroit -- all have bowl games and nfl teams, how do these handle the issue?

Bill I have always been a compromiser, but I feel that we always get pushed around to help everyone else ... Someone needs to step up and help us. I cave on this and what do we get in return? Does the holiday and poinsetta bowls recant on their advertising conflicts? Does sdsu spend money to improve the stadium? Do they even complain about things that are wrong, or do we carry that and always look like the bad guy? Give me something to respond to?

Wilson's follow-up 27 minutes later attempted to soothe Steeg by talking about support for a new stadium.

Jim,

I empathize with your frustration. I share it. I know you see it as caving but somewhere down the line I see the Aztecs, The International Sports Council and the Holiday Bowl Committee and myself as allies in your quest for a new facility.

All the Stadiums you mentioned that share fields have artificial turf. When Arizona State and the Cardinals repainted their endzones every game it looked horrible (according to Steve Wightman they used a crew of twelve or fourteen).

Tell us what you want for this game and we'll do it.

On SEPTEMBER 9, Abby Silverman, a Chargers lawyer, e-mailed deputy city attorney Eugene Gordon to complain that the City had still not complied with the terms of a court settlement requiring that the stadium be retrofitted with seating for the disabled. Subject: "Wheel chair/temporary seating."

I never heard from you in response to my August 19 letter regarding the number of wheelchair spaces which have been drilled to accommodate temporary seats. I understand that little or no progress has been made since that date.

As you know this season, most games are sold out. Therefore, Mike Dougherty has no ability to provide seats for people who have purchased wheel chair spaces but do not have a wheel chair. As stated before, we cannot predict which of the wheel chair spaces will need to be converted for any given game and therefore need to have all the spaces able to accommodate one of the 40 temporary seats which should be available. Can you tell us how and when the City plans to comply with Judge Papas' May 3, 2005 order?

Thanks, Abby

Gordon responded on SEPTEMBER 13.

Abby, my apologies for the delayed response. My understanding is that the City has done the necessary work to accommodate 40 temporary seats. I am trying to verify with Mike McSweeney.

On SEPTEMBER 14, Jeff Schemmel of San Diego State weighed in with stadium manager Bill Wilson on the Chargers' demand to paint the field with their logos. Subject: "End Zones at Qualcomm Stadium."

Bill,

This email is to remind you and to put SDSU on record regarding the end zones at Qualcomm for our remaining five home games.

As we have discussed, our expectation is that, at the very least, there will be no "Chargers" in either end zone for our games. To have that is inappropriate for SDSU, your other major tenant, and certainly not consistent with the intent of our agreement or the expectation of the parties. The intent of our agreement is simply to have six Saturdays each year devoted to the Aztecs. That includes field markings.

I want to remind you that I have suggested washable paint that has been used at other stadiums. paint that is a mixture of chalk and water and that can simply be removed with water and a hose. I know this worked at the old Met Stadium in Minneapolis, where the Vikings and Twins shared a field for years. And I suspect the technology is much better today than then.

We pledge to do anything and everything to make this work, and to support both you and the Chargers in every way we can that is mutually beneficial.

Jeff, I am copying you on this, and asking you to distribute to fellow Board members, as I do not have their email addresses. Jim, I am copying you so that we can continue our mutual dialogue on how we can all improve our situations.

Thanks very much. I look forward to working with you to make this work. Jeff

On SEPTEMBER 19, Wilson attempted to assuage Schemmel.

Hi Jeff,

Both end zones will say SAN DIEGO for the remainder of your games. There will be no logo in the center of the field for your San Jose State game due to the back to back situation.

Looking ahead on the calendar we will be able to paint your end zones black for the BYU game on October 1st. and for the New Mexico game.

We will also evaluate mid field for these games to see if there is enough grass to handle your logo.

One of the big problems we are experiencing is all the extra practice (this Friday it's San Jose State, the Aztecs and then the Chargers followed by the Sky Show practice on the field. George Thoma used to say "You can't grow grass on a freeway". We will have to re-sod the middle of the field twice this season and that basicly is due to all the traffic.

Hope you understand.

Thanks for your suggestion on washable paint. We have tried three different washable paints. They work really well on artificial surfaces but on a grass field that is heavily used and played on the next day they proved to be a disaster. The turf is wet and tears up quickly during the second game. We make it a practice not to water after Wednesday for a Saturday game.

We take a lot of heat on the aesthetics of the playing surface and it's not because we don't care, however I have not seen anyone slip this year. Now that we have overseeded with rye (to green up the worn middle), longer cleats will help prevent slipping but a lot of players insist on using the short moulded cleats and then compounding the problem by taping wads of tape under and around their shoes and ankles. I have seen some disasterous results with some great running back slipping and falling. The instance that immediately comes to mind is the first half of our first Super Bowl when the Redskin players, after slipping and sliding all over the field, came back with long cleats in the second half and literally blew out the Denver Broncos. The Broncos made no shoe changes and continued to slip their way to a losing Super Bowl.

On SEPTEMBER 21, Charger stadium operations manager Christian Webb wrote Charger chief operating officer Jim Steeg and Charger director of marketing and events Sean O'Connor complaining that the city had stopped paying for the Chargers' X-ray services. Subject: "x-ray headache."

Guys -- here is the latest headache with the X-Ray room...

The City is not paying for the monthly service charge for the company to come and take care of the chemicals, screens, etc...

On average, per month, the total cost will be around $100. They (the X-ray Company) will NOT come out this Friday to prep the room for this weekend if they do not have a PO to do the work.

We need to decide if this is: City deal (as SDSU and other sports will use it) or if this is on us. I just can not let this slip through and be unavailable for this weekend.

Thanks for your comments

Christian

The problem of the day on SEPTEMBER 23 was the Union-Tribune, as outlined in an e-mail from Charger vice president Ken Derrett to the city's stadium marketing manager Mike McSweeney. Subject: "UT and Parking Lot."

Mike, the last two games the Union Tribune was on site at the stadium selling papers and handing out cheer cards they were not authorized to do.

Need to get your opinion on whether they have the right to be on site vending papers if we don't approve. Or is the parking lot deemed to be a location they have rights to regardless of what is going on in the stadium.

We'll handle the cheer card issue. Appreciate your response at your earliest convenience.

Six days later, on SEPTEMBER 29, McSweeney issued his response.

I looked into the UT situation. First off, I agree with you. They should be approved as a sponsor of Charger Football. But looking into it. apparently, the stadium has issued a Sidewalk Use permit for the newspaper selling in the past. The permit allows for selling in the lot up to 1 hour prior the event after which, selling is allowed on the sidewalks outside the stadium. They had applied for and recieved from the stadium admin office a permit for the past game. I've found that this is a stadium policy, used by not only the UT but USA Today.

I think we need to look at how we apply this policy. Where it's "policy" I think we can change that practice. Upon my return to the office yesterday, I've been in contact with the City Attorney on the matter and we are exploring the obvious legal impact. From the marketing standpoint, I see it as unapproved, guerilla marketing. From the legal standpoint, we are still researching. There are some non-commercial vs. commercial issues we are running down.

When you have a chance, give me a call. Mike

Football Follies

December 1, 2005 — Josh Board

I was invited to a tailgate party a few weeks ago in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium. Although the choice of tailgate food wouldn't have been mine -- sushi -- they had everything else covered, including flat-screen TVs showing all the Sunday games and flatbed trucks with hot tubs. But the thought of fighting traffic before a Chargers game kept me from going. Earlier in the season, I went to a few football parties at people's homes. The first was at Chris's apartment in Mission Valley. It was for the Chargers-Raiders game, and Chris and his friends were all Chargers fans. I wouldn't be so lucky at the next party.

I thought one guy was secretly rooting for the Raiders. He got excited when Raider QB Kerry Collins completed a pass. It turns out he has him on his fantasy football team, as do I. He asked how I can root against the Raiders with Collins as my fantasy quarterback. I said, "I want the Chargers to win, 50 to 40, with Collins getting me 40 points."

Chris's coffee table was filled with snacks, and I took a handful of M&Ms. Someone noticed that I had a lot of red ones in my hand and mentioned how years ago they didn't make red ones because the dye was thought to be dangerous.

On the kitchen table were bowls of chips and dips. I met Chris's girlfriend's father -- a longtime Chargers fan -- sitting there. It was interesting talking with him about the old Chargers teams.

Chris prepared taquitos and turkey hot dogs. One guy thought turkey hot dogs sounded gross. I told him that the Hot Dog on a Stick franchise revealed that they had switched all their hot dogs to turkey and nobody noticed. A guy who reminded me of Jack Black said, "The cheese on these is still made from evil cows, though!"

Chris is Greek and poured us Greek wine, which had a sweet taste. There was also a lot of beer -- this was the second party I've been to where beer was given to people as they were leaving the party.

The Chargers were winning so everyone was in good spirits. But the usual debates came up: Instant replay? Is Marty a good coach? Another thing we couldn't come to a conclusion on was why Mike Anderson has his full name on the back of his jersey.

I looked around the room to see if everyone had a good view of the TV. I noticed one lady on the couch who didn't care. She was reading a women's magazine during the game. She occasionally pointed something out to her husband from the glossy pages.

One couple told me about their honeymoon in France. They saw rapper 50 Cent on a train. The woman told me his "people" picked her up and moved her out of the way as he was walking by. Her husband went into the next car to get a look at him, but 50 Cent was surrounded by his posse. The couple should've told 50 Cent they were on their honeymoon. When singer P.J. Harvey played at the Belly Up Tavern, one couple showed up straight from their wedding -- in tuxedo and wedding dress -- and got her autograph.

When the game had ended, I went to another football party in Chula Vista. I was told that they'd still be partying after the Chargers-Raiders game and then watching a night game on ESPN. I walked in and saw all silver and black jerseys. I introduced myself to the host, who was friendly, but a guy in a Raiders jersey commented on my Chargers cap. "The Chargers suck, man!" I laughed and said, "Well, they beat the Raiders by 13 points, so I guess the Raiders suck more." One person laughed, but the rest of the Raiders fans just looked at me. After a minute of uncomfortable silence, the guy continued, "Your team couldn't even beat Dallas, man." I didn't know what was more amusing, him saying "your team," as if I was a linebacker on the Chargers, or ending another sentence with "man." "The Raiders don't have a good record," I replied, "so it's weird for you to diss other teams. I'm a Chargers fan because I was born and raised here. Are you from Oakland?" He said, "National City, man. Are you gonna start talking shit about that next?" I then laughed and said, "The only one talking shit is you! I'm responding to your statements." He got in my face and asked, "Want to take this outside?" The host jumped in and told him to chill. I could smell the beer on the guy's breath as he said, "I'll knock your ass out."

He left a few minutes later carrying a beer. The others told me not to worry about him. One guy said, "Homeboy takes the games way too seriously. It's not like he lost money on it or anything. It's all good." Another person added, "Every time he drinks, it's the same thing. No more forties for him."

We all ended up talking football and getting along, and after a few hours I left. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw the angry Raiders fan waiting for me as he sipped his beer. I didn't want to turn around and go back to the house, and I didn't want to stop walking and have him think I was scared (even though I was). I pulled my cell phone out and looked at it while I tried to decide what to do. I thought about dialing 911. The guy surprised me when he said, "Hey, it's cool, man. I was pissed at the Raiders, not you." I told him I wasn't a hardcore Charger fan. "That's good," he said, "because they suck." I thought we were going to get back into the same argument, so I changed the subject. "Kerry Collins is my fantasy quarterback, so I actually want the Raiders to do well." He said, "What? You have fantasies about a quarterback? I bet you wish you were bent in front of him hiking the ball."I laughed and drove off, hoping bullets wouldn't come flying through my rear window.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

Detroit. Detroit.

October 6, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

The Box would like to offer a big, "Welcome home," to the San Diego Chargers team who won last year's AFC West Division with a record of 12 and 4 and showed up Sunday to mercilessly humiliate the New England Patriots. Fellas, we've missed you.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say San Diego was the best team in the NFL during Week 4. No other team played as well. The Bolts picked the right Sunday to get good, playing the reigning world champion on the reigning world champion's home field and winning by 24 points.

Pats head coach Bill Belichick said it best, "No doubt about it, San Diego is the better team.... They did a good job in every area. Better than we did. Pick out anything you want. They did a better job at everything."

The second half was murderous. The Chargers ripped 36 offensive plays for 243 yards; Pats managed 19 offensive plays for 61 yards. Chargers had the ball 21 minutes against 9 minutes for the Pats. Chargers scored 24 points in the second half; New England was shut out and had to walk home.

This brings the Chargers up to 2--2. Sunday's game will, as an unintended, but nevertheless unhappy consequence, inflate their point spread for the next month. This is sad. Still, it marked a welcome transformation from that blob we saw stumble around the playing field in Week 1 and Week 2. Saying that, it would be wise to keep in mind that Green Bay is 0--4, Washington is 3--0, Tampa Bay is 4--0, and -- you better sit down for this one -- the Cincinnati Bengals are 4--0.

It's clear the NFL has entered a new developmental phase. Good teams turn bad. Bad teams turn good. One wonders how to make sense of this. Well, wonder no longer, I have the answer. Want to know what's up with the Chargers? Get out your songbook, come over here and sing out:

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

Charge!

We're coming your way,

We're gonna dazzle you with our super play.

The time has come,

You know we're shooting for number one.

With thunderbolts and lightning

We'll light up the sky,

We'll give it all we've got, and more

With the Super Charger try!

Lately, an odd, unnatural feeling has invaded the fleshy temple I call "Me." Since Sunday, my chakra has been churning up a new vision -- one of hope, optimism, badminton games in the backyard, Sunday dinner with mom, children jumping in the neighborhood swimming pool, and gasoline at 75 cents a gallon. What I'm trying to say is, I keep seeing the Chargers in Super Bowl XL.

Only last month, my chakra felt like a pair of pants three sizes too small, although that's not quite right, I'm neglecting the added dimension of self-loathing and futility. Spend a lost weekend in Needles with an old girlfriend and you'll know what I mean. Or, to put it another way: NFL Week 1, Dallas 28, San Diego 24.

We've got a plan,

We're gonna do it for our super fans.

All we seek,

Is the goal line to victory.

We'll ignite you, excite you

With high voltage play.

We won't let up a minute,

We're going all the way -- all the way!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

Charge!

There's our chart, matey. Hold the compass straight and true and, in due time, we will come ashore in Detroit. Detroit in February. That's a good thing.

* * *

NFL Week 4 stupid quotes:

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals head coach, was asked to describe his team's performance after beating Houston 16 to 10. Lewis said, "We knew it was going to be a tough, physical football game."

Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy. "Special-teams-wise, we did what we need to do to."

Miami head coach Nick Saban. "You are always really looking for the players to get the kind of intensity that you want back, in terms of what we need to do."

Arizona head coach and human disappointment Dennis Green. "I think we just feel better about playing a better game. That's really the key. We are glad we are playing better..."

