With the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot being used as an evacuation site because of wildfires in the San Diego area, the NFL has moved tonight's "Monday Night Football" game between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
The move came after San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy urged the league to either postpone or relocate the game. A source close to the situation said three factors contributed to the decision to move the game: the evacuation center in the parking lot, the poor air quality because of the smoke, and the burden providing game security would put on police already stretched thin because of the fires.
"Clearly the priority in San Diego is on health and public safety, not playing football, and we certainly understand that," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
"Moving the game is very disappointing to everyone, but obviously for the safety of everyone it's probably the best decision to make," said Miami linebacker Junior Seau, who played 13 seasons in San Diego before being traded to the Dolphins this year. "Right now, our prayers are with the San Diego residents and everyone that's affected by it. The game of football is secondary right now."
Tickets to the game will be available at no charge on a first-come, first-served basis at Sun Devil Stadium. Contributions will be collected at the gates and donated to San Diego-area emergency relief agencies. Refunds will be issued to ticket-holders for the canceled game at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers will announce refund procedures in the next few days.
"The hearts and prayers of the Chargers go out to the people of San Diego and the fire and emergency crews who are putting their lives on the line to fight these terrible fires," the Chargers said in a statement.
The league also considered Oakland and San Francisco as sites for the game. Officials from the Los Angeles Coliseum and Rose Bowl were not contacted. Aiello said there was no serious consideration given to flying the teams to Miami to play there.
"We have to fulfill the competitive obligations of the playing schedule," Aiello said.
Because the Chargers and Dolphins had weeks off earlier this season, there was no option of postponing the game and playing it on a mutual open date. As scheduled, the game will be nationally televised on ABC at 6 p.m. PST.
This is not the first time the league has used a contingency plan for a Monday game. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a New England at San Francisco game was moved from damaged Candlestick Park to Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto. Three years later, Hurricane Andrew forced the Dolphins to postpone a September home game against the Patriots until October, when the teams were scheduled to have their off week. And in 1997, because the Florida Marlins were playing in the World Series, a Sunday NFL game in Miami was played a day later.
The league postponed a week of games after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The regular season was extended by a week so those games could be played.
Miami Coach Dave Wannstedt said he's confident his players are mature enough to deal with the schedule change because "we understand the importance of the game."
Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum, said it makes sense the league would choose to move the game out of Southern California.
"There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense to bring this thing out of the area, and not just because of the fires here," he said. "If you moved it somewhere close, and you have a chance of all the people who had tickets showing up, you've got yourself one serious logistical nightmare."
Even if the ticket situation is under control, Lynch said, it's still a challenging process moving a game on short notice.
"How do you get enough ice and beer and soda and hot-dog buns?" he said. "They won't have many people over there. Then again, they never do in Arizona.
"Normally it takes planning, especially in warmer climates, to do something like this," he said. "You've got to order product well in advance. Between now and tomorrow night, that's a tough task anywhere."