This was their chance, yet they never really had a chance.
This was their moment, yet it was over before it started.
After dreaming big all spring, the Chargers awoke to a familiarly harsh reality Tuesday when the greatest quarterback in NFL history followed the lead of countless Los Angeles fans.
Tom Brady decided to cheer for somebody else.
Shortly after Brady stunningly announced he was leaving the New England Patriots, amid news that the Chargers had freed up money and courted him seriously, it was learned that Brady would be joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There are no legitimate reports that the Chargers finished second. There are no legitimate reports that the Chargers were even anywhere near the finish line.
Give them credit for taking a big swing, and give them even more credit for having the savvy to spread the word that they were contenders. Yet Brady wasn’t a fit here partly because the challenges that faced the Chargers when they came to Los Angeles three years ago remain the same — challenges that don’t come from the Buccaneers or any other NFL team.
Even as they move into SoFi Stadium this fall, even with all the great work they’ve done in the community, the Chargers feel like a team without a real home, and that’s a hard sell for any star seeking new roots.
After spending 20 years in a spotlight of one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports history, did Tom Brady really want to end his career in the shadows? With clearly the No. 2 team in his own town? Forced to be as much a soap-box salesman as drop-back quarterback?
Did he really want to play his final year in what might feel like a season full of road games? Does the greatest quarterback ever want to end his career feeling like he’s not even the most cheered quarterback in his own city?
Before any star considers signing with the Chargers, they should talk to Chris Paul, a future Hall of Fame guard who played wonderfully for six years for the Clippers — and was still booed at Dodger Stadium. The Rams aren’t the Lakers, far from it, but it is a vastly different world when you play for this town’s “second” team.
Brady is making a huge mistake leaving the Patriots. He should have ended his career there. His enduring New England legacy would have been worth whatever money he would have been losing. The overwhelming love Los Angeles showed for the late Kobe Bryant should remind any athlete that becoming a permanent part of a community matters.
Brady will now end his playing days underneath a pirate flag for a historically nutty franchise in an unfamiliar town. At 42 and with declining skills, he risks becoming Joe Namath with the Rams, or Johnny Unitas with the San Diego Chargers. He should have stayed in New England where he would have forever been Tom Brady.
As for the Chargers, the one thing they’re still missing is the one thing that is plastered across their helmets. They still desperately need a lightning bolt of celebrity and credibility.
Here’s a thought: Create one.
They were smart in parting ways with quarterback Philip Rivers. They would be dumb to attempt to replace him with a slightly younger version of Philip Rivers.
Instead of trading for hobbled Cam Newton or signing horrific Jameis Winston, the Chargers need to bite the bullet and start from scratch by acquiring a potential new star.
In following the blueprint drawn up by the first-round drafting of impact player Derwin James and Joey Bosa, they need to use their No. 6 overall pick on a quarterback.
Maybe it’s Utah State’s Jordan Love. Possibly it could be Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Or maybe they trade up to nab Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
The new kid would begin the season behind Tyrod Taylor, but maybe not for long. The new kid would mark a new era of Chargers football at So-Fi. The new kid might actually be the one to finally stop people from accidentally referring to them as the San Diego Chargers.
He would not only be a game changer, but a name changer.
The Chargers need to discover someone who can eventually solidify a season-ticket base, cement their Los Angeles footprint, and maybe even steal enough thunder from the Rams to turn the city into a legitimate two-team town.
It’s not going to be Tom Brady. It was never going to be Tom Brady.
Give them credit them for trying. It gave them a few precious moments in the spotlight. For a while there, they were even trending on social media.
Now it’s back to the shadows, back to the search, focus on the draft, cross their fingers, and hope for the bolt.