San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan, after losing 31--14 to the pathetic Arizona Cardinals. "Our target has not changed. As far as it may sound fetched, when you look at it from a statistical measure, we are only one game out of first [place in the NFC West]."

Was That Martyball?

September 15, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

San Francisco (underdog by 7) leads the NFC West after they prevailed over St. Louis on Sunday. New Orleans (underdog by 7) won at Super Bowl--bound Carolina. Dallas (underdog by 5) beat Super Bowl--bound San Diego at Qualcomm. Detroit beat Green Bay by two touchdowns. Kansas City stomped Super Bowl--bound New York Jets by 20 points. Miami (underdog by 5) crushed Denver by 24 points.

Scores appear to be out of joint. Favorites are dropping like flies, which is more than a hack phrase in San Francisco, whose offensive guard, Thomas Herrion, collapsed and died after a preseason game in Denver.

As to the Chargers, maybe they were caught up in the swarm or breathed the strange, noxious fumes that wafted their way into several NFL stadiums and caused good teams to play bad. The Chargers have 22 starters back from last year's 12 and 4 team. There's no way San Diego should have lost that game, even with Antonio Gates on the sidelines.

Hang on, I'd better modify that statement. This is sports, so random luck applies; therefore, the preceding paragraph will be changed to say the Chargers should beat Dallas seven out of ten times. Sunday was one of those seven times.

One game is nothing to get upset about unless your money is lost. Saying that, Sunday's contest brought back the familiar feelings of despair and hopelessness that reside in the bones of every veteran Chargers fan. I'm talking about the reappearance of Martyball.

We now know Martyball has not passed away, but lurks in the rancid underground corridors of Qualcomm Stadium. Remember last January when the Chargers hosted the New York Jets on the first day of Wildcard Weekend? The game went into overtime, San Diego drives to the Jet's 22-yard line. It's first and ten. The Chargers deal three running plays -- the same plays that had not worked all afternoon -- for no gain. Then, head coach Marty Schottenheimer sends in a rookie kicker who misses a 39-yard field goal. End of season.

Martyball, the fear-ridden obsession of running the ball up the gut every time an important game is on the line, showed its rodent face on Sunday. Or maybe not. Here's the situation: the Chargers are on the Cowboys' seven-yard line and have 47 seconds, four plays, and one timeout left to them. They need to score a touchdown to win the ballgame. LaDainian Tomlinson is ignored, Brees throws four passes...the first three were incomplete, the last was intercepted.

It sure seemed like Martyball; the stupid, repetitive selection of plays that do not work. But (and here's the rub) this series of stupid, repetitive plays were all passes, and purists will object if we call this Martyball.

But, even purists must admit the foregoing was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole over and over and over and over again until failure is achieved. Isn't that what Martyball is all about?

The Box will sponsor an election on this question and promises an honest count. Here are the competing propositions.

1. Martyball is the stupid, repetitive selection of the same running plays that have not worked all afternoon.

2. Martyball is the stupid, repetitive selection of same plays that have not worked all afternoon.

Cast your vote at: sportbox@ix.netcom.com Results will appear in next week's column.

Ominously, Sunday's game saw a role reversal at the quarterback position. Until last year, Drew Brees was known as an okay backup quarterback. Quarterback ratings run from zero (the quarterback refuses to leave the huddle) to the highest possible score of 158 1/3. Brees's quarterback rating for 2002 was 76.9, in 2003 it was 67.5, and then aliens visited his bedroom and his 2004 quarterback rating came in at 104.8. That's the kind of statistical pump-up one rarely sees apart from Barry Bonds's. But, Brees played Sunday's game the way he used to play all his games; his quarterback rating for that afternoon's work was 65.1.

Conversely, regard Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe. His 2002 quarterback rating was 86.0, in 2003 it was 73.0, and in 2004 he turned in a 76.6. Steady Eddy. On Sunday, Bledsoe finished with a 143.4 quarterback rating. Birds fell from the sky.

Finally, I'll close with a sample of Week 1 Stupid NFL Quotes. The idea is for the coach or athlete to speak in sentences that convey no meaning.

Drew Bledsoe, "They call the plays, and I try to just find the guy who's open."

Bill Parcells, "We'll see where we go from here. We have a lot of work to do."

Marty Schottenheimer, "On the positive side, we're in a division [AFC West] where we're only a game out to one team."

Let me see if I get this. All NFL teams have played one game, no team is more than one game behind any other, but since all of the AFC West lost save Kansas City...

The Raiders Lift Us Up

September 8, 2005 — Barbarella Fokos

'If you know that the good guys aren't so good, you're a Raiders fan. If you know you've been jacked and are waiting for revenge, you're a Raiders fan. If you know your boss isn't any better than you are, you're a Raiders fan," write Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew in their new book, Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire. On Friday, September 9, Miller and Mayhew will be discussing their book at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla. Miller, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Los Angeles, has always been a fan of the Raiders football team that began in Oakland, traveled to L.A., and returned to its home city. "During the [2003] season we immersed ourselves even more than we had been before," says Miller's wife and coauthor, Mayhew. "We had season tickets and we sat in the 'Black Hole,' the most notorious section in the Oakland Coliseum."

Mayhew, who was pregnant at the time of her research, remembers the close-knit group that shared the Black Hole. "The people who sat behind us would pat my growing belly. It was like a big family, which is kind of counter to the image of the Raiders fan."

In their book the duo writes, "Real or imagined, the Raider Nation is an affirmation of blue-collar toughness, rebellion, and solidarity during a time that valorizes the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In an era that craves order and safety, Raider Nation offers chaos and fun. In the face of the new Puritanism, 'Just say no,' and 'Watch what you say,' the Raider Nation says, 'Fuck you.'

The book continues, "As homeless Oakland resident Ben Ducksworth put it while collecting empty beer cans on East 12th Street, 'The Raiders lift us all up...I may be homeless and broke, but I'm a winner. That's because my blood runs silver and black.'"

"The Chargers are more a sort of suburban team in a lot of ways," says Miller. "I think when people think about the Raiders coming in, people feel like, 'Oh, it's a gang invasion of San Diego.'

"The most notorious example of violence was at a game in San Diego where a Raiders fan stabbed a Chargers fan. [The Raiders fan] is still in jail." Unable to reach the convicted man for comment, Miller and Mayhew interviewed one of his neighbors. "He was just this regular guy that lost it. It was a pathetic tale, really; there was no gang association with it. The fear of Raiders fans is the fear of the urban, fear of working class, fear of black and brown," says Miller, who is Caucasian.

What about the die-hard, war-painted individuals? "They are not representative fans," answers Miller. "The cameras love them because they're colorful, but we interviewed a number of people [with painted faces] who don't even have tickets; they just go to get their pictures taken in the parking lot. There's a minor industry made out of celebrity fans."

Aggressive fans, stresses Mayhew, are not limited to one team. "Whenever you wear an opposing team's colors on another turf, you are kind of holding yourself up to getting hazed," she says. "At a Chargers game last year a group of Chargers fans got arrested for beating up an opposing team's fan. It wasn't a Raiders game."

Mayhew writes one chapter about women as sports fans. "Women are a growing market and they make up a large percentage of football viewers." Mayhew attributes this growing trend to the fact that "more and more women have the same kinds of work and life pressures as men have traditionally had," and that watching sports offers the proper outlet.

"You get in the stands and you cheer your team on, you curse them out when they flub a play, you high-five the people in the stands next to you. There were a significant number of women in the Black Hole." The chapter Mayhew wrote is titled "Real Women Wear Black."

Miller and Mayhew took their newborn son to the last game of the year at the Oakland Coliseum. "It was pouring down rain in buckets and we were wearing ponchos because you can't bring an umbrella in," remembers Mayhew. "One of the guys who sits in front of us [swapped seats] so that we could sit under the overhang to protect our kid. We only see this guy at games, but he stood in the rain [for us]." -- Barbarella

Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire
Discussion and book signing
Friday, September 9
7 p.m.
D.G. Wills Books
7461 Girard Avenue
La Jolla
Cost: Free
Info: 858-456-1800 or www.dgwillsbooks.com


Sacked Chargers

June 2, 2005 — Jay Allen Sanford

Sacked Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie surprised some last month by turning up on the New England Patriots' team roster for a one-year "backup" gig. The audience at the Medford, Massachusetts, Music for Middlesex III concert got a surprise on May 14 when the sometime-drummer turned out to be the advertised "surprise guest" on a bill that included Jon Butcher, Ian "Bay City Rollers" Mitchell, Duke and the Drivers, and James Montgomery. Rumors swirled that Steven Tyler was to be the surprise guest after the Aerosmith singer was spotted (with Flutie) in the concert venue the afternoon of the show. Near midnight, Flutie took the stage with Montgomery's band and played drums (barefoot) on two songs, including Bo Diddley's "Road Runner."

Flutie, who lives in Natick, Massachusetts, and won a Heisman trophy while at Boston College, "took the place by storm," according to attendee Brian Gibson. "Everyone was slapping him on the back and saying, 'Welcome home'.... He's a real hero around here. We're glad the Chargers fired him."

If the Chargers Hadn't Released 42-Year-Old Quarterback Doug Flutie

March 24, 2005 — Jay Allen Sanford

If the Chargers hadn't released 42-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie on March 11, they would have had to pay him a $300,000 bonus on March 15. Flutie was in Stowe, Vermont, for a family ski trip when he received the news. "He was disappointed, but it didn't come as a complete surprise," said Flutie's agent, Kristen Kuliga. Flutie had a gig over the weekend at a local club with his group the Flutie Brothers Band. He's the drummer, and his brother Darren plays guitar. The band has played Super Bowl parties, often bringing in guests like Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke.

Alex the Greek

February 24, 2005 — Matt Potter

Chargers owner Alex G. Spanos, the megamillionaire who reportedly wants San Diego taxpayers to give him 60 acres of prime Mission Valley property as part of his latest stadium scheme, has turned Hollywood mogul. The Stockton developer has set up A.G.S. Communications, LLC, to bankroll a new IMAX movie that "celebrates the illustrious history of Greece and its role as the birthplace of modern civilization." Spanos, who will serve as executive producer of the film, to be titled Greece: Secrets of the Past, is putting $6 million into the deal. Oscar documentary nominee Greg MacGillivray (The Living Sea [1998]; Dolphins [2000]) is co-producing and directing. Meanwhile, city insiders speculate that the reason Spanos may be dropping his bid to have the city council put the stadium deal on the ballot in favor of mounting his own initiative drive may have something to do with the fact that a council-sponsored measure would require an environmental impact report up front, whereas an initiative would not. Critics say that an honest environmental appraisal of the Spanos plan to build hundreds of condos along with a new stadium would never pass muster.

Chargers Wrap-up

January 13, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

There's a reason why Marty is 5-12 in playoff games. Defense, an excellent quarterback, and a good front line can get you into the postseason, but once in, you need to take risks; be assured, the other team will.

So, when the Chargers had the ball on the Jets' 22-yard line, 1st down, game tied, in overtime, I absolutely knew Marty was going to call three running plays in a row. So did the Jets, the fans at Qualcomm, and the great world of men in undershorts watching the game on TV.

This time of year all the teams are good -- or at least capable of being good. Normally, every coach is trying to win. Match him with a coach who's trying not to lose, and more often than not, the coach who's trying to win, wins. Marty has never figured that out.

Then again, perhaps I'm being too harsh on the coach of the year. When I want to tune up my assumptions, I invariably look to accordions; in this instance, Ferino's Music Repair & Tuning on Robinson Avenue. An older man with a thick Italian accent answers the phone. I ask, "Did you watch Saturday's game?"

"We watched in Las Vegas. We just come last night back. My son, my son, he goes over there. He watches all the time. My son is very, very...he likes the Chargers."

"When did you realize the Chargers might lose the game?"

"I don't believe they losing."

I will take that as definitive. "How long have you been in the company of accordions?" The question is meant to move our conversation gracefully to its end.

"My father make accordion. I work in that and repair and tune piano. Every day."

Now, I'm interested. "Are there a lot of people who play accordion in San Diego?"

"Yes, we have accordion club here in San Diego. Maybe two, three hundred peoples."

I have got to attend an accordion-club meeting. "That's a lot of people."

"Yeah, a lot. It's nice. We have, every year, a convention in Las Vegas also. Next June, July we have other conventions. People come from Italy, from Canada, from anyplace. Maybe five, six hundred people."

I can't stop myself. "What instruments do you play?"

"I play accordion, but I play piano, saxophone, clarinet -- all the instruments I repairing. Also inventor. You know, inventor?"

No turning back. "What did you invent?"

"I invent the hybrid car. Electric and gas. I make, myself, car by hand. I have patents with that. Thirty-two years ago I started making hybrids. Japanese just making now."

I'll need to know where he was born, his early years, how he got to San Diego, recreational activities, family, dreams, and hopes, but first..."You've got the patent; can't you make money out of that?"

"No. You have 17 years' control with your patent. Now, no more. Everybody can make. I just watch."

* * *

"I saw it, and it was completely disappointing," says Jeremy of California Police Equipment on El Cajon Boulevard.

"At what point did you begin to think the Chargers were going to lose?"

"Halftime. They weren't playing their A game. It was very obvious. We didn't play them like we were playing for a serious win."

* * *

"Did anybody in your shop watch the game?"

Marilyn, of On Comic Ground, "Mainstream, Alternative & Underground Comics," doing business on University Avenue, replies; actually, she's talking to someone in the store. I figure he's an employee. I hear Marilyn ask, "Hey, Patrick, did you watch the game?"

Can't make out his reply. Marilyn, continuing her conversation with Patrick, says, "Okay, I heard we lost too, but I didn't watch it."

I break in, "Does anybody have an opinion about the Chargers?"

"Gee, I don't know." Marilyn moves away from the phone, asks Patrick, "Do you have an opinion about the Chargers?"

Silence. Silence. And more silence. Then a soft, scraping noise. Marilyn says, "He thinks they're doing pretty good this year."

"And you, do you think they're doing good?"

"Yeah, I would say the same thing. I mean, sure, they lost in overtime because of a kick, but you can't take away the rest of the season. I mean, how many other teams did they beat to get to where they were?"

"That's true."

"But, I'm afraid for next year. Usually when you do good one year you don't do good the next."

Time for that graceful exit. "How long have you been at On Comic Ground?"

"Ten years."

"What's your best-seller?"

"Oh, gosh, probably Astonishing X-Men right now."

"Do best-sellers come and go?"

"Yeah, it depends on the writers. If they get a better opportunity, they'll move on to something else. They usually sign for a year. So, most of them will do at least 12 issues. Sometimes, especially if the writer is really good, he can double the amount of readers you get."

Sounds like coaching in the NFL.

