The Chargers will run onto the field at StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon for their final game of their reintroduction to Los Angeles, and anyone willing to accept reality knows how the team will be greeted — with boos.
Since the 2017 schedule was released with the Chargers and Raiders ending the season in Carson, this was a fait accompli.
N.W.A didn’t wear Chargers gear. Bo Jackson didn’t have a lightning bolt on his helmet. Howie Long never sacked a quarterback while wearing navy and gold. That was all silver and black. That — for so many people — was Los Angeles football.
The Chargers moved into one of the capitals of Raider Nation. And most everyone knows what that means. It means Sunday’s home finale might not be much of a “home” finale for the Chargers, even with a playoff berth on the line.
“It’s a big game for us. If they can come out and support us, man, that would be awesome,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said. “If we go out there … I’ll take a 50-50 [crowd], especially in this territory. First year here — I’d take 50-50 right now.”
He probably won’t get it.
With Los Angeles still getting used to professional football moving back to town, its teams have been overrun by opposing fans already this season. Eagles fans took over the Coliseum and StubHub Center when Philadelphia visited the West Coast earlier this year.
The Chargers got booed when they ran onto the field in Week 4 against the Eagles, too.
“Now, that was a little different,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “We felt like we were in Philadelphia.”
If the Chargers win and Tennessee loses to or ties with Jacksonville, the Chargers make the playoffs with a Baltimore win or tie against Cincinnati or a Buffalo loss or tie in its game with Miami. The Chargers can also tie the Raiders and make the playoffs if Tennessee loses and the Bills either lose or tie.
But with that at stake, the only way Sunday will feel more like Oakland is if Stephen Curry starts hitting three-pointers and MC Hammer performs at halftime. It was like that, at times, in San Diego and it’ll be like that at StubHub Center.
Since the game was announced it’s been a hot ticket. As of Friday night, you’d need at least $200 to get in the door Sunday afternoon. Chargers season-ticket holders have plenty of reasons to try to offset the costs of the NFL’s most expensive tickets by making some money back by unloading them to Sunday’s game.
It’s something that happens all over town. An incredibly pro-Raiders crowd won’t be an indictment, necessarily, on the first season at StubHub Center.
“It’s a unique situation … I think we have enough fans,” veteran tight end Antonio Gates said. “We’d love to have more to support us, but we’ve got enough to get it done, to feel like we have support when the times are tough. If it’s a third or fourth down, we hear enough of our crowd.”
This time, certainly, they’ll hear a lot more of the other team’s crowd. But the Chargers are equipped to handle the challenge. If you’ve been watching closely over the last 15 games, you might have even seen them enjoy the jeering.
Philip Rivers, a well-known trash talker, ran off the field with a huge smile in Oakland after the Chargers’ one-point win, egging on the crowd as they rained profanities on the quarterback. Offensive tackle Joe Barksdale went for a simpler response — middle finger in the air — to go with his grin on his way off the field.
And the Chargers’ defense? Led by an undersized, under-appreciated secondary, that unit has played with the same kind of perverse joy that comes from making a whole bunch of people stew in silence.
“I’m not a big talker,” Hayward said, “but I like to hush up everybody.”
That group, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said, definitely has that personality trait.
“You know what? I don’t promote it. The coaches on the defensive side don’t say ‘Hey, we’re gonna play with a chip on our shoulder.’ This is who they are,” he said. “Here are some guys who, you know, it might not be the ideal height and weight at some positions, but it doesn’t affect them, and maybe they have that little bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
Tre Boston was a fourth-round pick cut loose by Carolina this past offseason. Trevor Williams and Jahleel Addae both entered the league after going undrafted. They all now start in the Chargers secondary.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who came from the bottom. …A lot of guys feel like they have a lot to prove. It’s grit, man,” Addae said. “A baller’s a baller.”
And the boos — even at home — they don’t bother a baller.