Column: The San Diego Chargers should stay right where they are
The Rams haven’t even been here a week, and already they are risking a penalty for too many men on the field.
The Chargers need to get out of the their huddle, and stay out.
The Chargers need to remain in San Diego where they belong. The Chargers need to forget sharing Los Angeles with the Rams, because they can’t.
To welcome the Chargers back to Los Angeles as a second NFL team would be to ignore climate, dismiss history, and ultimately be doomed by both.
First, the climate. There is none. This isn’t a Chargers town. This has never been a Chargers town. The Chargers had 21 years to woo us as an uncontested suitor and still couldn’t make it a Chargers town.
Do you know one Chargers fan who lives within 60 miles of the proposed Inglewood stadium? In two decades, have you known one fan from L.A. County who drove to San Diego on a Sunday morning to watch a game who was not rooting for the opposing team?
The Chargers will cite statistical evidence that 25% of their fans come from Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire. I’ve never met one.
There are Chargers fans on the southern and eastern outskirts of San Diego County, but the longtime NFL heartbeat in this town beats through the Rams, and the crazy passion comes from a love for the Raiders. There are more Raiders fans here than Chargers fans, and it isn’t even close.
Second, the history. The Chargers have tried to share a stadium with the Rams before. It lasted a year. And the Chargers couldn’t wait to leave.
In 1960, the Chargers were part of the fledgling American Football League and played in the Coliseum, and nobody knew they were here.
The Rams averaged more than 70,000 fans, the Chargers would barely draw 10,000. Even for their L.A. debut, the Chargers drew just 17,724, and many of those “fans” were employees of team owner and hotel magnate Barron Hilton.
A Times story by Bob Oates in 1985 recounted the following pregame conversation between then-coach Sid Gillman and Hilton.
Said Gillman: “I’ve got a great promotional idea, Barron. Let’s introduce the people in the stands today instead of the teams.”
Said Hilton: “They’d be too embarrassed. They’re all bellhops and desk clerks I let in free.”
One of the narratives is that today’s Chargers could take the town from the Rams if they win more games. But that didn’t work back then. While the Rams were 4-7-1, the Chargers and starting quarterback Jack Kemp were 10-4 and advanced to the AFL’s first championship game against the Houston Oilers.
Still, there was so little interest in the team, the Chargers willingly gave up home-field advantage in the title game so it could be played in a more appropriately populated stadium. It turned out to be a Houston high school football field.
“We thought ABC might not pick up their  option if they panned around the Coliseum in the first quarter and could only find 97 spectators,” Gillman recalled.
By the end of the 1960 season, it was as clear as it should be today. The Chargers could not thrive here as a second team to the Rams. According to the 2011 book “The Way We Were In San Diego” by Richard W. Crawford, Hilton stated the obvious:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve got to get out of Los Angeles,” Hilton said. “We can’t compete in the same market as the Rams.”
With a push from legendary San Diego sportswriter Jack Murphy, the Chargers moved south. Consider this a push from a not-so-legendary sportswriter that the Chargers stay there.
Not only doesn’t Los Angeles want them, but surely L.A. fans don’t want to take them from San Diego, which loves that team like we do the Lakers and Dodgers.
This isn’t a St. Louis situation, in which the Rams were a footnote to the baseball Cardinals and hockey Blues. The Chargers are so ingrained in the community that fans and players wept when they played what could be their last game there.
“It is our No. 1 team by far, it is the heartbeat of this city, people live and die for the Chargers,” said Nick Hardwick, longtime Chargers center who is now a team radio broadcaster. “Winning or losing, fans all over our town connect through our team.”
Last season the Chargers filled aging Qualcomm Stadium at 94% capacity. How does somebody walk away from that? The franchise would increase in value if it moved to Los Angeles, but interest would dwindle, the brand would suffer, and the Chargers would be the Clippers of 30 years ago.
If Chargers owner Dean Spanos thinks fans will ignore a team that was here for 48 years to support a team that was here for 10 minutes, he’s wrong. If he thinks Chargers fans will follow him north, he’s as misguided as he was on the appeal of the Carson stadium project.
“If they move north, it’s over for 100% of Charger fans down here,” Hardwick said.
The Chargers are currently in talks with the Rams, but they need to keep talking with their own city.
At the very least, the Chargers need to take the year that the NFL has given them, play in San Diego one more season, and make one more attempt to stay home. Yes, if the Chargers don’t move, that means the Raiders and all their madness would come to Los Angeles, but at least they have fans and history here. At least they would be interesting. At least somebody would care.
Did anybody hear that Rams fan at last week’s welcome rally at the Forum? He was among those jeering in response to Rams executive Kevin Demoff’s remark that the Rams would “welcome a second team into our building.”
“We don’t want them!” shouted the fan.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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