Stadium Drum Beat

January 6, 2005 — Matt Potter

When the Union-Tribune gets that old special-interest bit in its mouth, it seldom lets go. Witness the recent spate of stories the paper has run about how decrepit the once-mighty Qualcomm Stadium has purportedly become. The campaign began on Sunday, December 12, with a 1200-word story under the bylines of Caitlin Rother and Jeff McDonald with the headline "Chargers fans just seething in the rain; Complaints trickle in over slow-draining Q." The piece described a wheelchair-bound dowager getting wet in her luxury seat and quoted city stadium manager Bill Wilson as saying the venue, which taxpayers spent more than $60 million to expand and remodel in 1997, was already out of date: "It leaks all over. This place is a sieve. We have tried everything...from rubberized joints to the high-tech stuff they use on the LAX runway...and the place still leaks." Last Thursday the paper's Holiday Bowl story again flogged the leaky-stadium angle. The campaign hasn't been limited to the U-T. On December 13, the day after the first U-T story, listeners of KPBS radio heard from Chargers lobbyist Mark Fabiani, who argued that a new stadium was needed. The station is run by San Diego State, which plays its football games at Qualcomm and gets hefty financial backing from new stadium boosters. On New Year's Day, a U-T editorial followed up, calling the existing stadium "leaky, creaky, and crumbling."

Midseason

November 18, 2004 — Patrick Daugherty

'You are bidding on an early-1980s San Diego Chargers Huddles pin. Features the throwback Chargers mascot in a rare pin. Pin measures approximately 1.5 inches tall and condition is very good, no scratches or marks."

This is eBay item 5136824103, and with a starting bid of $4.99 it's a purchase. Next is item 5139103657, "San Diego Chargers Sign. Neon Bar Light Sign...a great decor item for home, bar, restaurant, commercial bar, game room, store or shop etc." I'll require that as well. And I might as well bid on "San Diego Chargers Official Metal License Plate."

Okay. Now dash over to fansedge.com and reserve a San Diego Chargers Trailer Hitch Cover ($39.99), San Diego Chargers Car Magnets ($26.99). "Two 12-inch magnets for your car or truck, desks, refrigerator, lockers or anywhere you can think of!" For my tailgate needs there is a handsome San Diego Chargers cooler ($48), pair of San Diego Chargers folding chairs ($39.99), San Diego Chargers flag ($29.99), San Diego Chargers Deluxe Barbeque Set ($27.99), and for a special treat, four San Diego Chargers Individual Pillowcases ($79.96) to assure a good night's rest after game-day festivities.

That's all for today, but I'll be back tomorrow. Right now I must rush over to a website whose name I will not reveal, for obvious reasons, and place a bid on the centerpiece of my new lifestyle, "...the largest circus bandwagon ever built, and it was in every Barnum & Bailey street parade from 1902 to 1918."

Indeed, I shall possess my own San Diego Chargers bandwagon. I am prepared to spend whatever it takes.

Regulars may recall the unfortunate Sporting Box column, written on the eve of NFL Week 3, entitled, "The Annual Chargers Suck Column," where, employing understatement as a literary technique, I wrote the following sentences.

"Let them [the Chargers] become a ward of Los Angeles. San Diego is regarded, across the board, as the worst franchise in the NFL and in a league with Arizona, Detroit, Cincinnati, and New Orleans as dues-paying members. That's a position you have to work for.

"The Chargers suck. I don't see the end to it until the last stupid Spanos moves into that big hog pen in the sky.

"With Spanos, you could give him a new stadium, you could give him nuclear weapons, and he would still field a team that has no clue, because he has no clue. The Spanos brain trust, since 1997, has hired the following men as head coach; Kevin Gilbride, June Jones, Mike Riley, and Marty Schottenheimer. Two games into the eighth season, the Chargers record is 36 wins and 78 losses.

"How does 38 and 90 sound?"

So, inevitably, it was then -- or rather, two weeks later -- that our mighty Bolts, under the inspired leadership of industry titan and owner Alex Spanos, plus his sharp-as-a-whip son, Dean (president and CEO), aided by the other sharp-as-a-whip spawn Michael (executive vice president), not forgetting NFL Coach-of-the-Year-to-Be Marty Schottenheimer and his staff of veteran subcommanders hoisted the heretofore disrespected Chargers team on their collective shoulders and carried it down the gridiron onto victory after victory after victory. In fact, they've nearly run the table. As a result, going into their bye week, the San Diego Chargers are tied for first place in the AFC West with a record of six wins against three losses.

With a soft schedule from here to the end of the regular season, due to, ahem, last year's already forgotten 4-12 record, things are looking quite doable in Chargersland. Playoffs, anyone? You bet. Other than New England, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, San Diego is as good or better than any team in the NFL.

Suddenly it's a Brees. Or, at least, the husk of a Brees; his mind and body may well be occupied by an alien force. Nonetheless, Brees is the name on everybody's lips. He was drafted by the Chargers in 2001 and played one game that season. In 2002, he threw 17 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. In 2003, it was 11 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

That was our lad, another thrown-away San Diego draft pick, another rookie quarterback who didn't live up to expectations, a man whose sole achievement since he's been in San Diego was keeping Doug Flutie employed. Now, Brees is a legitimate league MVP contender. His passing ratings are the NFL's third best: he has (impossible to believe) thrown 18 touchdowns against three interceptions.

Suddenly it's Schottenheimer -- who I swear looks as if he's trying to win rather than struggling to get a three-point lead and then suffocating the life out of the game by calling one running play after another. This year, I have personally seen the Chargers throw the football in the air and downfield while they had a lead.

Alien abduction or not, they're a damn good team. And they're getting better.

Chargers Ready Taxpayer Fleece-Fest

July 10, 2003 — Don Bauder

The city and the Chargers are in secret kiss-and-tell negotiations. True to historical precedent, the city is kissing the Chargers' rear hip pads and not telling anybody. The Chargers, meanwhile, are openly telling people their version of the supposedly secret tête-à-tail.

It's typical San Diego government: professional sports teams get kissed, taxpayers get kicked, and truth gets camouflaged.

The Chargers claim they can put together a deal without tapping public funds. But San Diego has heard that twice before. There was the remake of what is now Qualcomm, with the purportedly wondrous 60,000-seat guarantee, and then the ballpark, which was to be financed by taxes thrown off by commercial structures, particularly hotels, that are nowhere in sight.

The new Chargers proposal will definitely drain city funds; the question is how it will be covered up. Watch for several things: the team will try to wiggle out of $150 million in rent owed for the next 16 years; the team will get the land virtually free from the city; promises will be neither memorialized nor enforced; there will be a promise of a luscious public park; and the city and team will claim the deal doesn't impact the general fund, which will be deceitfully defined.

Another distinct possibility: the Chargers will want to lose a 2006 vote, so they can leave town claiming they were shoved.

With a hide-the-pea government and a perfume-the-polecat mainstream media, discovering the deceptions will be difficult, as in the past.

Examples abound: in May of 1995, then-city manager Jack McGrory assured the city council in a memo that under the agreement with the Chargers, the seats would fill up. The San Diego International Sports Council, one of those charmed institutions that takes government funds so it can turn around and lobby government, promised it would work to "increase home game general admission attendance to a minimum [italics mine] of 60,000 per game."

"They tried," McGrory sighs today. The 60,000-seat guarantee failed "because the team worsened." Yeah, but anybody who tried to say back then that the Chargers wouldn't always be winners was branded an obstructionist.

The astounding part of McGrory's memo dealt with the Padres. According to the Chargers' contract with the city, the Chargers beginning in 1999 would get all the Padres' in-park advertising revenue, even at Padre games, and the Chargers would also determine schedule dates. To anyone who had read the contract, it was clear that it was a pre-plotted ploy: the Padres could say the city had forced them out, and they needed a new facility. But McGrory's May 1995 memo projected that the Padres would continue generating big bucks for the city at what was then Jack Murphy Stadium. Indeed, by 2010, the Padres playing at the Murph would shovel $7.7 million to the city. Ulp!

"Anybody who operated in 1995 on the assumption that the Padres intended to continue playing at Jack Murphy Stadium after 1999 simply had not read the agreement," says former councilmember Bruce Henderson.

In 1997, John Witt, who was city attorney when the Chargers' contract was drawn, said that Mayor Susan Golding was the city's chief negotiator, and the city attorney's office played a limited role. Shortly, Witt did a mea maxima culpa. "I screwed up," he claimed. Golding was not the chief negotiator. Witt suddenly recalled being briefed almost daily on the negotiations. It is amazing how heads clear when a guillotine hangs over them.

Recently, there has been the question of the so-called trigger -- a financial threshold that would permit the Chargers to compel the city to negotiate a new deal. When the Chargers said they could trigger earlier this year, the city relied on the word of a sports consultant who is paid to help pro teams maximize the amount they suck out of city governments. Councilmember Donna Frye hired a nationally known economist who said the Chargers could not trigger. The city ignored the economist and began negotiating with the team without saying whether the Chargers could trigger. "They adopted a policy of negotiating a new contract in secret without determining if they were required to negotiate a contract," says attorney Mike Aguirre.

"From the beginning, I opposed entering into negotiations unless the Chargers proved they could trigger," says Frye. "My position has not changed." She is annoyed by the government-imposed omertá. "The Chargers are allowed to speak about their proposal. Why can't I?" In dealing with the city on sports issues, Frye says, "It is difficult to get straight answers" from bureaucrats.

In the 1995 agreement, the Chargers pledged to use their "best efforts" to fill the stadium. But after several years of lousy attendance and a big drain on city coffers from the seat guarantee, the Chargers raised ticket prices, and city attorney Casey Gwinn didn't exercise the best-efforts clause. He should have done so long ago to force the Chargers to lower prices, says Henderson.

The Padres provide a more nauseating example of government obsequiousness and disingenuousness. Gwinn claimed in the ballot argument that the project would be "revenue neutral" because of the bounteous tax revenue flowing from hotels, office, and retail buildings. When it was obvious the tax receipts would fall far short, a new mayor, Dick Murphy, made wholesale alterations to the deal. The memorandum of understanding, the document authorizing the project, had declared that if there were "material changes," it would have to go back to the voters. Gwinn kicked the matter to the council, which said there were no material changes.

The memorandum of understanding gave the Padres the right to "fine-tune" the mix of real estate in the ballpark district. Former law professor and judge Robert Simmons pointed out in a lawsuit that, for just one example, the requirement for office buildings had been lessened by 66 percent. That was hardly fine-tuning. But the city insisted it was.

" 'Fine-tuning' was a code word for 'We can do whatever we want,' " says Stanley Zubel, Simmons's attorney.

Now the Padres and the city -- and the mainstream press that has an economic interest in pro-sports subsidies -- are crowing that there is a condominium boom in and around the ballpark district. This is laughable. The taxes generated by residential real estate barely pay for the infrastructure and services the homes require. "There are no sales and transient occupancy [hotel] taxes from residences," says Zubel.

"Housing is a drain," says Frye, citing many studies. Transient-occupancy taxes provide the city with juicy revenue, notes Henderson, but there has been little hotel construction in the ballpark district.

Recently, of course, there was the question of the 3.5-acre "park at the park" that, Aguirre points out, the Padres touted in a mass mailing to the citizenry before the 1998 vote. But when the Padres wanted to shrink the park substantially, the city attorney's office said that the memorandum of understanding had deliberately not spelled out the specifics for the park, lest economic conditions change. Indeed, the Padres had shrunk the size back in 1999 by quietly showing another rendering. Also, the ballpark itself is no longer positioned to give the fans great views, as originally advertised. And this is the city attorney's office that is supposed to be prosecuting bait-and-switch schemes.

Overall, "If you look at the contract, there was no penalty clause" for Padres nonperformance, says Henderson. The contract should have read, "If for some reason the promised buildings are not on the tax rolls, you pay the city the shortfall. All the city attorney did was memorialize what the city was going to do, and in vague terms memorialized what the Padres might do if they were so inclined." Great contract.

The city attorney's office wouldn't answer questions about all these matters.

Now, presumably, there will be a new Chargers contract. It will be filled with loopholes that are sure to drain your pocketbook, but your problem will be finding out how.

Chargers Vets

November 15, 2001 — Patrick Daugherty

On my desk is a book that contains the name of every man who ever played for the San Diego Chargers. Hundreds of names. Under each name are three lines of text, the historical remains of one player’s career. I see the position he played, the years he played for the Chargers, and years played with other teams. I see where and when he was born, what high school and college he attended, how much he weighed and how tall he was. I’ve come to believe, although I hope this is not true, that those few years in the NFL were the most important years of his life, a life now etched in eight-point font, buried inside a three-inch-thick reference volume few people will read.

Here’s Volney Peters. He was a defensive tackle on the 1960 Chargers team. Peters was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 1, 1928. He’d be 73 years old now. Is he alive? Is he strapped to an oxygen tank, confined in the indigent ward of a South Florida retirement home? Or is he living large in San Francisco, happily two-timing his 32-year-old girlfriend? Here’s Danny Colbert. He was a defensive back on the 1975 Chargers team. Did he marry and have kids? Maybe his oldest son went to prison, or, maybe, he became a psychoanalyst. What did Danny do after football and was it fun? Here’s Todd Spencer. He was a running back, played three games with the 1987 Chargers. How did it end for him, was he released or injured? Almost no one, no one at all, ever leaves the NFL on his own terms.

Sit in front of this list long enough and you notice little things, like how frequently, in this fractured age, people return to their hometowns after they’re done with football, and especially, how brutally short a typical NFL career is. Going in I thought the average career was four, four and a half years. Now, I see two, two and a half years is about average. Going in, I thought regarding a professional football team as a reflection of a city, as anything other than a business, was delusional. Turns out, teams are less connected to the town they play in than I imagined. Nobody stays with a team for long, not players, coaches, or general managers. Very few people on this list stayed with the Chargers for more than two seasons. For every Dan Fouts you have 30 Danny Colberts.

After a while you understand there are no San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, or New York Giants. There is only the Republic of Football; its citizens go from one franchise to the next to the next and repeat. Loyalties are to the republic, not some slammed-together football team in a strange town where you live in a furnished apartment for six months out of the year, for a year or two, on the way to another apartment in another strange town.

Going in I thought a lot of players would, 10, 20, 30 years after retirement, have a limp or a stiff shoulder or a bad knee. I didn’t know that most of the men I’d contact would still suffer from serious football-related injuries. I thought an nfl Players Association pension would be enormous. I remember reading about O. J. Simpson’s $25,000-a-month pension check. Turns out, O. J.’s pension is approximately $25,000 a year, and he, like all retired players, receives a check but no medical insurance.

What else? Every nfl alumnus I talked to was smart. I’d put them up against a random selection of doctors. Every player said he would do it again and meant it. And, every player knew, very early on, he would play in the nfl one day.

Finally, you may notice I did not contact anyone who played for the Chargers during the last ten years. I wanted to talk to men who had been out of the game long enough to become whatever it is you become after the lights go off and the big money ends.


1980s

Chris Bahr

“I’m doing a story about former Chargers players: what they’re doing now, where they’re living, and whatever else I can get.”

