Training camp opened with players stepping off black limousine buses at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, slapping hands and posing for pictures their new — and some old — fans.
It was a scene.
More than three weeks later, the Chargers held their final practice of training camp with exactly three men in black suits — the limo drivers — sitting in the otherwise empty bleachers. No music blared. No autographs got signed. No fives were slapped.
It was a football practice and a signal of how things are changing for the team.
Thursday, they'll move into their new Costa Mesa home, the Hoag Performance Center, with their eyes squarely focused on the important benchmarks ahead.
They'll "Fight for L.A." Saturday in a preseason game against the Rams. They'll close out the preseason with a game in San Francisco. They'll trim the roster to 53 players. They'll get ready for real football.
It's why the 0-2 start to the preseason isn't causing any alarms to ring.
"For me, personally, I just want to feel comfortable with the guys who are out there," Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said. "I want to play well myself, and I want to look good with the first and second team out there. But I think we're really focused on that first game come Sept. 11."
Saturday, the Chargers' first units will get their most extensive playing time of the preseason — the entire first half — coach Anthony Lynn said. The backup rotations will tighten in the second half so Lynn and the coaching staff can get closer looks at specific players on the cusp of making the roster.
"Winning is always important to me," Lynn said. "But I also have an objective and agenda this training camp, and I want to evaluate this team as best I can, and I'm not going to compromise that."
Cornerback Jason Verrett is scheduled to make his preseason debut after recovering from a torn ACL early last season, a positive sign as the team heads toward the regular season.
"He's looked good, but you've got to ease him back in because he hasn't played football in a long time," Lynn said. "He's chomping at the bit to get out there, so I'll probably leave him in for a couple series."
As the Chargers' build for the season, the spectacle of the move from San Diego is fully behind them. The doors are about to be shut and the work will ramp up behind them.
Thursday will be the first of those practices, and Saturday will be the closest thing to a real game the team has played.
It'll be important, quarterback Philip Rivers said, but not defining. That all happens later.
"I'll talk a little bit out of both sides of my mouth when I say this … I think it is important that we get out there and really get the feel, all of us together, the ebb and flow of a game," he said. "…We all know that that's not the real world, that you're just gonna go out there and score like we did in that first drive against Seattle. At the same time, you can't overreact either way.
"'Oh man, the Chargers looked really good against the Rams, we think they're gonna be this.' Or, if we stink if up on Saturday, it's not the end of the world, either."
It's not the end of anything; it's much closer to being the start.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen streaked down the middle of the field, a ball from Rivers seemingly a half-step too far for him to grab. Allen suddenly sped up and reached out his hand, making a juggling catch that would've resulted in a score.
It was maybe the last great play he made in a camp full of them — his first since undergoing knee surgery after the team's season opener a year ago.
"I think he's still an ascending player, but I think he's been more and more confident each and every day he stacks practices together," Rivers said. "He had a little soreness at one point in camp, really fought through that. Shoot, he's looked really good."
While you'd expect Rivers, Allen, tight ends Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates and defensive ends Bosa and Melvin Ingram to have good camps, some under-the-radar linebackers have also caught the coaching staff's eye.
Undrafted free agents Nigel Harris and James Onwualu have both had strong camps and are pushing for spots on the team's roster.
"They have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do, but they're both athletic and instinctive and they have a chance," Lynn said. "And what I really like about them is we're trying to improve our special teams. That's a point of emphasis, and those two guys can help our special teams."
Bosa, who didn't participate in training camp a year ago due to a tough contract negotiation, said he took a lot out of his first pro camp. "I mean, obviously, I come in fresh without going through a training camp. But skill-wise and becoming a better player, there's no better way than to play football," he said. "Obviously, having more time to do that can be better." … Safety Dwight Lowery, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and Gates all were given the day off Wednesday, a reward for their years of service in the NFL. …Camp ended with the players running a set of sprints.