Dean Spanos can move his NFL team to L.A., but he should leave Chargers' name behind

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Thursday January 12th, 2017

Dean Spanos can take his NFL franchise to Los Angeles if he wants, in the hopes that he can find 50,000 fans who love football but couldn’t get Rams tickets, and another 10,000 who tried to buy Lakers tickets while high.

Moving the Chargers from San Diego is dumb. Pretty much everybody thinks it is dumb. But Spanos is the owner, and he can do it if he wants.

What he should not do is keep the Chargers name. That name belongs to San Diego—spiritually, if not legally—in the way that the Padres belong to San Diego and Balboa Park belongs to San Diego. If Spanos and the NFL owners care even the smallest fraction as much as they claim about the NFL’s history in San Diego, they will leave the name behind when the moving trucks arrive.

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Losing your team sucks. But when the owner takes the team name, too, it’s even worse. It’s an insult, and it’s an attempt to revise history. The Chargers shouldn’t be allowed to open shop in Los Angeles and claim that LaDainian Tomlinson is their all-time leading rusher and Dan Fouts threw 254 touchdown passes for them. That would be like getting divorced, then digitally editing all the photos of your kids as babies so your new wife is holding them.

This should be a rule across all sports, for all cities. It would save us the idiocy of Los Angeles having a basketball team named the Lakers, because they moved from Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Lakes) or Tennessee having a team named the Oilers (they wised up a couple years after leaving Houston and became the Titans).

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But it would also make emotional sense. If sports fans don’t get to keep our memories, what do we have left? Will Spanos drive around town writing “Los Angeles” on all those San Diego Chargers hats, and then charge hat-owners for his parking tickets?

Look, business is business, and even if Spanos’s move may not make economic sense to some, he thinks it does. The city of San Diego has every right not to build a stadium for a billionaire—but on the flip side, that billionaire has a right to move his team. This how it goes.

But San Diego supported the Chargers for 56 years. That may not be enough to keep them for No. 57, but doesn’t it count for anything? Who the hell is Los Angeles to claim the Chargers name? If Los Angeles really wants another team (and I’m skeptical), it doesn’t care if it’s this team. The Chargers name, the Bolts nickname and the awesome Chargers uniforms carry huge weight in San Diego. They don’t mean anything to L.A.

Keep in mind, cities often lose teams and eventually get one back. Sure, that seems impossible for San Diego now, considering all the failed referendums and stadium plans of the last two decades, but the Dodgers and Giants left New York, but the Mets arrived soon after. The Senators left Washington but the Nationals arrived long after. Baltimore, St. Louis, L.A., Oakland, Atlanta and Winnipeg all lost teams and got new ones. You never know when demographics will change or a stadium will get built or a multi-billionaire owner will decide he loves a city.

And if San Diego somehow gets another NFL team, that team should be named the Chargers. Sports would make more sense if St. Louis kept the Cardinals name when the team moved to Phoenix, allowing L.A. to keep the Rams name when that team left for St. Louis, allowing St. Louis to keep the Cardinals name again when it moved back to L.A.

And of course, there is some precedent here. When Art Modell took his team from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, he did not take the Browns. “The Baltimore Browns” would have been a bad and insulting idea, and anyway, only Cleveland could love those uniforms. The Browns were reborn three years later. It would have been weird and wrong for Cleveland to root for a team by any other name while Baltimore cheered on “its” Browns. (Still-bitter Baltimore Colts fans know what I mean.)

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Other NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell should step in and plead their case here. It’s best for everybody—even the L.A. football-but-not-Rams fans who may or may not exist. If this is going to be L.A.’s team (the Los Angeles Rams notwithstanding...), L.A. fans should get their own name for it.

Spanos can claim his franchise was born in L.A., but that is irrelevant here. The Chargers only played there for one year, in 1960, and nobody gets nostalgic about it because everybody in L.A. claims to be born after 1960 anyway. And Spanos can keep the name in the hopes that fans will drive up from San Diego to cheer on their Chargers, but San Diego is not a suburb of L.A., just as Philadelphia is not a suburb of New York. If the business plan is to keep the loyalty of fans from San Diego, let’s just say it’s off to a rough start.

Farewell, San Diego Chargers. We would like to remember you just the way you were. Let’s hope Dean Spanos and the NFL let us.

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