Bahr laughs. “Well, I’m here.”

“Let’s see, you did four years with Cincinnati, nine years with the Raiders, and finished with the Chargers in ’89. Did you think, at the time, San Diego was going to be your last stop?”

“It was coming towards the end. We had a fairly decent team in San Diego, but we let a number of games slip. I’m still pretty good friends with Jim McMahon and Dave Archer [quarterbacks on the 1989 Chargers team]. We were 6 and 10. Of the 10 losses, we led or were tied in 8 of those games with under four minutes to play. Then they brought in Bobby Beathard as GM, and he decided to rebuild. He went youth everywhere.

“I thought I might be able to catch on somewhere, but it didn’t happen. Towards the end, you get the feeling you don’t have too many games left in you; you’re just not sure when it’s going to happen.”

I wonder how that works for a kicker. “How does that work for a kicker? Does accuracy go first or legs or what?”

“Used to be, a coach would think a guy was at the end if he was losing some leg strength. He’d say, ‘Okay, it’s time to go with somebody younger.’ I think coaches are starting to learn you keep a kicker as long as he’s productive. Look around the league today, there are guys kicking who are in their early 40s.

“You don’t know how a young guy is going to react to things. I think a lot of coaches like older guys, because they know what they’re going to get. If they miss, it’s not out of fear, they just happen to miss. So kickers are sticking around a little bit longer.”

“Is there a magic number of misses that would cause a kicker to say to himself, ‘I’m gone’?”

“I don’t know if it’s that. Right now, they’re not kicking as many long field goals, so the percentages for kickers have gone way, way up. It’s easy for a team that doesn’t play well to say, ‘Well, we missed that 49-yard field goal in the first quarter. Had we made it, we would have won.’

“They look for little things to blame. It’s pretty obvious kickers take a lot of heat. With better teams, coaches look at what you do in bigger situations and ask themselves, ‘What kind of an effect does this have on the outcome of the season?’ and not so much on what your percentage is. You can kid yourself with percentages. I’ll give you a prime example. We had one game we kicked a 45-yard field goal at the end to beat Philadelphia. It was the same day a kicker in Minnesota kicked seven field goals to win 21–18. Basically, those games are identical.”

I…don’t…get…it. “Being a kicker seems like a good football job. You can be a normal-sized person, and usually, the no-necks aren’t jumping on you…”

Bahr laughs again. “That’s the good part.”

“How about the practice part? I assume you weren’t out there doing two-a-days?”

“A little bit of that. By the same token, there were a lot of guys who liked that part of it but didn’t like kicking on Sunday. All of a sudden it counted.

“Kicking has a lot of ups and downs. You’re very physical every time you do it. You’re out there by yourself. There’s no question whether you succeeded or failed. It’s an interesting job, like a relief pitcher.”

Bahr played 210 nfl games. “You must have a Super Bowl ring since you were kicking for the Raiders during most of the ’80s.”

“Right, two of them. I never wear them. My brother has a couple rings too, and he’s the same way. If we’re going to speak somewhere or we’re doing a golf tournament or an outing, people tend to ask, so you wear them or bring them along, but otherwise, no.”

“What have you been doing since football?”

“Well, I worked as an attorney for a short time, got out of that. I’ve been in financial services for the past eight years. I have an investment firm with two other guys. We handle professional athletes, try to get them out of the game with a little bit of money in the bank.”

Bahr enrolled into Salmon P. Chase College of Law (Highland Heights, Kentucky). He was playing for Cincinnati at the time. He earned his law degree 5H years later from Southwestern University School of Law (Los Angeles), while kicking for the Raiders. “Do you miss football?”

“Initially. I’ll tell you what you miss — and you’ll probably get the same response from everybody — you miss the camaraderie of the locker room, of being that close to 45, 50 guys.”

Ladies, this is a guy thing. “What is it that you see or feel while you’re playing that the rest of us don’t see or feel?”

“One thing people don’t understand, even though they think they understand, is how violent the game is. You don’t have any appreciation of how violent it is unless you’re close. I’ve sat in the stands, watched games, and you don’t get the same feel.

“I remember the day I noticed it the most. My brother was a rookie with the Steelers. I remember sitting in the stands during the [1979] afc Championship game, Pittsburgh against Houston [in Pittsburgh]. There were some hits during the game. I knew how vicious they were, but you don’t feel it in the stands. Without the sounds, you don’t understand.”

“Is it annoying to see the kind of money players are making today?”

“No. I’m all for it. The money is there. The one thing I’ve said for 25 years is, ‘No one ever held a gun to an owner’s head and said, “You have to pay me this amount of money.” ’ Owners can say no, but they choose not to.

“There was a hierarchy when I played. If you were a starting offensive lineman for five years, you generally made more than the guy who started for three years. Now you get a kid coming out of college who is making more than somebody who has played for seven or eight years. You have a disparity between the high-priced guys and the low-priced guys. You’ve got a two-tier system now. Take Ryan Leaf. He didn’t deserve a nickel. He’s done nothing to earn a penny, and he’s probably set for life.”

“I think San Diego fans will tell you they hope Ryan Leaf handles his money as well as he handles the football.”

“Guys like that, they gave him so much money and he never amounted to anything. I don’t know if he ever will. I don’t mind giving signing bonuses to kids, but those big salaries, for people who have never proved themselves, are ridiculous.”


Ralf Mojsiejenko

“What are you doing nowadays?”

“I live in the town I grew up in. After football I got into sales with a guy who started a trucking company. I went to college with him at Michigan State. We’re an expediting company and go all over the country.”

“Big change from football.”

“Very much. I got a degree in teaching but never used it.”

A wise move. Every public school teacher I’ve ever known hates his job and drinks too much. “Are you still a bit of a celebrity, or is it ‘That was then. This is now’?”

“Some people remember me in this town, a little bit, maybe. Not like a Rolf Benirschke [Chargers kicker 1977–1986] or somebody like that.” I hear a cough. “I enjoyed my time in San Diego. The favorite part of my career, actually. I lived in Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, all over.”

“You were playing after free agency kicked in [February 1989]. Salaries must have been good.”

“I wish my career would start now and go seven years. But for a single guy, I made decent money. I enjoyed the game until it became a business for me, until it was more than just fun. That was happening over my last couple of years.”

Ralf went to Michigan State. His first field goal attempt was a 61-yarder against Illinois. He drilled it. “Could you see the end?”

“I could see it coming. I had some bone spurs in my heel, which caused a lot of pain. I couldn’t practice as much as I did earlier in my career. And I lost the desire a little bit. I was sick of traveling, sick of having my family travel to wherever I was going to be playing next year.”

“Did you call it a day after ’91, or did you try to make a team in ’92?” Nobody quits the nfl.

“I went to the Dolphins’ mini-camp and did really well. They had a starting kicker at the time. They said if he got hurt, I would be the guy they’d call.”

“Was it on to the trucking business after that?”

“I looked into teaching.” Another good man puts his soul in peril. “I’ve got a secondary teaching degree. I was going to teach and coach and live the happy life. But my friend started his own business. When I signed on we had 7 trucks, now we have 120. I own a little bit of the business, not much, but a little bit is better than nothing.”

“Do players talk about the party coming to the end amongst themselves?”

“I remember people talking about what they wanted to do. When you start talking about how much money you need to retire, then your mind’s not in the game. I found myself thinking, ‘Well, let’s see, if I have this much money, I don’t need a good job.’ But, bottom line, you don’t want to sit around all your life — you’ve got to find something you like to do.”

“Is there a moment in San Diego that comes to mind?”

“I made the Pro Bowl after my third year there. That’s something that sticks in my mind. But I remember college more than pros. I remember beating Michigan at Michigan in front of 105,000 people, and they were 19-point favorites.”


Tyrone Keys

“You mean what I’m doing now?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve been running a collegiate mentoring program for first-generation college-bound students and students who have extracurricular talent they would like to pursue beyond high school.”

I take a deep breath. I always have this reaction when it takes more than 3 syllables for someone to describe his job. I’m comfortable with teach-er, plumb-er, writ-er, car-pen-ter, me-chan-ic, bank-er, bar-tend-er, pros-ti-tute, and so on. Keys’s job is 43 syllables long. “How did you find that…thing that you do?”

“I was injured in the last preseason game of 1989. I was looking for something to do, thought my career was probably over, and started working in a halfway house in San Diego. I began as a part-time coach in the evenings. From then on, I was hooked.”

“I’ve asked ex-players who have been injured, ‘Was it worth it?’ and they always say, ‘You bet it was.’ Was it?”

“You like to look at your life as if it’s nothing but a journey. Had I not been injured that year… I look at the number of youth who have been helped by our organization, and I can trace my time out there in San Diego as something that got me started.”

“Tell me about a game you played in San Diego.”

“My last game was the 13th game of the year. It was in San Diego against the 49ers. I think the Niners went on to win the Super Bowl that year [Super Bowl XXIII — San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16]. We were all fired up for that game. On the second play I sacked Joe Montana. I missed him on the third play, was blindsided and got a herniated disk in my back. That was 1988 and that was the injury I couldn’t come back from. But for the first three plays of the game, I either hit Montana or sacked him. I felt like it was going to be a rare day for me, and I ended up getting disabled. That was the end of my career right there, sacking Joe Montana.”

Six years later, Montana’s career ended by way of a sack. “How did the Chargers treat you?”

Keys laughs again. “When you’re injured…it’s not like the Chicago Bears. I played on the Bears’ Super Bowl team [Super Bowl XX — Chicago 46, New England 10]. Those guys get together. We had three outings this past year. With the Chargers, guys were coming and going, there was no cohesiveness.”

“After you got hurt, was it one of those ‘Where’s What’s-His-Name?’ ”

“Oh, yeah, definitely.” This is said with authority.

“What happens when you get a career-ending injury? I assume it’s no bullshit, somebody pays your salary and takes care of your medical bill.”

“No, that doesn’t happen, man.”

“You have to pay your own medical bills?”

“Basically, you have to fight and claw for whatever you get. But, yes, when you’re injured you’re supposed to get the rest of the year’s salary. But, a lot of times, different things come into play. Football contracts are not guaranteed.”

“Is it like my hmo, you have to argue over every single bill?”

“Yes.”


Craig Bingham

“What do you remember about the Chargers?”

Bingham makes a pleasing chuckle. “The format after practices was a lot different than what we had in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was more physical. We used to beat up on each other. In San Diego, they weren’t as intense in practice.

“Pittsburgh was a very physical team, defensively and offensively. That’s not to say the offensive linemen in San Diego did not have that linemen mentality, because they did. I can recall looking at a couple of the guys in San Diego and they looked like biker guys. They’re going to come at you.” Bingham takes a moment to think. “Let me sum it up this way: I was yelled at by Coach Coryell for going too hard in practice and hitting people. In Pittsburgh, that wasn’t a thought.”

“What do you mean, ‘Going too hard in practice’?”

“The battles with Kellen Winslow were interesting. The attitude in Pittsburgh, where I came from, was, it doesn’t matter who you are, you go hard in practice. I went hard against Kellen the first few times, and he didn’t care for it. He expected to get off the line of scrimmage and go out and do his pass routes. My thinking was, ‘Well, that’s nice, you have your job to do and I have my job to do, and my job is to prevent you from getting off the line freely. If there’s a problem, well, there’s a problem, we’re both doing our jobs.’ He didn’t care for that so we got into a little bit of a tiff.”

“And the coaches stood back and waited to see who won?”

I can hear Bingham’s mind work. “They watched to see how everything was going to flow.”

“Can you remember a game from your time in San Diego?”

“Yes, the game I got my ankle rolled on. It was a special teams play. I was tackling someone at the two-yard line and someone rolled on my ankle. That was the end of it.”

Pardon my wince. “How long did it take to heal?”

“Took quite a while. I tried to tape it. Didn’t work.”

“I’ve talked to retired players who have had horrendous injuries, injuries that have lasted their entire lives. I’ve asked them if they had it to do again, would they play pro football.”

“And you’re asking me the same question?”

“Right.”

“Yes.”

“What is it about football? Is the game that thrilling?”

“It’s hard to describe. There’s something exhilarating about doing it, maybe because we’re modern-day gladiators.”

And the rest of us are modern-day Romans. “You were with the Chargers in ’85. How was the money?”

Bingham laughs. “The money train had not yet gotten on the tracks.”

“How did your career end?”

“My decision to get out of the game was pretty much that, it was my decision. When I ended up in San Diego, my family was back here [Pittsburgh]. I had a young kid then. My heart was back here.”

“You decided to quit after the ’87 season?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s an unusual way to go out, isn’t it?”

“That’s what my agent said. He called me one day. I told him, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’ He said, ‘What, are you crazy?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s time to move on.’ ”

“What made you decide to move on?” The standard answer is “Injury” or “I was released.” Usually players are released because of an injury.

“Additional injuries. Not so much getting an injury, but that they were lingering.”

“Get out of the game before you got hurt and stayed hurt?”

“Yeah. When you go out and play with one injury, you tend to compensate to satisfy that injury, and in doing so you make yourself open to other injuries. That’s what started to occur.”

“Do guys talk about this? ‘I’m always playing injured. I’m going to pay for it later on.’ ”

“No. It wasn’t a thought. I recall Mike Green, who was an inside linebacker in San Diego. For most of the week Mike could not practice, because of severe back pains. And, as the week went on, he would feel good enough to go through the walk-throughs at the very end of the week, and then he would be able to play on Sunday, and then the whole process would start again. The following year the Chargers released him because he did not pass the physical, which is…a bit of irony. Here is someone who went to bat for them every Sunday, playing with an injury that should have kept him out of the game.”

Mike Green lasted three years in the nfl, all of them with the Chargers. “I see you missed the 1986 season. Were you injured?”

“Yes. I was regrouping, trying to get well from an injury that occurred in Chargers’ mini-camp that spring. I blew out a hamstring.”

“What happens? Does the club say adios, or are you on the payroll until you’re healed?”

Bingham laughs the same laugh I heard from Tyrone Keys. “No, you’re gone. What happened in my case, my home was in Pittsburgh and I returned there after I was hurt. I came back to San Diego for the next training camp. Obviously, I wasn’t 100 percent, because it takes a while to get a hamstring healed properly. To be able to play at the level you need to play at, you have to take care of a hamstring on a regular basis. Living in Pittsburgh, I didn’t have the luxury of going to the training room every single day as I would had I been living in San Diego. So when I went back out for training camp in the summer of ’86, it still wasn’t 100 percent. We went through drills and I knew it was coming. You can always tell. I accepted it.”

“What do you mean, ‘I knew it was coming’?”

“I wasn’t participating at the level I would have liked. I can recall to this day, Phil Tyne [Chargers’ conditioning coach] had a bunch of us running sprints. I was running with linebackers and defensive backs. I tried to kick it into another gear and felt it go.”

