<strong>July 31, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/football/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_chargers_31.3ccb57e.html">Riverside Press-Enterprise</a>
SAN DIEGO - On one hand, there will be more civilians hanging around Chargers training camp sessions in 2005, if Friday's first day of open-to-the-public practices is any indication.
On the other, there will be fewer distractions here, in the club's own facility, than there were the past two years when the team pitched its tent at Home Depot Center in Carson.
"Carson was kind of fun," quarterback Drew Brees said. "You had the 'X Games,' a (women's) tennis tournament, a Lenny Kravitz concert."
You also had, by all accounts, the improbable sight of Maria Sharapova tossing a football back and forth with Doug Flutie. Then again, you had football players sharing one weight room with tennis and soccer athletes and feeling just a little out of place.
"It's nice to be back close to home," Brees said.
Not many Chargers fans made the trek to Carson the past two summers. Friday, a few hundred folks filled rented bleachers to watch the team's morning practice, and a couple hundred more witnessed the afternoon practice. Larger crowds were expected for the weekend sessions.
Part of the excitement has to do with last season's 12-4 performance, rekindling interest that had been dormant. And part was the product of the franchise's return to its home area.
The Chargers had trained at UC San Diego in La Jolla from 1976 through 2002 but moved the camp because the late John Butler, then the team's general manager, wanted a remote location that would allow the team to bond.
Here, they may have the best of both worlds. The players are sequestered in a hotel just down the street from the practice facility, but their workplace -- practice fields, weight rooms, meeting rooms, dining rooms -- is theirs and theirs alone.
The facility also provides familiarity for support personnel, who didn't have to worry about packing and lugging thousands of pounds of essentials.
"But I'd never say it's going to save us money, because nothing ever saves you money," said Chargers executive vice president Jim Steeg, laughing.
That's because the team rented bleachers for the month of open practices, will rent portable lights for two night practices (Aug. 2 and Aug. 17) and is looking into bringing in a portable Jumbotron screen, according to Steeg.
Then again, the souvenir and ticket tents set up on the premises could help the club make a few bucks and defray some of those costs.
In one way, this is part of a continued effort by the Chargers to get back in the good graces of their fan base.
"Every time (Steeg) went out to speak, when he brought it up there would be a roar of approval," said Ken Derrett, the club's chief marketing officer.
"The decision (to move the camp north) was made at the time for football reasons, and the people at the (Home Depot) Center did a great job for us. But we wanted to be back with our fans, and I think ownership made a real commitment to demonstrate that it's important for us to be here in San Diego."
Unspoken in all of this is the elephant in the room: the Chargers' desire for a new stadium on the Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley, and its expressed intent to qualify a stadium initiative for the 2006 ballot. Civic goodwill, in this case, won't hurt.
"Dean (Spanos, the club president) swallowed pretty hard when they got rid of the ticket guarantees and (settled) all the lawsuits," Steeg said. "I think there's been a conscious effort on his behalf. Everything we're trying to do is to make everybody understand that this is our home."
When the team opened two days of its June mini-camp to the public, Steeg and Derrett said, about 10,000 people showed up for the three weekend practices. That suggested that, from a fan interest standpoint, holding training camp on their own grounds would work.
From a player's standpoint, it works, too.
"I had the opportunity to train at UCSD, and I know there's a difference between going somewhere like Carson and staying here," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "This can be better for the team. Guys are comfortable, and when they're more comfortable, practices are more efficient."
The convenience factor can't be discounted, wide receiver Keenan McCardell said.
"Anything you need is at your disposal, so you can't say, 'Man, I wish we had that with us,'" he said. "It makes you focus a little more. When you're away, you're ready to get home, ready to do this and that. Being here, you understand that this is where you're going to be."
The presence of fans helps boost the energy level, too, which can be important during the drudgery of two-a-day practices.
"When it gets down to the heart of camp, you're sore and you don't feel like practicing," Tomlinson said. "But when the fans are here, you're excited to compete. You forget about your soreness, and it makes you work harder."