Regardless of Super Bowl winner, Los Angeles Chargers lost | Los Angeles Chargers

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AAmid the sound and fury of the Brian Flores trial, you may have forgotten that the Super Bowl kicks off on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. As difficult as it is to pick a winner between the Cincinnati Bengals and the hometown Rams — barely a placement favorite, by Vegas calculations — one team has already lost: the Chargers.

You remember the Chargers. Those are the other The NFL team that calls Los Angeles home, the one with the cute yellow lightning bolt on the sides of its helmet. Of course, for 55 years they were the San Diego Chargers, the pro sports standard bearer for a sleepy SoCal idyll famed for sun and fun (they actually started life in Los Angeles before heading south in 1961 after just one season). In San Diego, they were among the league‘s heritage teams, in that group of pioneering AFL franchises along with the Raiders and Chiefs. Among other things, the Chargers were the team where Al Davis got his start in professional football and where the vertical passing game was tested and perfected in the lab. They played at Jack Murphy Stadium, an architectural marvel that has hosted three Super Bowls and two World Series – managing one of each in 1998.

For a time, they seemed like a conveniently located franchise — beloved by locals, nationally respected, and synonymous with a city any football fan would kill to visit in December or January — and opposing fans in Chicago or Cleveland were famous for taking over the Murph. As someone who mainly attended games there as a member of the active press, the real treat was being able to watch the action from a lower bowl, an outside press room. I can think of a few better ways to spend a 72 degree fall Sunday.

Of course, the picture in San Diego wasn’t entirely sunny. The Chargers fanbase could be fickle (me too when I lived in San Diego). The city, while nationally renowned, was a small market compared to other NFL cities in California. And after the turn of the century, the Murph was a dilapidated relic that couldn’t compete with JerryWorld, the University of Phoenix stadium, and other football Taj Mahals. Seeing the writing crumble on the walls of his stadium, longtime Chargers steward Dean Spanos did what all bajillion sports owners do when they feel the market has given them a bad rap. cut; he threatened to move to Las Vegas, Oakland or Timbuktu unless the city built him a new stadium. And when his attack on corporate welfare was rebuffed, because the people of San Diegan are awesome, Spanos took his bullet and went north on I-5 to Los Angeles, leaving the city with a giant hole where a civic institution once stood.

Talk about a copycat league. The Chargers didn’t just follow the Rams (formerly of St. Louis) to the City of Angels; they’re little better than $1-a-year subs at SoFi Stadium, the pet project of Walmart wife and Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Before moving to SoFi in 2020, the Chargers played in a black-box MLS stadium in Carson, which — culturally and sometimes with traffic — is about as far from Hollywood as Dubuque. And while they’re not the only NFL teams to share a stadium, New York teams do share one in New Jersey – the Giants and Jets are at least an unbroken tradition in the TriState. The Rams and Chargers – who started in Los Angeles in 1946 and 1960, respectively – were gone too long for locals to remember why they should care about them in the first place. In the interregnum, the Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, and USC Trojans became the Los Angeles football teams.

If there’s anything LA respects, it’s a winner. So it looks like now that the Rams are playing their second Super Bowl in three years, and on their home turf at that, the Chargers are barely registering. In a recent survey designed to weed out the “sadest” or “most emotionally upset” NFL fans over wins and losses, the Chargers ranked dead last – giving some idea of ​​the depth of apathy here. Attendance is another indicator of quality, and ahead of the move to SoFi — again, the home of the Rams — the Chargers also came last through the turnstiles. And while LA Chargers crowds have picked up since moving into SoFi, vaccines deployed, and stunning young quarterback Justin Herbert has come to town, at the end of the day most of that profit goes to the Rams of Kroenke.

It shouldn’t be like this. Besides better city and loyal fans, the San Diego Chargers had something else going for them. They were within 20 miles of Mexico, the closest NFL team other than the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills to an international border. If Spanos had anticipated, he could have owned the Mexican market decades before the Cowboys, Raiders and 49ers took hold. While the league held matches in London, it also drew similarly sized crowds for kick-offs in Mexico City. Spanos could have extended its market to a whole country, penetrated deeper into Latin America and used those wealth to build the stadium of his dreams. Given the NFL’s global ambitions and efforts to ingratiate itself with the Latino community, leave no doubt: this is a massive failure.

The Chargers could have been examples – the first to take off outside the United States, leading the overseas expansion of the NFL, a franchise more valuable than perhaps even the Cowboys. Instead, they’re a second-class team in a first-class city. Only a bajillionaire detached from reality could see this as a winner.

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