The phone line is silent. “When you break it down, it’s a business. We are a commodity which can either appreciate in value or depreciate in value. If you have a product on your shelf that’s not producing, well, if it’s not producing in the plus range, then it’s time to move on and get another body in there.”

Sounds like football to me. “I’ve talked to other Chargers who played in the mid-’80s and they said San Diego was, to put it harshly, a dumping ground. Players would show up for a year or two at the end of their careers.”

“I don’t know if it was a dumping ground; it did seem like a revolving door. There were all these players coming in and players leaving.”

I ask about his family. Bingham mentions he has a 16-year-old son. “Does he play football?”

“My son is gravitating towards football, although I tried to keep him away from it for a while. He had his first full year last year.”

“What would you say if he decided he wanted to play in the nfl?”

“You have a lot of steps to take before the nfl. You need to get by those before you start to think about anything else.”


Mark Herrmann

“What have you been doing?” Herrmann tells me he’s a broadcaster, working for the Indianapolis Colts Radio Network. “Is it frustrating, sitting in a booth, calling a game, and not being able to play?”

“No, I enjoy watching and commenting on it.”

“Was broadcasting hard to learn?”

“I had on-the-job training. I was confident I knew what I was looking at. The job is conveying that to the listeners and sounding halfway intelligent.”

“Tell me about a game you played in San Diego.”

“There were a couple of them. The Kansas City game. I started at home when Dan Fouts was hurt. We ended up winning and we won pretty convincingly. I had a pretty good game, over 300 yards. That was probably one of the highlight games. We also played a Thursday-night game against the Raiders. I came in during the second half, brought us back to put the game into overtime. We eventually lost, but it was pretty darn exciting.”

“How did you deal with being a backup to Dan Fouts? Did you figure, ‘I’m lucky to be in the nfl,’ or were you thinking, ‘When is this guy going to move on?’ ”

Herrmann lowers his voice. “I felt very fortunate. He was a Hall of Fame quarterback, a guy I admired a great deal. I tried to learn everything I could from him. When I first came into the league, I was in Denver and we had to face the Chargers twice a year. In the early ’80s they were, definitely, running on all cylinders. So I felt fortunate to be part of that offense and throw to the caliber of talent we had. Those were by far my three most enjoyable years in the nfl.”

“How did it end?” Was it the knee or ankle?

“The way it ended was a big shock, because I was with the Colts. I started the opening game in 1992. We played Cleveland and won. It was the first home-opening victory the Colts had since they moved to Indianapolis. Life was good, and then, the next day,” Herrmann laughs, “I was released. It doesn’t get any worse than that.”

“Why?”

“One of the guys, Jack Trudeau [Colts quarterback], was coming off the injured list. I went into Jim Irsay’s office thinking we were going to talk about next week’s game, and all of a sudden he says, ‘Thanks for yesterday, but we’re going to have to release you.’ They decided to go with younger players.”

“Did you try to get picked up somewhere else?” Everybody tries to get picked up somewhere else.

“I talked with Seattle and the Cardinals but didn’t feel comfortable in either situation. I was dismayed at that point. But if you have to quit after a game, that wasn’t a bad one to quit on.”

“So there you were, out on the street. What did you do?”

“Fortunately, I grew up in Indianapolis. I knew I would eventually settle down here. I took a little time off, didn’t jump into anything for six months. Eventually, I let bygones be bygones and joined the Colts Radio Network. I’ve been pretty happy ever since.”

“Married, kids?”

“I am married; we celebrated our 20th anniversary. I have three children, a boy and two girls.”


Trumaine Johnson

“I see you played for the Chargers in ’85 and ’86.”

“Yeah.”

“How was it?”

“It was pretty good. It could have been better, could have been worse. But I didn’t get a chance to play like I wanted to. In regards to San Diego’s offense, I was in the right place with the right system, right quarterbacks, right players, but they had too many weapons. They had too much talent at one time. I got caught up in the numbers.”

Johnson held the Grambling State career reception record for 18 years. “What was your best game?”

“I had some good games against the Kansas City Chiefs. My former roommate, Abby Lewis, played with the Chiefs and it was exciting to play against him. I had a couple good games against Miami and made some good plays against the Raiders. I was a nickel receiver at the time.

“But you had Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler. I was looking for those guys to move on, but they weren’t moving fast enough for me. I wasn’t getting any passes thrown my way, and I was coming out of the usfl [United States Football League], leading the league for three years in receptions and touchdowns. Then I’m in San Diego and not getting much playing time.”

Johnson is annoyed about events 15 years removed. I understand perfectly. Starting with Game 3 in 1986 and continuing through the ’87 season, I lost every bet I made on the Chargers. Didn’t matter if I bet for them or against them. Didn’t matter if I bet over or under. The wounds still bleed as I write this. “Not much you can do about playing time.”

“No. Charlie Joiner, he’s a Hall of Famer. Wes Chandler, he’s, maybe, a future Hall of Famer. They were both Pro Bowl players. Then you had Gary Anderson, you had Lionel James, you had Tim Spencer, you had all these potential Pro Bowl players. Then you had myself. I was a Pro Bowl player. And you had Kellen Winslow. They didn’t have enough balls.”

“You must have walked into camp that first day and thought, ‘What are all these receivers doing here?’ ”

“I was looking forward to the challenge. The opportunity to play, opportunity to compete. I was denied that opportunity. But what can you do about it? I’m in the offense, I’m running clear-out routes and never get the ball thrown my way. That was something I couldn’t control.”

“Can you be more specific?” After a while friends would call asking which way I was going on the San Diego game so they could load up opposite my bet.

“It’s the system. You study your opponent all week and try to predict what he’s going to do. We ran a timing passing offense. The quarterback does his cadence and reads the coverage. We led the league five years in a row in total offense.”

And I would tell those lice-ridden warthogs my bet, because I didn’t believe it was possible to lose on San Diego one more time. “Where did you play before San Diego?”

“I started with the usfl in the spring of ’83. I played there through the fall of ’84. San Diego drafted me while I was under contract with the usfl in the event I decided to switch leagues. Went to San Diego in ’85 and ’86, went on to Buffalo in ’87 and ’88, and then Canada in ’89 and ’90.”

“Long career.” And I would lose and the nightmare would repeat the following week in exactly the same way except for my despair and rage, which grew dramatically as one Sunday turned into the next.

“Yeah, I kept moving around. The usfl folded; then I got to San Diego, things didn’t work out there, and I went to Buffalo. Had an opportunity for the Super Bowl there and won the Grey Cup in Canada.”

“What happened in Buffalo? Were they loaded with receivers too?” Pretty soon, friends of friends, people I’d never heard of, called.

“They had Reed and Burkett. I think I was right there with those guys. I guess it was just a political thing. I don’t want to say it was favoritism. Let’s say I learned how the other receivers felt when I was catching 125 passes a season. I got some of the same when the ball was going the other way although I’m wide open down the field.” Johnson laughs. “There’s still only one football.”

“That must be frustrating since more catches mean you’ll be a starter, which means you’ll get lots of press, which means more money, which means…”

“It’s something you work so hard at — to perfect yourself, to be skilled at your position — and all you need is the football to excel, and that’s something you can’t control.”

And I’d tell them my San Diego bets, knowing my streak had to end, and when it did, they would lose and come to know a microscopic morsel of what I was living. “So when you showed up on day one in San Diego or Buffalo and looked at the playbook, you could tell right away you were going to be cut out of the offense?”

“I won’t use the words ‘cut out.’ I would say I was there when they needed me. I think I could have achieved a lot more if I’d had more balls thrown my way. I could have helped my team more.”

“When was your last year of pro ball?”

“Ninety. I had a couple of injuries, back-to-back injuries. I had torn cartilage in my left knee. I rehabilitated that and then I ripped a hamstring. After that, my wife was about to have my first child, so I made a decision it was time to move on and do something else.”

“Did you have a plan?” But I never won, not one time. Every football buddy I knew, plus his friends, was making money betting against my San Diego picks.

“I had an idea. I owned a ranch in Mississippi. I was racing horses and raised beef cattle. I was excited about that. It’s a 310-acre ranch with 100, 150 head of cattle and 10 racehorses. I’m doing that part-time and I have a private investigating company — we do insurance fraud, workman’s comp cases, that’s my day job.”

Cattleman/private detective. Now that, I like. “How come a PI?”

“Just looking for something to do after football outside of the farm. I took a couple civil service exams, and, you know, word of mouth. I have my own company, MisLou Investigation — that’s short for Mississippi-Louisiana. I’m right on the border.”

One football buddy bought a car. Another spent three months in Italy. I’d go to the library and read the sports pages of every newspaper I could find. I listened to the radio, watched all the games, and bet with cold facts. Then I’d bet opposite what the cold facts had to say. “Not many people have played in the usfl, nfl, and the Canadian league. How would you compare the three?”

“The usfl was new. I played with George Allen on the Chicago Blitz. They drafted me first round. Then we became the Arizona Wranglers, played out of Arizona the second year. After that, the Oklahoma Outlaws bought out the Arizona Wranglers franchise. So it was a new ownership, new coaches, every year. That was a distraction.”

“Was it fun?”

“Yeah, it was fun. Everybody was new. The league was new, I was learning. I was young. I got some professional experience before I moved to the nfl, but I was ready to play in the nfl when I left college.”

“How was the money?” I tried, literally, throwing a dart at a piece of cardboard. I’d drawn circles on the cardboard and hung it over the kitchen door. Each circle indicated a type of bet. There was the game-spread circle, game over/under circle, first-quarter over/under circle, halftime-spread circle, and so on.

“Pay was competitive for first- and second-round draft choices. The usfl had a lot of free agents from the nfl; in fact, the majority of the league was made up of nfl players. And the usfl was getting all the high-round draft choices.”

“Did you think, at the time, that the usfl was going to make it?”

“Well, they were signing all the players. They appeared to be pretty strong, but we were playing in the spring. When they tried to go to the fall and compete with the nfl, that didn’t come out too good. I think that’s why the league folded.”

I tried aiming the dart and not aiming the dart. I tried throwing the dart with my eyes closed. “Do you remember the moment when they told you it was over?”

“We heard rumors. The fans weren’t coming out, the league was starting to fade, guys were looking elsewhere to get picked up.”

Nothing worked. I never beat it. After being flogged for two years, I stopped betting San Diego games. This is a practice I’ve continued to this day. As far as I know the evil lives on, in fact, is lurking outside this building, patiently waiting for me or, possibly, for you. “If you could do it again, what would you change?”

“I would probably go straight to the nfl. I would hate to move around as much as I did. I’d prefer to stay with one team throughout my career. To sum up, I think I was denied the opportunity to perform and compete in the nfl. That’s the only thing I regret.”


Ty Allert

“How was your time in San Diego?”

“It was good. Pretty interesting team. We had a lot of older guys and a lot of younger guys and a lot of in-between. There were a bunch of guys who had a bunch of years in the league: Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, Ed White, Donnie Macek, and Wes Chandler. Then there was a lot of us who were one-, two-, and three-year players.”

“Tell me about Chargers’ training camp.”

“It’s an experience. Training camp is not any fun…at all. It’s a lot longer than college.”

“Were you confident you’d make the team?”

“You knew you had to go out there and prove yourself. If you’re not one of the first- or second-round guys, you had to show you could play.”

Allert made the 1987 All-Madden Team. Among his teammates were Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor. “You were with Denver in 1990, which was your last year. You must have been injured.”

“Yeah, I blew my knee out in ’89 with the Eagles. I signed with Denver and played seven games. I was constantly having to get my knee drained every week. It really bothered me, got to where I couldn’t get around on it anymore.”

“How is it now?”

“Oh, you know, it doesn’t bother me as far as everyday stuff. If I go out and work in the yard and overdo, it gets sore, but as far as everyday walking around, it doesn’t bother me. I mean, it’s part of the game. I broke my jaw in high school. Had my shoulder operated on in college, had my right knee operated on three times. It’s part of it.”

My right knee begins to ache. “Was the money getting pretty good, say, from 1986 to ’90?”

“It was starting to get good. That was the very beginning of Plan B free agency. The money has gone up considerably since then. I looked at this year’s draft and saw what the guys were signing for. There was a fella who signed with San Francisco the other day, never heard of him. He said he got the minimum contract for a five-year player. It was $477,000.” Albert laughs. “Yeah, it’s changed.”

According to the nfl Players Association, the average nfl salary in the year 2000 was $1,169,470. “What was your best money year?”

“About $275,000.”

“Players usually don’t have a plan for what they’re going to do after the nfl. Their careers end either by being released or by injury. How was it for you?”

“Same way. Because you don’t ever know. The nfl career is so much shorter than other professional sports.”

“What did you do after football?”

“I coached for a year at UT [University of Texas]. Then the head coach got fired. I had a chance to go to another school, out of state, but I was tired of moving and I’d just gotten married. So I didn’t do anything for six or eight months. I ended up meeting a guy; we became friends. He owned a business. I invested some money in it. We customize trucks and Suburbans for new-car dealers and retail customers. Been doing that for ten years.”

“Do you see any of the nfl players you played with?”

“I talk to some. There are a handful of guys I still talk to, occasionally, but as far as getting together, I don’t. A friend of mine played with Philadelphia. I hadn’t seen him in five years, and then he and his wife moved to town about seven miles from us. I thought, ‘Ahh, I’ll see him all the time.’ ” Allert laughs. “We see each other about once a month, maybe. I’m busy — I get home from work, play with the kids, and put them to bed. I’m tired, go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again.”

“You played long enough to get vested in the players union?”

“Yeah.”

“Are benefits fairly generous?”

“No, they’re horrible. As far as retirement, for every year you play you get $10,000 as a one-time payment. So if you play one year you get $10,000, play two years you get 20, play three years you get 30, and play four years you get $70,000. That’s why it’s a big deal to get four years.” (Miki Yaraf-Davis of the nfl Players Association benefits department explains that retired players receive benefits according to the contract then in force while they were playing. On occasion, active players have voted to increase benefits for retired players.)

“Because at four years you get…what?”

“You get $40,000. You’re getting 10, 10, 10, and at four years you get 40.”

“I see, you get $40,000 for four years’ service plus another $30,000 as bonus, which makes $70,000 altogether.”

“Right. After the four years it goes back to 10 a year until however long you play.”

“Do they cut you a check and say, ‘Here’s the $70 grand, see ya’?”

“Yeah, you got that right. You have to sign a paper that says you’re retired and mail it in. They pay you within a year. You get that, and then you get $150 a month for every year you played once you turn 65.”

“Do you get medical?”

“No.”

“No medical?”

“No. Now, I went back and filed a workers’ comp claim on my knee. Filed it in Philadelphia, where I originally got the knee injury. Had to go down there and go to court and won. Basically, that will cover anything I have to have done to this knee forever.”

Hard way to acquire medical insurance. “Everybody who ever played in the nfl has some kind of an injury; many have injuries that will be with them the rest of their lives. Are they screwed unless they go to court like you did?”

