Guest column: Will Chargers' fans in San Diego follow Philip Rivers to Indy?
(EDITOR'S NOTE; Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL -- past, present or future. Today we feature San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and former Hall-of-Fame voter Nick Canepa to get his thoughts on what happens to San Diego's remaining Chargers' fans now that fan favorite Philip Rivers has left for Indianapolis).
Whatever next to impossible to gauge is, this one qualifies.
Philip Rivers has bolted the Bolts for Indianapolis. Will Chargers/Rivers fans remaining in San Diego become Colts/Rivers fans?
Some will. Not enough to matter. Follow, maybe. I know I will.
But as a lifelong San Diego resident, I can’t believe an overwhelming number of the people around here are going to start rooting for the Colts. Rivers isn’t going to be there long enough for it to sink in deep enough, anyway.
When the Chargers bailed for L.A in 2017 after 50 years in San Diego, they left a hole in the city the size of the harbor (which is large enough to float the West Coast’s largest U.S. Naval installation). For certain, to a great number of casual and even hardcore fans, the team immediately became dead.
Going back 2,000 years, this apparently is how some people feel when betrayed.
But hardly all. A great number of San Diegans have remained interested -- especially in the franchise’s screw-ups, on and off the field. Owner Dean Spanos & advisors obviously didn’t think it through -- hardly a surprise, given their history -- and couldn’t even fill a 27,000-seat stadium 100 miles up the I-5 in Carson.
They probably figured it would be easy enough for a bunch of their faithful to make the short drive on game days, but it didn't happen. The small stadium was overcrowded with opposing fans, and there absolutely was no home-field advantage, with the crowd making noise when the team was on offense.
Which brings up the case of quarterback Rivers. A starter since 2005 who never missed a game, Rivers was an affable fan favorite. And he even remained a San Diego resident with his wife and nine children and took a van to the team’s Costa Mesa practice facility every day.
But pre-pandemic, Rivers put his San Diego estate up for sale ($4 million) and took his family to his summer home on the Florida panhandle before signing with Indianapolis. When his NFL career ends, he already has his lifelong dream job lined up -- coaching a high-school team in his native Alabama (the national media has made a big deal out of it, but while in San Diego he often talked about coaching preps there, as his Dad did).
I’m sure Rivers has fond memories of San Diego – he sure didn’t want the team to leave -- and what fans remain here probably feel the same way. But he has cut ties with the town now, as did LaDainian Tomlinson (the Chargers have a bleak history of treating their famous alums poorly).
That Rivers, hardly the Hollywood type, wanted out of L.A. is not a surprise. He basically played before a hostile crowd every week. The franchise is an embarrassment to the league, and Rivers never has done anything to warrant embarrassment. It’s hard to find another situation like this in the history of professional sports.
As former Chargers' COO Jim Steeg, who for 26 years was the NFL’s man in charge of Super Bowls and special events, says of the Bolts: “In San Diego, they were No. 1, 2 and 3; the Padres fourth. They were a big fish in a small pond. Now they’re a small fish in a big pond.”
A poll recently had them ranked last among sports teams in L.A. Hard to believe Rivers didn’t feel it. Hard to believe his teammates didn’t feel it. Many have commented on the lack of support and why not? It’s unprecedented.
Now that the Spanoses will become one-dollar-a-year renters in Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke’s fabulous new Inglewood digs, it figures even fewer San Diegans who ventured to Carson will spend their money in a more expensive theater.
But they’re on TV every week in San Diego, and while ratings hardly are as high as they once were, they’re still good -- far higher than what they get in L.A., the nation’s second-largest market.
My guess is the ratings won’t dip too much now that Rivers has vamoosed to Indiana.
And Los Angeles? People didn’t care about him or his team when he was there. They couldn’t sell tickets the year after they went 12-4 and won a playoff game.
Hoosiers will enjoy Philip now. For the time being.