I’m no sports authority. Heck, I couldn’t really even explain the different plays and logic used in playing football, or the specifics of what each position really entails. But thankfully none of that is really needed in order to call yourself a fan of any particular National Football League team. In my case all it takes is living in San Diego County for about 35 years (save two years spent in Los Angeles), and being inducted into the religion known as “San Diego Chargers Fandom” by my step-dad over the past 30 years. (And yes, he also subscribes to the religion of “San Diego Padres Fandom.”)
I remember Sunday afternoons, back in the late 70s-early 80s, being a mixture of Star Trek reruns and San Diego Chargers, me plopped on my tummy in front of the TV with my head propped up with my hands, and my step-dad sitting in the recliner behind me. Yes folks, these were the days prior to cable TV in our neck-of-the-woods, and long before anything as wild and crazy as hundreds of channels being available to you. Back then something like that could only be imagined on something as far out there as some Star Trek episode. And no, my step-dad was never able to get me to be a fan of Star Trek. He was, over time, able to get me involved in the craziness of talking back to the TV, arguing a call with a referee who for some unknown reason is unable to hear you via the television, and of course indulging in the overly-used practice of giving a “high five” to someone. (You really need to click that link to read about the history of high-fives…pretty funny.)
Of course there did finally come the day when my step-dad initiated me into the REAL world of football and took me to an honest-to-goodness San Diego Chargers game. Been beyond hooked since then! Yes, memories of spending cold nights in front of the bowling alley at Camp Pendleton (step-dad is a retired Marine) in order to get tickets when the Chargers were in the playoffs in the early 80s. (The military has their own ticket agency which sells reduced price tickets to various events for military folks and their dependents, and the Camp Pendleton office was in the bowling alley.) I remember a Monday Night football game so unbelievably cold (well, cold for SoCal!) I had to wear thermal underwear, but it was all worth it because we beat our rivals, the Oakland Raiders that night…”We are the champions” by Queen, blasting through the stadium PA system.
Then there was THE playoff game to beat all playoff games, the Miami-San Diego 1981 season playoff game which went into overtime and had Kellen Winslow being carried off the field from exhaustion. I remember I had to work that day and was SO disappointed I’d be missing the televised game. I kept calling home for updates. Who would have known it would last as long as it did and that I’d be able to watch at least the overtime section. Un-be-lieveable game!
So many fond memories of Air Coryell, Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow (I waited on him one time and MAN did he look good in a suit! ;)), Chuck Muncie, Charlie Joiner, John “JJ” Jefferson, Louise Kelcher (man, oh man, the stadium would rock with choruses of “Loooooooouuuu-ie”, which unfortunately sounded like we were booing!).
Also memories of Chargers placekicker, Rolf Benirschke, surviving his horrific near-death battle with ulcerative colitis, and of being in the stadium crowd on November 18, 1979 when he first returned. He didn’t play, but was honorary captain that day and looked so tiny when burly Louie Kelcher helped him out onto the field. There was nary a dry eye in the stadium that day and the applause and cheers were truly deafening. Happy to say that the annual blood drive with the San Diego Blood Bank, which started back in 1979 to help Rolf with all the blood he needed during his illness, has continued to this day. They’ve even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest drive in one day, at one location! Also happy to say that I’ve taken part in it many times myself over the past twenty-eight years.
The days of Air Coryell have long since passed, but Chargers fans have had a few moments of shining glory. While our trip to the Super Bowl for the ’94/’95 season was a thrill, the game itself on 1/29/95 was a total bust. Best memory from that season was when the Chargers shocked the football world by beating Pittsburgh IN Pittsburgh for the AFC Division Title. After that game ended, and without ANY planning or notice, fans from ALL OVER San Diego county (and probably from beyond the county borders) found themselves heading to the stadium. Reports said there were about 70,000 people that showed up, cheered, celebrated, and enjoyed. And yes, I was there! I was married at the time and my husband and I looked at each other after the game ended and decided, what the heck, let’s go cheer the team when they arrive home. When we drove into the stadium parking lot people were cheering, celebrating, high-fiving each other, there was even one of those huge dragon costumes you see during Chinese New Year celebrations, dancing on top of a bus with drummers along side it. The MOST incredible vibe you could even imagine was felt that night, and when it was decided that the stadium itself would be opened up for the fans to celebrate each and every seat was full, with many standing in the aisles. And yes, the team did NOT disappoint, various players and coaches came onto the football field and addressed the jubilant crowd. We got our fannies spanked in the Super Bowl game, but not even that could ever tarnish the incredible memories from the night that all of San Diego seemed to be magically drawn to the stadium to share in their collective joy.
So many great players, so many great times tailgating, so many ups-and-downs, but mostly so many fantastic memories! I’m not quite ready though, to only have memories, so am hoping that this record-setting season our team and players are having will continue on–all the way to the Super Bowl! Oh, and to my step-dad (who will be at the Chargers/Patriots playoff game) I say, “Thanks for the Sunday memories.” Go CHARGERS!