“Pretty much, yeah. They’re not out there trying to go out of their way to help you.”

“I thought if you busted your knee playing for Philadelphia, the club was responsible until some doctor said, ‘This guy is fine now.’ ”

“Let’s say you hurt your knee in the fifth game of the year. They’ve got to pay you the remainder of your contract for that year. I think the next year — it could have all changed by now — but back then if you were still hurt the following year, they had to pay you half your salary, then after that they didn’t have to pay you anything. Like I said, if it’s a career-ending injury, you can go for a regular workmen’s comp award, go before the board, and argue your case just like anybody can do.”

Want a doctor? Get a lawyer. “I know things have changed, but I wonder how much. I talked to a man who played for the Chargers in the ’60s. He was reminiscing about training camp, specifically about lunch. He said they had a cafeteria setup and you got your little tray and you’re going down the lunch line and there are the fruits and there are the breads and the salads and there is a big bowl of painkillers.”

“It wasn’t like that when I was there. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I know with my knee I’d take anti-inflammatories the whole season. When I was with Denver, they released me the week before the last game because San Diego had released somebody and Denver wanted to pick him up. So I got my stuff together and drove home. Well, by the time I got there, Seattle called. They were fixing to go into the playoffs and they needed help on special teams. They flew me up there and I signed with them.

“You got to take a physical anytime you go somewhere new. Seattle couldn’t believe, as bad as my knee was, that Denver released me. Seattle made me sign a waiver,” Allert laughs, “saying if I hurt my knee during the time I played with them, they would not be responsible, because my knee was already done in.”

I…don’t…get…it. “You said they were shocked Denver released you. Wouldn’t every team want to release an injured player?”

“The rules say they’re not allowed to release you if you’re injured. Now they can sign off by getting their doctor to say, ‘He’s fine.’ When I went to Seattle, their doctor looked at my knee and went, ‘Oh, God.’ The minute I got there I told him, ‘Really, if you’ll just go ahead and drain it now, it will feel a lot better. I’ll be fine.’ ”

“Do players talk about injuries, something like, ‘I’m going to be fucked up in another 10 or 20 years’?”

“No. You’re young.”

And dumb. “Do you remember a game you played with the Chargers?”

“Not really. We were an average team.”


1970s

Ralph Perretta

“You’re very unusual. You were drafted by San Diego and played your entire career with them save five games. I don’t know if that happens anymore. What did you do after football?”

“I’ve sold medical supplies for the last 20 years.”

“Did you plan for that?”

“I wasn’t trained to do it. I was trained to teach and coach. But your outlook changes from the time you’re in college to the time you’re done with football and have to go to work. I thought I’d like to give business a try. I had a neighbor who was a recruiter. He thought ex-ballplayers would be a natural in sales because of their ability to work and cooperate as a team.”

“Were you making good money when you left the nfl?”

“My seventh year in the league I was gonna make $57,000 and I walked from that, because it wasn’t worth it anymore.”

According to Economic History Services of Miami University, $57,000 in 1981 has the same purchasing power as $111,442 in 2001, which is less than 10 percent of today’s average nfl salary. “Very few players leave the nfl because they decide it’s time to go.”

“I sensed the jig was up for me. I had six years in, and I didn’t have a good feeling going into my seventh year.”

“Had you lost a step?”

“I definitely felt like I did. I wasn’t, physically, at my best. I was 29 years old. In football years, you’re starting to get on the downside of the slope. I played offensive center and a little guard. I was the kind of a player who had to fight every year to make the team. It seemed they were trying to replace me every training camp. That kind of wears on you. You only have so much fight in you.”


1960s

John Klotz

“I see you were with the Chargers in 1962.”

“Yes sir, that was the year. Prior to that I’d been in New York with the Titans — that’s before they became the Jets. [The American Football League awarded Harry Wismer the New York franchise in August of 1959. The Titans’ first game was played the following September. Two years later Wismer failed to meet his payroll and the league assumed the team’s bills. The following March a five-man syndicate purchased the football club and changed its name from Titans to Jets.]

“The Titans were in turmoil. Checks were bouncing. I remember playing an exhibition game against San Diego in San Diego. We stayed at the Stardust Motel. We had a practice at the University of San Diego. After practice the bus driver wouldn’t drive us back to the Stardust because he hadn’t been paid. So we walked back. We were cutting through people’s back yards, carrying our shoulder pads and helmets.”

“You had to carry your gear?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

“How did you come to play with the Chargers? That must have been a happy day.”

“As I remember, Harry Wismer put almost everybody on waivers. I was claimed by San Diego. I knew Sid Gillman.”

Wismer was a radio and television sports commentator during the 1940s and ’50s. “Let’s back up. When was your first year in the nfl?”

“I was with the Rams in 1956. I played a couple exhibition games with them and then I got my draft notice. I asked the draft board — it was the middle of August — if they could please take me in December, but they wouldn’t do it. So I joined the Marines and spent three years at mcrd [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] in San Diego.”

“So you got out of the Marines in 1960, played for the Titans that year, the following year, and part of the ’62 season. Then you were traded to San Diego?”

“Right, I came out at the end of October, maybe November [1962]. It took me a while to learn the system. I lived with Hank Schmidt over in Mission Beach.”

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated wrote, “Henry Schmidt was the greatest wedge buster I’ve ever seen.” Who, dear reader, is your favorite wedge buster? “Can you remember a game from the ’62 season?”

“Vaguely remember a game with Denver [Denver won 23–20]. I’m trying to remember the defensive tackle’s name. I remember having an altercation with him. I was the left offensive tackle. I knew Ernie Ladd and I knew Ron Nery from having played against them, so I wasn’t a total stranger to the Chargers. I remember — what was the kid’s name? — they had to cut somebody to make room for me. They made us go one-on-one. All the guys were rooting for him to bust me and it didn’t happen.”

“The next season you were back in New York. Did you go into San Diego with an understanding you would be going back to the Titans?”

“No, I had to go to Sid [Gillman] and say, ‘I’m an East Coast guy. I want to go back to New York.’ He let me go. I went to the Jets’ camp without a contract and made the team, but I got the bad end of the stick. I hurt my knee the next to the last game of the season. I came back to the Jets’ camp in ’64 and was the listed starting left tackle. We were playing New England in the second or third preseason game and I got hurt. I was 32, 33 years old, and it was taking a while to heal.

“Tackles were coming in and out of camp all the time. Chuck Knox was line coach then. Weeb [Weeb Ewbank, Jets’ head coach 1963–’73], Weeb called me into the office one day and gave me a piece of paper to sign. It said, in essence, that I released the Jets organization of all responsibility for my injury.”

“Sweet guy.”

“I said, ‘Coach, I can’t sign that. I can’t even walk.’ And he screamed and cussed — little old lovable Weeb. He said, ‘You’ll never get your pension.’ And I was pushing for that year, because you needed five years to get vested. Emotionally, it really hurt me because I loved that team. I made the coach’s All-Pro Second Team the year before. But I was traded to Houston halfway through the season.”

“Did you sign the paper?”

“No, sir, but it came back to haunt me. After I was traded to Houston I had to go through the same thing there as I did in San Diego. Houston had to release somebody when I came on board, and he’d been there from the beginning playing at guard. They all loved him and he was the guy they were releasing. We got into it one day at practice. Anyway, I gimped through a year in Houston.

“Now, what I’m going to tell you, I didn’t find out until two years ago. See, each year the Jets have a three-day homecoming and I’d go to it — it’s great to see the guys. So I was there and John Schmitt [Jets center] told me, ‘Winston Hill [Jets offensive tackle] and I met with Weeb after Chuck [Knox] went to coach the Lions, and we asked him to bring you back as line coach. He wouldn’t do it.’ ”

One heartbeat passes. “I could have gotten a Super Bowl ring. So I don’t know, had I signed that release, if it would have made a difference or not.”

The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16–7 in Super Bowl III. “Your last season was 1964.”

“I ripped my adductor muscle. I think that’s what it’s called. I tore my leg away from my body. A couple years later I’d be in bed still yelling from the pain. I had adhesions and a lot of bleeding in there.”

“How was the afl when it came to medical care?”

“I remember when Howie Glenn died [Howard Glenn was 26 years old when he died]. He was an offensive guard for the Titans. I was on the team at the time. We played the Oilers in Houston. I think he got hurt when the third quarter began and he sat out on the bench. After the game we ran into the locker room and showered. He came out of the shower. I remember him sitting on an old metal chair. He started shaking and went off and hit the ground. John McMullan [offensive guard] screamed, ‘Somebody get a doctor!’ We had no doctor. Houston’s doctor came in and started giving him needles. Sam Baugh [Jets head coach 1960–1961] told us, while we were getting on the bus to go to the airport, they were going to leave Howie in Houston overnight for observation. We were at the airport waiting and waiting to leave. Baugh got on the plane and said, ‘Howie’s dead.’ Man, did that take it out of us. I don’t know what our record was at the time, but I don’t think we won another game that year.”

“Every man for himself?”

“Yeah, especially in New York in the beginning. You’d be in training camp and they’d bring in 20 guys in the morning and 20 guys in the afternoon just to look at ’em. Run them in and out. I remember hurting my back and the trainer saying, ‘The doc can give you something that’ll straighten you right out.’ And, I swear, the needle he stuck in my back looked like it was three feet long. I think he told me it was Novocain and cortisone. It felt like I had not injured my back. I did that one other time. That practice is pretty widespread.”

“Do you remember what the Chargers paid you?”

“Probably $6000 or $7000. My first contract was with the Rams. They offered me $5000 and I held out for $5500. When I made Second Team All-Pro I made $11,000.”

Economic History Services says $11,000 in 1963 dollars has the same purchasing power as $63,873 in 2001. “Was that considered good money?”

“Naw, Don Maynard [played flanker, wingback, offensive end, and halfback for the Jets; Hall of Fame inductee] was making $18,000 or $19,000. Larry Grantham [Jets linebacker] was making $18,000 or $19,000.”

“What did you do when you got out? There you are, and suddenly it’s over.”

“That’s exactly how it is. Well, let’s see, I scouted for New England for a while. The nfl, in the late ’60s, had farm teams. They had a team in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the Firebirds. I was their offensive line coach. And I was a substitute teacher. Then I got a sales job in sporting goods. Then I started a company with a friend of mine and lost everything. I had some tough years, my life was completely turned around.”

“What do you do now?”

“I work at a Christian-based homeless shelter in my hometown.”

“How are your knees?”

“Well, I had arthroscopic surgery in January. I have no cartilage there and I have a lot of pain. I got the usual things, I guess. The little finger and ring finger on my right hand are numb from bone spurs in my elbow pressing on a nerve. I’ve got a stiff neck. I have trouble turning, got a lot of pain in my neck, but I feel great.”

Everybody feels great. “Looking back, would you do it again?”

Klotz laughs. “In a minute. And I’d do it better and I’d do a lot of things differently. I mean, to get paid to play a game, come on, holy mackerel.”


Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp is speaking. “Well, I’m not able to do it right now. We’re going to a birthday party and then we’re going back to Vail tomorrow, so I’ll call you from Vail next week.”

“Okay, I’ll give you my number.”

“Yeah.”

I say the phone number.

“Hold on.”

I say the phone number again.

“What’s your name?”

I give him my name, and, as good measure, give him my phone number again.

“I’ll call you Monday.”

Kemp returns my call, from Vail, on Monday. Famous people never return your call on Monday. Famous people don’t return your call on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday either.

This may explain why, when I pick up my phone Monday morning and hear “Hi, Pat” followed by “Is this a good time?”, I have no idea who is talking. But, eventually, I find my first question. “Do you remember much from the 1960 season, when the Chargers were playing in L.A.?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll never forget it. Barron Hilton and Sid Gillman and the late Don Klosterman, my dear friend, ran an nfl franchise in the afl. The Chargers were first-class. I don’t think they scrimped on one thing. Barron was farsighted enough to know that ultimately the Chargers would have to compete with the nfl, even though they were in L.A. and the L.A. Times were fans of the Rams. Sid was an nfl coach, Barron was an nfl owner, albeit not yet, but the whole thing was world-class.

“Sid did everything as if we were going to play the Rams in two weeks. That gave off a sense of professionalism that was unmatched by any of the other football experiments, the usfl, or whatever. We didn’t quite have a world-class team, but we had a good team.

“We had a lot of guys who came out of the nfl, myself included. There were Howie Ferguson and Ron Waller. We signed Ron Mix, which was a huge coup over the nfl. Ronnie Mix was All-American tackle and one of my best friends, still is. Paul Lowe could have made it on any nfl team. So I don’t think anybody had any feeling that we weren’t going to be a first-class operation.”

“The Chargers moved to San Diego in 1961. Were you surprised?”

“Not a surprise to me, because I was close to management. It was pretty obvious something had to be done. Barron got a tremendous offer from San Diego. I remember Jack Murphy of the San Diego Union and Herb Klein, he was a friend. So I knew something was up, because I was working for the Chargers in the off-season. They treated me as part of the family.”

“What were you doing?”

“The first year I went around and talked about the new league and the Chargers as a PR agent for the league. I must have given 150 speeches about this new league and what the possibilities were. My wife and I had one child and one on the way when we moved to San Diego. For us, it was a blessing, because we got to move to Point Loma. I worked for the Union-Tribune in the off-season. I felt very much at home in San Diego. And, of course, it was one of the great sports franchise moves in modern history.”

“Has it always been like that, speaking for the club? Was it like that in high school?”

“In what way?”

“Not too many players, particularly in those days, would speak for a football club and a league during the off-season.”

“I was captain of my high school team in Fairfax and my college team at Occidental. I was captain of the Chargers…”

“So that role wasn’t new for you?”

“…and I was captain of the Buffalo Bills. So I guess, as a quarterback and a captain — and, as you may or may not know, I was president of the football association for five years.”

“A couple of the players I’ve talked to mentioned you started the players union. Is that right?”

“Yeah. Me and Tommy Addison of the Patriots and Tom Flores of the Raiders and Lance Alworth from the Chargers. We realized that afl players had to be represented, not in a militant fashion, but in a responsible, corporate way. I was president for, I think, six years, until we merged with the nfl.”

Lance Alworth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978. “Was it difficult to set up the players union?”

“Not really. The commissioner of the nfl was Pete Rozelle. The commissioner of the afl was Joe Foss. There had been a lot of trouble back in the ’50s. There were no strikes, but the players weren’t well organized, they didn’t get much respect. I think Pete Rozelle, who was not only the greatest commissioner of the 20th Century but a progressive in knowing players not only had a responsibility but the moral authority to be represented in collective negotiation and marketing. But you had to separate the individual contract of a player from collective bargaining of the players. He was wise enough, and so was Joe Foss, to recognize players and player reps were not out to be militant. It got militant later, when the nfl players union turned its fortunes over to a lawyer out of Wisconsin, Ed Garvey.

