<strong>July 21, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.ocregister.com/ocr/2005/07/21/sections/sports/sports/article_605193.php">OC Register
LOS ANGELES â€“ The quarterback in limbo plays for a franchise that, in many ways, finds itself in the same precarious position.
Drew Brees and the Chargers make quite a pair.
Brees is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he was voted the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, yet he still is not sure whether he will be throwing those pretty passes of his in San Diego or somewhere else in 2006.
But that's nothing compared with his employers who, come three years from now, wouldn't shock the industry if they wound up again being referred to by their original name - the Los Angeles Chargers.
Or even the Anaheim Chargers.
"I wouldn't be surprised by anything that happens, but I absolutely want to stay (in San Diego)," said Brees, in the middle of a wild, one-day L.A. media tour that seemed to take him to every major electronic and print outlet in the city.
Why the sudden rush, organized by new executive vice president and chief operating officer Jim Steeg, to embrace a community 100 to 120 miles away from Mission Valley?
"Because given where we are in this market," Steeg said, "we felt this had to become more of a regional team."
Don't disregard Steeg's presence in all this. At 54, he is the NFL's former senior VP of special events who basically was in charge of planning and organizing the Super Bowl for years.
This is a guy who knows his way around NFL politics.
So it seems more than a little coincidental that the Chargers' new publicity crush in L.A. and Orange County coincides directly with the franchise's inability to get San Diego's fumbling city officials to agree to a new stadium deal.
Let's see, the NFL is saying the new target date for a franchise in Los Angeles/O.C. is 2008 or, more likely, 2009.
And just when do you think Brees' frustrated football team, its stadium lease officially expired, can leave San Diego for cash-greener pastures? Immediately after the 2008 season.
Then there is always the cozy relationship, already well established, that exists between Anaheim mayor Curt Pringle and Chargers owner Alex Spanos, who was one of the mayor's more noteworthy campaign contributors.
Let's just say this franchise is more than aware of the potential in Orange County.
"We sold 170,000 individual game tickets with Ticketmaster last year, and 78,000 of those came from Orange County," Steeg said.
Wrap it all up and there is enough intrigue there for an NFL spinoff of "CSI".
Brees, by himself, is a story thick with subplots.
Two years ago, he struggled through a disappointing season and was dispatched to the bench a couple of times. He threw 15 interceptions with only 11 touchdown passes, figures that convinced Coach Marty Schottenheimer he had to look elsewhere for a quarterback.
The Chargers drafted Eli Manning, then traded him to the Giants for the rights to Philip Rivers, the hotshot passer from North Carolina State. They gave Rivers a $41million, six-year contract, basically handing him the starting job along with it.
That's when circumstances pierced the team's plans quicker than one of Brees' bullet spirals.
A lengthy holdout ensued before Rivers agreed to terms, and while he waited 2,000 miles away, Brees came in and re-established himself as the team leader.
"I honestly didn't even realize he wasn't in camp," Brees said. "Philip wasn't my concern."
Before Rivers even had a chance to warm up, the regular season started, and Brees proceeded to produce one of the finer quarterback performances in recent Chargers' history.
He unleashed 27 touchdown passes and suffered only seven interceptions, turning a 4-12 team into a 12-4 playoff club, threatening to become this generation's Dan Fouts.
Now the Chargers really had a difficult decision.
They had Rivers, with his $41 million deal, and Brees, who they could slap a franchise tag on or risk losing through free-agency in 2005.
Well, considering Schottenheimer might have been run off the nearest Pacific Beach pier if they hadn't kept Brees, the decision was pretty much made for them.
But that doesn't clear things up as the Chargers prepare to start a new training camp next week.
"In my mind, I know the way it's going to be," Brees said. Asked if that meant he considers himself the starting quarterback, the former Purdue All-American smiled.
"Absolutely," he said.
But 2006 will be a different story, and Brees knows it.
"Next year, one or the other of us will have to go," he said. "Financially, that's probably the way it will have to be."
In the meantime, the Chargers should have an interesting season, with a locker room full of bright, young players such as All-Pros LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.
"In my mind, we're going to the playoffs again," Brees said.
As for where the Chargers might be going in future years, well, that blueprint hasn't been fully formulated yet.
Steeg said he is taking "the optimistic approach" that a new stadium will be built in San Diego. But the city's shady politics have become a national joke. They've only had three mayors in the past week.
Still the franchise's new executive said the Brees publicity crunch in L.A. had nothing to do with a possible Plan B, if the Plan A stadium deal doesn't work out.
"Absolutely not," Steeg said. "We're just trying to increase revenues and start selling games out more regularly."
In the meantime, the Chargers have hired a new Orange County marketing director and proudly point out that eight of their 28 Charger Girls are from Orange County.
"We love San Diego," Brees said. "We don't want to leave."
Funny, but back in the early 1990s, Rams and Raiders players were pretty much saying the same thing about L.A.