It happens slowly. You see the signs, the whispers, the suggestions from friends that it might happen, but you brush all of that off. You’ve heard it before, and you’ve heard of it happening to other people, but it couldn’t happen to you, right? But then you begin to notice things. They’re more distant than they used to be. They’re not committing to do anything more than a few weeks in advance. You begin to doubt whether they’re in this for the long term at all. And then, one unexpected morning, it happens. In the cruellest way: a Facebook notification. Not an e-mail, a text, or a personal message, but a cold, unfeeling notification: “The page ‘San Diego Chargers’ has changed its name to ‘Los Angeles Chargers.’”
For me, and tens of thousands of other San Diego Chargers fans, it was like a break-up. It was a messy one at that, with all the romantic clichés — some San Diegans chose to throw eggs at the team’s facility, while others cleared out their houses of merchandise and dumped it at the team’s door in a pile of navy, yellow, and powder blue.
As someone who, despite living 5,176 miles away from the stadium, has spent countless late nights following this team, it stung deeply in a way that I found very difficult to explain.
It hurt because I felt like I had put so much into being a fan of the Chargers; their absence will colour my experience of the NFL from now on. The late nights I spent following the Chargers are what made me into a fully-fledged fan – I remember one particularly disappointing home loss to the Chicago Bears that I experienced on radio in Butts Wynd in the middle of a small-hours essay crisis. Whilst I’ll always have the memories of those times, I won’t ever be able to experience them again, or at least for a very long time. The question must, therefore, be posed: where do I go from here?
I could abandon the sport as a whole. After all, the billionaire cartel that owns and operates the league made this situation possible. Its members created a system in which owners are allowed, or even encouraged, to move if they can get a better deal elsewhere.
They tried to make it normal for owners to expect taxpayers’ money to be spent on futuristic stadiums that would make them ever-more wealthy, instead of on underfunded schools and hospitals, or badly needed infrastructure. San Diego’s population turned the owners down, and perhaps I should too.
Yet, despite being aware that the owners are horrible, I found myself glued to the screen, gasping in amazement as Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers managed to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in an instant classic of a playoff game, just days after I had been jilted. I had no rooting interest, no particular reason to watch, and yet there I was. The sport, despite it all, remains compelling.
Therefore, you could argue that I should simply switch allegiance. There are plenty of teams I could choose to support that would barely interact with the Los Angeles Chargers, letting me consume all the podcasts, books, and media that I’ve discovered and have come to enjoy so much.
I could even, if I was feeling particularly vindictive, become a fan of one of the Chargers’ rivals; the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders have all been successful in the past two years and would give me the satisfaction of beating the team that abandoned me.
I could be like the St Louis bar that, after the Rams left for Los Angeles last year, offered free beer to their patrons whenever they lost. Yet, despite the betrayal of the move, it would be hard to stomach rooting for any of the rivals. After nearly ten years of determined rivalry, especially with the Broncos and the Raiders, a heel turn would be extremely difficult to contemplate. There’s also the problem of the individual players staying the same; I supported the 2016 San Diego Chargers, making it extremely hard for me to turn my back immediately when the same players line up again next September.
All of this might sound completely alien to anyone who does not follow American sports. There is, after all, only one example of a team moving wholesale in English football – when Wimbledon F.C. moved to Milton Keynes in 2002. I wish that I could do what the Wimbledon fans did back then, and support a protest club – an AFC San Diego that could independently fight back against the theft of the team by moneyed interests, and eventually overtake the franchised team in terms of popularity and on-the-field success. The story of those fans is remarkable; but the NFL, with its closed franchise system, can never allow such romanticism.
I am therefore left without any good options. It is said that a team without fans is nothing. The NFL, with its abandonment of anyone who supported the San Diego Chargers, has left a community of passionate, die-hard fans without a team. I will still watch the Superbowl this Sunday, as the New England Patriots take on the Falcons. It promises to be a great game regardless, just soured by the loss of my team.