“I don’t think the nfl players would say the same thing about Pete Rozelle as I have, but I thought he knew what was best and he certainly represented the nfl. He probably wanted to wipe out the afl, but eventually, thanks to,” Kemp’s gravel voice chuckles, “ironically, Al Davis, and, in large part, the new contract we got from nbc, we were taken very seriously.”

In 1949 the nfl merged with the All-America Football Conference, adding the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco 49ers football clubs to its membership. Twenty-one years later, the nfl merged with the American Football League. “I talked earlier today to Wayne Frazier. He was on the San Diego and Buffalo teams with you.”

“Oh, yeah, real nice guy.”

“He had bad knees and went to arbitration about his medical bills. This is back in the ’60s. He said he had to go to the league to see if they were going to cover his bills. The issue was voted on by three owners and three players who sat on some kind of a committee. I asked him, ‘Are you sure an owner would take the time to vote on one player’s injury?’ ”

“The afl contract was the exact parallel of the nfl contract, and any player injured in a season was automatically guaranteed his salary.”

“Yeah, for that year, but after that it had to be football related…”

“Oh, I see, later on, after you retire.”

“Say you busted up your leg in October, you’d be paid for the rest of that year, but after that, if you weren’t healed, then the owners would say it was not a football-related injury.”

“Okay. In those days, I think they had a committee and it was made up of players and owners.” Kemp is quiet. “I’m pretty close to Gene Upshaw [nfl Players Association executive director], and they have an organization within the union that takes care of a lot of players who are injured. For instance, there is a fullback from the Buffalo Bills who called me one day. I still get calls from guys who want me to help. So I called Gene. They called the fullback and he’s going to get a heart transplant.”

What happens if you don’t have Jack Kemp as a buddy? “Would you do it again?”

“You might do things differently. In those days you’d say, ‘I’ll play hurt.’ I remember when I broke my finger playing for the Chargers, which eventually led me to being sold to the Buffalo Bills. I had Hadl [John Hadl, Chargers’ quarterback 1962–1972] behind me and I didn’t want to come out of the game, because I didn’t want anybody to think I was going to give up my position that easily. So I played the whole game with a dislocated finger that kept dislocating with almost every snap of the ball, thinking I was a tough guy. We won the game, and the next day my finger was swollen to the size of a baseball. I couldn’t play great games, was put on injured reserve, and ended up in Buffalo.”

“That doesn’t seem to have changed. Joe Montana and Steve Young played hurt because they didn’t want their backups on the field.”

“Yeah. Earlier you asked me about the old L.A. Chargers and San Diego Chargers. We only got an average of 25,000 people in the L.A. Coliseum and a little more in Balboa Stadium, but it was wide-open football — we’d throw 50 times a game. People loved it.”

Time to go. “What’s going on nowadays?”

“I’m no longer active in politics. I joke I’m a recovering politician. Bill Bennett, the drug czar and education secretary, and I and Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick founded Empower America. That’s our think tank in Washington. I’m on the board of 18 companies, including Oracle. Do a lot of venture capital work. We have a home in Vail, a home in Washington, and we’re building a home in Montana. Life’s good. I’m 66, have 4 children, 14 grandchildren, all healthy, all good athletes. What more can an old man…”

“Your life sounds fairy tale, it’s so perfect.”

“I’ve been mightily blessed. I had a good football career, a nice political career, and now I’m a venture capitalist. My grandson calls me an ‘entrepre-manure.’ ”



Richard Hudson

“What do you want to know?” Hudson’s voice sounds steady, calm, matter-of-fact.

“Well, how are you and what have you been doing?”

“Well, I was a school administrator for 30 years. High school. I’m retired from them and I’m retired from the National Football League. Right now, I run a rural water district in Paris, Tennessee.”

“Did you know what you were going to do after football while you were still in the game?”

“I’d gone to school in the off-season. I had my master’s degree in school administration when I retired from football. I taught one year and went into coaching and administration. I stayed in coaching for three years and stayed in administration until I retired. This is my third year since I’ve been out of that.”

“You’re retired-retired?”

“Well, I’m retired-retired, but I have another job.”

“Let me count the ways. You’re going to be depositing Social Security, nfl, school district, and water district retirement checks?”

“Right.” Hudson makes a happy chuckle.

The man is a quadruple threat. “Do you remember any games from the ’62 season?”

“When we played Buffalo in San Diego. I think that was the first or second game I started. I started at left guard. I remember playing against Tom Sestak.”

“What was it about that particular game that makes it stand out? Was Sestak that good?”

“I remember how good he was. I had a good ballgame, but he was some kind of tough.”

Tom Sestak was a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills from 1962 through 1968. He died in 1987. “Where did you live while you were in San Diego?”

“You know, I can remember the address. It was 3969 Bob Street, an apartment complex.” Hudson laughs. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

Yes, there is a Bob Street in San Diego. I checked. “Was it a big deal to be in the afl back in 1962?”

“Sure. I was a country boy.”

“Did you know in high school that you were very, very good at football?”

“I was big, that helped. I did pretty well in college. I thought by the end of my junior year I would play pro football.”

“Buffalo was your last team, and your last year was 1967. Did you know the end was at hand?”

“I had two bad knee injuries. That was the reason ’67 was my last year. In ’68, I was on the roster, but I didn’t play. I hurt my knees the first time in ’63 against Oakland. And then again in ’67. It was one of those deals when you plant a foot…you lose it.”

“What is it…about football?”

“I don’t know. One of my friends here, one of the local doctors who played at Ole Miss the same time I played at Memphis State, asked me that same question the other day. Both of us were gimping around. I’m looking at two total knee replacements now.”

“Is playing in the nfl worth it?” He’s going to say “Yes.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Could you play today?”

“Well, the game is so different. I was bigger than most people — I played at 270 as offensive linemen. I have a son, he was the long snapper for Baltimore this past year. He’s been up there 11 years, played with Philadelphia, the Jets, and then last year he was picked up by Baltimore. He was 280 and wasn’t big enough to play.”

“He weighs 280 and is a long snapper?”

“He’s been a backup lineman and long snapper ever since he’s been up there. People are so much bigger now. Maybe I could have gotten that big, I don’t know. You’ve got to understand, I never lifted a weight until my third year of pro football. It’s a different game now, people are so much bigger.”

“How about the money, does it drive you nuts to see how much they’re making now?”

“No, not really. My son, this past year in the playoffs, made more money than I made in an entire career.”

“Just during the playoffs?”

“Just during the playoffs.”

John Hudson began his rookie year in 1991. “How did your son find his way into the nfl?”

“He was a good offensive lineman, played at Auburn, started for three years. He was on two Sugar Bowl teams. He was an 11th-round draft choice, went to Philadelphia and backed up the guard and center there and did the long snapping. Law of averages is what kept him in the game so long. Last year he thought he was through, but in October Baltimore’s snapper got hurt and they called him. He played the last half of the season through the Super Bowl.”

Oh, this is excellent. “Does he have a Super Bowl ring?”

“Yup. That rascal is big and ugly.”


Claude “Hoot” Gibson

“What happened after football?”

“I went up to Boston and I was in Buffalo for Jack Kemp’s last year, 1969. That was O. J.’s first year. Then I got the head coaching job at University of Tulsa in 1970. I was probably too young, but we beat Arkansas when they were ranked seventh in the country. upi voted me national Coach of the Week. I had Drew Pearson, he played for me, and so did Steve Largent, and so did Ray Rhodes.”

Pearson was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys from 1973 through 1983. He is part owner of Drew Pearson Marketing and was vice president/general manager of the xfl’s New York–New Jersey Hitmen. Largent was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 while serving as a United States congressman from Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. Ray Rhodes is the ultimate nfl lifer. Played seven years as defensive back for the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, ending his career at San Francisco in 1980. Stayed there as assistant secondary coach and defensive backs coach through 1991. Then, two years with Green Bay as defensive coordinator. Back to San Francisco in the same position. Lasted one year. Made head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. Stayed three years. Moved back to Green Bay as head coach in 1999. Lasted one year. Moved to Washington as defensive coordinator. Lasted one year. Two thousand one finds him at Denver as defensive coordinator. Sooner or later he’ll find work in San Diego. “What happened after Tulsa?”

“When I left Tulsa, I came back to within 20 miles of my hometown to an naia [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] school, a Baptist school. They’re an ncaa Division II school now, Mars Hill College. I loved it. I was there ten years and was the athletic director too. We were 5 and 6 our first year, but they’d never had a winning season. I think in ’78 we broke even. We got in the national playoffs in 1980.”

Gibson is married and “had a daughter born in San Diego, a daughter born in Oakland, and a son born in Boston. My oldest daughter, who was born in San Diego, passed away a year ago. She was a beautiful child.

“I’ll tell you an interesting thing. My wife went into the hospital in San Diego to have the baby. The team was getting ready to fly to Houston. Jack Kemp asked Sid Gillman if I could stay in San Diego, see if my wife was going to have a baby that night, and fly to Houston the next day. Gillman said, ‘Hell, no.’ ” Gibson chuckles.

“Tell me about Kemp.”

“He’s really been a dear friend. When I was head coach at Tulsa, he was a freshman congressman. He came out and spoke at my banquet. I happened to be in New York when Kemp was getting ready to run for president and he had a $1000-a-plate dinner. He had three days of fund-raising; the big one was Saturday night. Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, and Bob Lilly were there. O. J. walked in with Nicole. That was six months before the murder.”

“How was the happy couple?”

“O. J. would light a room up. I was shocked he wasn’t with somebody prettier. Nicole didn’t look good that night. I talked to her for 15 or 20 minutes. What people don’t realize, she was going with him on all those trips right up until the end. In April she was in Mexico with him. She seemed a little bit nervous talking to me. I said, ‘I’m just his old coach, relax.’ She seemed a little anxious.”

“Did O. J. ever show a dark side?”

“No, I never saw him lose his temper in a football game. Of course, I absolutely don’t believe he did it. I used to tape the trial and play it back. I can defend the verdict. I’m convinced if he was involved he wasn’t by himself. I’m convinced they planted evidence too. When you take somebody’s blood and you keep it for 24 hours, 23 hours, before you take it to the lab…they left themselves open.”


George Belotti

“The first team I went with was the L.A. Chargers in 1960. Before the season started I got traded to Houston. Played there in ’60, part of ’61, and then I came back to San Diego.”

“How did that go down?”

“Got me.”

Great answer. “Did somebody tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Pack your gear’?”

“That’s what they do. ‘You’ve been traded.’ ”

“Jack Kemp says the Chargers were a first-class outfit.”

“Oh, yeah.” Silence. “You know, Jack Kemp and all of us went to boot camp up in Fort Ord. Eisenhower came out with that six-month program [National Guard]. You could do your military between football seasons, so you wouldn’t get screwed up. I met Jack and Del Shofner, Jon Arnett, a whole group of players.”

Del Shofner played for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants from 1957 through 1967. He was the three-time Pro Bowler. Jon Arnett’s ten-year nfl career ended in 1966. Arnett was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on April 20, 2001. “Did the National Guard put all the football players together?”

“Naw, everybody joined the 40th Armory.” (The 40th Armored Division of the National Guard was located on South Hope Street in Los Angeles.)

“What was Kemp like in boot camp?” Silence. “What was his mos [military occupational specialties, i.e., job classification]?”

Belotti laughs. “Our mos was ‘Don’t Do Anything.’ ”

Same one I had. “When you first got word you were traded to Houston, it must have been disappointing. There you were, with the L.A. Chargers, all settled in, know everybody, and boom.”

“Oh, yeah. But then you think, ‘Maybe I can make some more money.’ ”

“Maybe you were lucky. Houston played the L.A. Chargers for the championship, and Houston won 24 to 16.”

“Yeah. In Houston.”

“Did they have a ring for you guys?”

“Yeah, we got a ring. We got it 20 years later.”

“Was it a good ring?”

“Yeah, a nice ring.”

“Diamonds?”

“No. The colors of Houston Oilers. I forget what the stone is. It’s a pretty stone.”

The Houston Oilers were afl champions in 1960 and ’61. The franchise has never been to a Super Bowl. “Was it as much of a big deal to be a pro football player in 1960 as it is now?”

“It was for us in Houston, because that was the first professional team that city ever had. They [the Houston Oilers] won the championship in their first year. The first year was outstanding. The afl was exciting football, people liked it.”

“Do you remember how much money you made that first year?”

“It wasn’t much.”

“Did it seem like a lot at the time? Or was it ‘I’m having fun and the hell with it’?”

“At the time it was pretty good money. My ambition, when I got out of college, was to make $1000 a month. That was good money. Make that and you were doing really well.”

“You played two games in 1961 and that was it. I assume you retired because of an injury?”

“No, it was cancer.”

“In 1961?”

“Yeah.”

One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. “Well, congratulations.”

Belotti laughs. “Right, thanks.”

“Did it take a long time to get over the cancer?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“So you never reached a point, two or three years later, of saying, ‘Well, I can go back in if I want to’?”

“No, I could never go back. I went from 270 down to 160 pounds. And as a center, that doesn’t work too well.”

“Are people still impressed once they find out you played pro football?”

“It’s amazing. People still send me my picture and ask for an autograph. From all over the country. I was on the first afl Championship team.”


Jimmy Sears

“Do you remember your first football game?”

“High school. Then I went on to college. I thought I’d never make it. I guess you grow that year, or grow the next year, and you do what you have to do to make the team.”

“You played against some great football players.”

“Well, James Brown and Y. A. Tittle…”

“Frank Gifford?”

“Frank was a teammate of mine. In fact, I named my youngest son Gifford.”

Frank Gifford was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. “What kind of guy is he?”

“Frank was a terrific guy. He ran around in our little crowd. I was in awe of him, but we were still buddies. Frank, Al Carmichael and myself and Johnny Williams all went around together. Good times in college.”

“You played with the L.A. Chargers in 1960. What do you remember from the season?”

Sears laughs. “I remember we played for the championship and lost by a few points.”

“I have your stats here. Before coming to the Chargers, you played for the Chicago Cardinals from 1954 through 1958. [Abbreviated franchise history: Chicago Cardinals 1920–1959. St. Louis Cardinals 1960–1987. Arizona Cardinals 1988 to present.] Where were you when you learned you’d been traded to the Chargers?”

“I was an assistant coach at usc.”

“You left Chicago in 1958 and coached at usc in ’59?”

“Right.”

“Why go back to pro football?”

“Well, Frank Leahy was after me, and then Sid Gillman became the Chargers’ coach. He talked me into it. I made twice as much money as I could at SC. It was all a money deal.”

Frank Leahy had a long college coaching career finishing in 1953 as Notre Dame head coach. While at Notre Dame, his teams had six undefeated seasons and earned five national championships. “So you’re in a new league, on a new team. Did you feel like playing for the Chargers was a step down from the nfl?”

