<strong>July 20, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/football/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_patton_20.26f4465.html">PE.com</a>
LOS ANGELES - The Chargers open their training camp next week, so they figured it was a good time to remind those of us in the LA market that San Diego has an NFL team and we don't.
Nah na-nah na-nah nah.
Actually, they weren't rubbing our noses in it. On the contrary. They sent quarterback Drew Brees on a goodwill mission inviting us to join them in the fun.
"We don't have as much interaction with the LA media and fans as we need to," said Brees on one of his multiple media stops Tuesday. "I know LA would like to have its own team, but right now we're the only one in Southern California. People can make a day of it, come on down to San Diego and see us play."
Bill Johnston, the team's public relations director, was a little more direct.
"Where else are people (in the LA market) going to see an NFL game?" said Johnston. "We're their team."
It's a tough sell.
You begin with the historical fact that they are two distinct sports markets. The LA area has its own teams, and San Diego has its. At least LA usually does, and its people aren't used to rooting for guys in San Diego uniforms.
In fact, it's the opposite. They boo the Padres. And when the Raiders were here, the Chargers were a big-time enemy.
Ah, yes, the Raiders. They still present a lingering problem for the Chargers, too. The Raiders may have bolted out of here in one of Al Davis' cash-laden armored trucks 11 years ago, but a lot of fans don't care. The Southland is still a hotbed of support for the Silver and Black.
Even Brees, whose team is coming off a surprise division title, knows that.
"If we can keep pounding the Raiders," said Brees with a smile, "maybe we can convince some of them to come around."
If only it were that easy.
There are other obstacles keeping LA fans from embracing the Chargers. Even though the NFL disappeared from these parts more than a decade ago, there's a sense that it's only a matter of time before it returns.
Whether that is 2009, 2019 or 2029 doesn't seem to matter to very many people. They have their TV games, their gambling habits and their fantasy teams to amuse them in the absence of a hometown team.
Brittany Brees, Drew's wife, accompanied him on the daylong media adventure. She said she has been surprised at the high number of strangers who mention fantasy football to her, and root for her husband because of that.
Who needs a local NFL team when you can draft your own?
As it is, the Chargers do have something of a Southland following. Johnston said about 15 percent of the team's 50,000 season ticket holders already come from north of the San Diego County line.
But if the Chargers were to make further inroads in the LA market, now would be a good time. They are coming off that turnaround 12-4 season. In his fourth year, Brees earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors with an out-of-nowhere, brilliant performance.
"In my mind, I always believed I was going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league," said Brees, who gave little indication of it his first three years before making everyone forget that the Chargers drafted Eli Manning with the first pick in 2004, then traded him for hot prospect Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick.
Now Rivers isn't such a sure thing as the team's QB of the future. San Diego designated Brees as its "franchise player," gave him a one-year contract and will probably have to decide between the two soon.
"Next year, either Philip or I will be gone," said Brees matter-of-factly. "Financially, they'll have to make a decision."
In the meantime, the team also has one of the NFL's most exciting running backs in LaDainian Tomlinson, a game-changing tight end in Antonio Gates and some of the best weather an NFL fan could possibly enjoy.
That still might not be enough to get more LA fans to check them out.
There is, of course, another dimension to the story. The Chargers are seeking a new stadium and are actively campaigning to get a stadium measure on the ballot in San Diego next year. The team's lease at Qualcomm Stadium expires in 2008. If a new stadium isn't in sight and the team decides it has had enough of Qualcomm, it technically could be a free-agent franchise, looking for a new home in a few years.
Not that the LA area would have a state-of-the-art NFL stadium ready to go by then, but the possibility has been raised before. That is, if the Chargers can't get LA fans to come to San Diego, maybe the Chargers will just have to come to them.