Besides some good memories, Chargers ready to give their soccer stadium the boot
Melvin Gordon does have a favorite memory of Dignity Health Sports Park.
He saw an entertaining soccer game there once.
As for the venue and American football …
“Can’t get out of there soon enough,” Gordon said, laughing. “Not soon enough.”
The Chargers play their final game in their tiny, temporary home Sunday afternoon against Oakland. In 2020, they will join the Rams in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
After relocating from San Diego before the 2017 season, the Chargers were scheduled to spend two years in what was then called StubHub Center. Construction delays pushed back the opening of the new stadium, however, necessitating a third season in a venue that went through its latest name change last December.
Chargers enter their last home game of the season with a lot of uncertainty with players entering free agency this upcoming offseason.
While Dignity Health Sports Park has been celebrated by spectators for its intimate setting and overall convenience, the locker rooms are cramped by NFL standards and the field is not ideal for football.
Among the Chargers running backs, in particular, the surface has been deemed too slippery, the result, Gordon believes, of the grass being watered too much. He said he heard soccer players prefer the field to be slick.
“Not that it made a difference in our wins and losses this year,” Gordon added.
In Carson, the Chargers also have repeatedly faced playing their home games in front of seats occupied by fans of the opposing team.
Because of the high cost of tickets in a venue that houses only about 27,000, season-ticket holders have made a habit of selling their seats for profit, not exactly a perfect situation for a team trying to settle into a new market.
“They did their best to try to make it home for us,” Gordon said of team and stadium officials. “I respect them for that.”
The Raiders are done in Oakland, but they’ll surely overrun the Chargers’ “home” at Dignity Health Sports Park in L.A.'s 2019 home finale.
The place was the site of Anthony Lynn’s introductory news conference when he took over as head coach in January 2017. Lynn said when he walked into the stadium that day, the size of StubHub Center reminded him of high school football in Texas.
“We’re going to miss the place,” he said. “You’re never going to play some place like that again, I don’t believe, in that type of intimate environment. We’ll miss it, but we’re looking forward to going into our new home.”
To tight end Virgil Green, the stadium was similar to the one he played in while in college at Nevada. Because of that, he explained that he’s enjoyed the environment, going back to his first appearance in Carson in 2017 as a member of the Denver Broncos.
“It reminds me of the grind of being at a smaller school,” Green said. “It makes me feel like I’m young again.”
The Chargers lost their first three games at StubHub Center to open the ’17 season. They then won five in a row at home to finish the season.
They’re 11-10 overall there — compared to 14-9 during the same span on the road — having played a pair of “home” games the past two seasons in London and Mexico City.
Along with its cozy atmosphere, Dignity Health Sports Park will be remembered mostly for the way the Chargers had to combat the chaos created by the opposition having a road-field advantage.
“It’s been different,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “There’s been some unique atmospheres, to say the least. We’ve had some good wins in there and some not so good [games]. But it’s been fun.”
Several Chargers said they didn’t mind having to deal with the enemy fans, as well as the enemy team, while at home. Just another reason for the competitive energy to surge.
The most one-sided atmosphere during the past three years probably came this season, during an Oct. 13 loss to Pittsburgh.
“I like being booed,” Green said. “I like being antagonized. I like being in a corner and knowing all I can do is come out swinging. That’s been a fun part of playing in the ’Hub.”
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Said safety Rayshawn Jenkins: “That was the first NFL stadium where I got to do my work, so I love the StubHub. This is all I know. A little part of me is always going to be in that little hostile stadium.”
The end of a temporary era for the Chargers comes Sunday, after which they can officially call the nearly $5-billion SoFi Stadium their home.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty special experience playing in that place,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “I’m kind of ready to get out of StubHub, to be honest. … It was a good temporary spot. I’m ready to move out.”
Left tackle Russell Okung missed his third consecutive day of practice because of a groin injury suffered Sunday against Minnesota. He is doubtful for the game against Oakland. Lynn said rookie Trey Pipkins would start if Okung can’t.
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