“The Chargers were a very good team. I’ll tell you what, coming from the Cardinals, which was a second-rate nfl team at that time, to the Chargers… I’ll put it this way, the Chargers had brand-new uniforms; they were a first-class outfit. In fact, after the first few preseason games, I thought everybody felt we were capable of holding our own. I never thought it was a step down. I always thought it was a good step up.”

“Do you remember how much you were paid?”

“I sure do.”

“I know this is going to hurt.”

“How about $16,000?”

It hurts. “Was that considered pretty good bucks?”

“It wasn’t that good.”

“Then you played for Denver in 1961.”

“That turned into a fiasco. That really hurt. I was the captain of the Chargers team that year. I played defensive safety and was the signal caller. But I threw my shoulder out after the 1960 season and wasn’t able to hit as well. I got traded to the Denver Broncos. I realized when they traded me I was on my last legs. They knew too.

“I played four or five games up there. At that time there were a couple teams in the league like the Denver Broncos. They were similar to the Cardinals in the nfl. They were fighting a payroll. Denver had three or four young guys who were on the defensive corners. So they took a long look at it. ‘Here’s Jim, he’s 30 years old, 31 years old, and we can get a guy who’s 25 or 24 years old.’ They were looking at their pennies. They were not like the Chargers. They were not first-class.”

“So they said, ‘See you around’?”

“Right.”

“Did you try to get back with San Diego?” He’s going to say “Yes.”

“Yeah, I did. But no deal. So I figured, ‘I’m 31 years old and I know a few people in the car business.’ I went into the car business with Fletcher Jones. Turned out very good as far as money. I retired in 1995.”

“Have you had any contact with the Chargers since 1960?” He’s going to say “No.”

“It’s funny. The Denver Broncos, every year, send out a letter to the people who played for them. Al Carmichael was a buddy of mine, he played for the Denver Broncos the very last years he played pro football. As a result, he gets a letter in the mail and I get a letter in the mail, and it said, ‘Well, the 1960 team wants to be reunited on the field.’ I would have liked to have gone back; they were gonna pay for everything and have me go on the field. Same thing with Al.

“I was talking it over with him, and he said, ‘You played for the Chargers in 1960. I played for Denver in ’60.’ So that was the end of that. But you know, I never heard anything from the Chargers. Never heard one word.”

Sears is silent. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I just got home from the hospital two days ago. I had surgery for some urethra problems, and as a result I got off on a whirl and had real low blood pressure. They thought I was going to pass away. So I’m really glad to talk to you.”

Thanks for the Memories

December 4, 1997 — R.E. Graswich

Bob Hope needs a lift, and Alex G. Spanos is there. Not in person -- Spanos is long gone, boiling mad and flying home aboard his private Gulfstream jet -- but there in spirit and conveyance.

Hope needs a limo, and Spanos has one waiting at the curb. Hope needs a fast plane to Palm Springs, and Spanos has one fueled at Lindbergh Field. It is a white, ten-passenger Lockheed with a golden thunderbolt on the tail, a backup jet in the Spanos fleet.

Hope wants a slice of apple crumb cake. No problem. Spanos delivers.

That's what friends are for, Spanos will tell you. And Hope is a friend, a pal for more than three decades, a golfing buddy, a vaudeville dance partner, a fellow traveler on the road to Republican victories, self-made, rich and proud.

It's Sunday night and Hope and his wife, Dolores, have spent the evening watching the Raiders thump the San Diego Chargers 38-13 at the football stadium in San Diego, seated in the sumptuous suite overseen by Spanos.

Hope, the legendary comedian, is 94. He can't see very well and is hard of hearing. The snow-white hair that hangs from beneath his baseball cap could use a trim.

But he still enjoys going to football games, wading through crowds, smiling and nodding, gingerly propelled along in bright white running shoes, tan slacks, blue sweater, and white golf jacket, clinging to the arm of his valet, Jay, following the blocks set by Dolores, who's pushing 90 herself and charges forward without fear or favor.

The relationship between Spanos and Hope shows how Spanos operates, how his friends are part of his extended family, accepted without question, regardless of need. It also shows why Spanos enjoys owning a sports team.

The multimillionaire apartment builder and philanthropist from Stockton owns the Chargers and is interested in buying the Sacramento Kings. He publicly expressed his nba ambitions several weeks ago. He has come to understand that his words were received by Kings owner Jim Thomas like the first shot in a hostile takeover.

So Spanos has decided to lie low for a while, not commenting on the Kings until things cool down. He is concentrating on the Chargers, on making his family and friends feel at home in his San Diego football suite, on playing the role of host.

The suite is the perfect place for such things. Fronted by glass windows overlooking midfield, it runs about 60 feet long and features a full kitchen, seven tables inside, two tables out on the deck, theater seats from which to watch the game, a marble-topped beer tap and liquor bar, and marble bathrooms that include polished stainless steel sinks that glisten when wet.

Spanos and his wife, Faye, greet everyone at the paneled entry hall. He smiles and shakes hands, sweeps an arm across the room toward the kitchen, where iced shrimp and sushi and Greek lamb chops and roast beef and salmon and pineapple and watermelon and miniature cheeseburgers await.

"Glad to see you, son," Spanos tells a visitor. "Now the only thing I ask is that you bring us luck tonight. Help yourself to anything. Relax. Make yourself at home."

Other tables are occupied by Spanos's sons Dino and Mike and Mike's wife, Helen, and their four boys and other Spanos grandchildren and friends. Bill Fox, one of the original owners of the Chargers, shows up about the same time the Hopes arrive -- Dolores with gigantic sunglasses covering her eyes and a vivid blue scarf draped over her gray hair, Bob wearing a Chargers cap and clutching Jay's arm.

Luxury suites at sports stadiums are temples for business activity -- schmoozing clients, wooing recruits, making money. It would be a lie to suggest those things never take place inside the Spanos suite. For the game against the Raiders, a dozen seats are reserved for bankers.

But it would also be a lie to suggest that the first order of business inside the Spanos suite is business. With Spanos's grandkids spilling popcorn, with Spanos's lawyers and accountants munching sushi and drinking beer, with the Hopes sitting quietly along the window, the rules of the house are clear -- if you must conduct business, do it quietly, do it discreetly, do it fast.

The one exception is Alex Spanos. Once the game starts, he becomes consumed by the business of football, the technical details, the coaching decisions.

Retreating to a glass-enclosed mini-suite, his inner sanctum within the big suite, Spanos leans forward and studies the action down on the field. His face tightens as the Raiders hammer his Chargers.

No one goes into the little suite except Spanos, Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, and Dino and Mike. As one Spanos employee says, "When Mr. Spanos is in there watching the game, he likes to stay focused."

It's a bad sign when the focus is broken early in the third quarter, when the Chargers are so uncompetitive that Spanos wants to gather his family and leave his friends, fleeing home to Stockton.

"Boy, I can't remember him ever leaving a game this early before," one Spanos employee says.

"I remember one," another Spanos executive says. "It was a game in New York. It was embarrassing, and he got out of there right after halftime. Just like tonight."

"He really takes a lot of pride in his football team," an employee says. "He knows he's going to hear about it from his friends. I don't want to be the first one into his office tomorrow morning."

With the Spanos family gone, the suite empties fast. Dolores and Bob Hope gather their coats and head for the airport. The bankers bolt. Behind the marble-topped kitchen counter, the chef puts plastic wrap over the lamb chops.

Spanos might still be angry the next morning. But somebody will enjoy great leftovers.

Head Problems

November 13, 1997 — Phyllis Orrick

In the days after Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries received his latest concussion, the team reassured the public that Humphries was consulting neurologists and that a CT-scan and an MRI showed no problems. Humphries' agent chimed in, too, pledging that the team cared about his client and that Humphries would not return to the playing field until he was "100 percent." But experts in the treatment of concussion victims say that this comforting scenario is misleading and incomplete.

Neither a CT-scan nor an MRI can pick up the damage Humphries' brain most likely sustained. This was Humphries' fourth concussion in his pro career, his second in fewer than three weeks. Recovery from second concussions -- much less fourth ones -- is rarely 100 percent. Most neurologists have neither the training nor the inclination to determine whether Humphries has a truly clean bill of health. Such an examination can take hours and be spread out over days. For that, Humphries would have to consult specialists who operate beyond the strictly medical confines of most neurologists' practices.

The knockout blow Humphries received in the November 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals is well documented from the outside. But what happened inside his brain and the long-term consequence of that trauma are much harder to pinpoint.

"An angular acceleration of the head, whipping backwards or to the side" is how biomechanicist Peter Francis describes what probably occurred when Humphries was thrown to the ground landing on the back of his head on the AstroTurf. That, in turn, "can cause diffuse axonal injury," says Francis, a professor at San Diego State's department of Nutrition and Exercise Science. "It creates lots of tiny, tiny, tiny lesions. The only way to determine they exist," Francis says, "is by a postmortem."

"Axonal injury" refers to damage to the axons, the long fibers that reside inside neurons, which are cells in the brain. When the brain suffers a violent movement beyond what it was designed to sustain, the axons can be stretched, bent, or, in the most extreme cases, torn and broken.

A human brain is a mass with the consistency of Jell-O or thick pudding, surrounded by a bath of shock-absorbing fluid. The fluid is meant to protect the brain from the sharp ridges that line parts of the skull. But when the skull snaps out of control and comes to a sudden halt, as Humphries' did, the bath can't stop the brain from hitting the skull and moving with more violence than the brain can stand. The brain performs a dangerous dance called the coup, contre coup, literally the "hit, counter hit," slogging first one way and rebounding the other.

To replicate what happens in a concussion, Francis says, "Researchers have filled a cavity with fairly dense Jell-O" and subjected it to similarly rapid changes in speed and direction. "You produce shear forces in the brain. The adjacent layers are moving at different speeds, causing [the axons that run through them] to shear off. Something as multidimensional as a football game can cause linear and angular acceleration," which produce those shearing forces.

The full extent of the damage can take days or weeks to make itself known. Axons can't regenerate or heal, so any brain injury is permanent. The brain must devise alternatives to compensate for the lost axons. Recovery can take years.

"You've only got so much in the bank, and every accident is a withdrawal," explains Dr. Barbara Schrock, a neuropsychologist who works with patients with mild traumatic brain injuries at Sharp Memorial Rehabilitation Center.

There are gradations of brain injury, she explains, from impairment to disability to, at worst, handicap. "Your brain is like an entire symphony orchestra," she says. "The back half of the brain is like the instruments, the front part [the frontal lobe] is the conductor of the orchestra. He has the plan and makes sure what the orchestra does is according to the plan, and if it isn't, he makes adjustments."

Schrock calls the collective abilities of the frontal lobe "the executive skills. Those very delicate executive skills are the most fragile in terms of injury."

They are also hard to measure. "People will notice changes in a person's ability to remember what he was doing; people will describe that as short-term memory loss, but that's not short-term memory loss. The frontal lobe's job is to set a goal and to comply with that. When you get dinged, you can't keep that stable intention in your mind.

"For a football player, that may not be that big a deal," Schrock says, because players lead such specialized lives while their careers are active. They have agents and accountants and helpers to handle everyday chores. "But what about afterward?" Schrock asks. "A lot of people don't notice changes in their cognitive abilities until they're under demand to use them. Whether a person can say the date doesn't mean they can figure out how to pay their bills, how to go grocery shopping, or remember what they had for lunch.

"A person whose executive skills have been impaired," she says, will show "what look like personality changes. People don't get the big picture. They don't get what their loved one is trying to tell them; they tend to be irritable and have flash tempers. Family members will describe them as being more childish; that's because children don't have frontal lobes. Frontal lobes don't start getting hooked up until you're 7 and don't finish until you're 18."

Schrock hasn't studied Humphries clinically, but "it's probably no coincidence that his concussions have been more frequent. The brain controls everything, including things like reaction time. Not reacting quick enough, not picking up the signals fast enough" make him more susceptible to being hit.

Medically, he's more likely to be injured if he is hit. "In terms of head injury in general, the odds of having another head injury once you've had one are 4 to 1; once you've had two, they're 8 to 1." Humphries is looking at number five.

Schrock says Humphries is likely to have already suffered brain damage, " 'Concussion' is an old neurology term," she says. "In my field we don't use that term. Instead we say, 'mild head injury' or 'mild brain damage.' In this whole discussion [of Humphries and other professional athletes] nobody says 'brain damage.' It has this bad connotation.

"Neuropsychology starts where neurology stops," Schrock says of her field. "It is the study of the relationship between mind and brain or brain and behavior in the broadest sense. Clinical neuropsychology is an applied science that looks at the behavioral expression of brain dysfunction. It's right smack in the middle between neurology and psychology."

When a person suffers a head injury, a neurologist can give a "mental status test. If they fail that, they're in pretty bad shape. But just because they pass, it doesn't mean they're okay," Schrock says.

The effects of brain damage, even so-called mild brain damage, can be pervasive, she says. A complete battery of tests is needed to measure "concentration, reasoning, problem-solving, emotion," and other manifestations of brain activity.

"Your brain is the organ of self-awareness, so when it doesn't function so well, your self-awareness isn't so good either." That makes it dangerous to expect Humphries -- or any injured athlete -- to know when to stop playing. "A lot of what we deal with is not denial in the psychological sense, which is when you block something out because it's too painful to bear. With brain injury, it's lack of self-awareness because of the brain injury."

Brain-injured patients are likely to suffer an array of symptoms. Most important for an athlete are slower reaction time, lack of judgment, and a tendency to tire rapidly.

"It's more of a loss of efficiency, as opposed to a total loss of function," Schrock says. "The old computer is not working as fast it used to, like being a 33N rpm record in a 78 world. Information-processing speed is probably the number-one problem with a mild injury." Patients also experience "more day-to-day variability than those who haven't suffered brain damage.

"Like no other injury man has experienced, it changes the essence of who you are. You've lived with yourself for 30 years, and that changes in an instant. It takes a few years to get used to that." People persist in "using old strategies to use old strengths and weaknesses, so people have a rough couple of years."

Even if Humphries saw a neuropsychologist, "I'm sure they're not going to say", Schrock continues. "When I was a graduate student in Houston, the Houston Astros' star pitcher, J.R. Richard, right before the All-Star Game [in 1980], had a little stroke. A blood clot formed in his arm and traveled to his brain.

"'He'll be back in six months,' all the papers were saying, and all the graduate students said, 'That's it for him, he'll never be back.' The newspapers always play up how he'll be back, but you can't take an edge off someone who's the best of the best and have him still be competitive. The PR aspect of it is never going to let the public know. Look at [Reagan press secretary] James Brady; they all said he was going to get better." Richard recovered physically, but the stroke effectively ended his baseball career.

In a curious way, Stan Humphries is among the luckier victims of concussion, Schrock says. The hit he took was so hard that it knocked him out, leaving no question that he had been injured.

People who have suffered concussions under less dramatic circumstances have a harder time, Schrock says. "They are told, 'Go home and you'll be fine,' and when they aren't, they think they're going crazy."

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