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San Diego Union-Tribune

GEORGE MITROVICH

The San Diego Chargers: does it matter?

March 9, 2003

Abstract:
If the question is merely deciding whether it's better having the Chargers in San Diego or playing in Los Angeles or Pasadena, the answer is a no-brainer. Our pro football team, like our Padres, is a regional asset. The Chargers have been that since Union-Tribune sports editor Jack Murphy persuaded Barron Hilton to move his year- old American Football League team here from L.A.; a significant moment in the life of our town.

Does that mean the Chargers are gone? No. Because even if the Chargers opt to move they will be confronted elsewhere by equally daunting public challenges and political firestorms -- not dissimilar from those that have defaced the team's image in San Diego.

The task force members deserve praise for their efforts, their devotion to public duty. But I would have preferred consideration of another option -- one involving other municipalities and the county of San Diego (more than 50 percent of the team's season ticket-holders reside outside San Diego city limits). If the Chargers are an asset, not only to the city of San Diego, but to the entire region, then why shouldn't the entire region, from Chula Vista to Carlsbad, from Solana Beach to Santee, be involved in keeping the team? If you benefit from the Chargers' presence, shouldn't you also share in keeping the team here? Isn't that a fair and reasonable question?


Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Mar 9, 2003

Each year the San Diego Chargers play eight regular season home games. Conversely, the San Diego Padres play 81 home games. A major difference.

The new downtown ballpark is a great thing for the Padres and San Diego; a new stadium for the Chargers, however, does not evoke similar hosannas.

If the question is merely deciding whether it's better having the Chargers in San Diego or playing in Los Angeles or Pasadena, the answer is a no-brainer. Our pro football team, like our Padres, is a regional asset. The Chargers have been that since Union-Tribune sports editor Jack Murphy persuaded Barron Hilton to move his year- old American Football League team here from L.A.; a significant moment in the life of our town.

San Diego in 1961, the year the Chargers began playing at Balboa Stadium, was an attractive little place, but in the consciousness of California and the nation beyond, that's about all we were. In the political, business and social life of the Golden State, we barely mattered. We were seen as a pleasant settlement with nice beaches, soft breezes, loads of sunshine -- and a lot of retired admirals and Marine Corps generals.

Did the coming of the Chargers alone change that perception? No, but it was big -- real big!

To the degree it can be argued that towns have inferiority complexes, San Diego had one. We weren't L.A., San Francisco or Seattle, and knew it. However, the coming of the Chargers, our first major league team, initiated a process whereby our self-image underwent dramatic change. So emboldened did we become that one day we said we're "America's finest city." We not only said it, we actually believed it. Amazing, isn't it, what a sports team can do for a town's sense of itself.

Which will help, in part, to explain why the Charges' decision to trigger the escape clause in their highly controversial deal with the city, occasioned outrage from local officials, led surprisingly by Mayor Dick Murphy. Indeed, given the mayor and City Council's reactions, they might wish to consider anger-management classes before entering negotiations with the team.

Keeping the team is a good idea. The issue is how?

I would judge, from my involvement as chairman of The Committee of 2000, the citizens committee that backed a new downtown ballpark for the Padres, that using public funds to build the Chargers a new stadium won't happen. The political will to get it done doesn't presently exist.

Moreover, even if that will existed, given the state's financial crisis, the worst in California's history, one that also affects county and municipal governments, the money isn't there and won't be any time soon -- if ever. It's hard to justify using public money to build a stadium for a team that plays only eight times a year, while school budgets are slashed, programs for the poor cut, law enforcement hiring frozen, and there's a mandate to roll back government spending at every level.

Does that mean the Chargers are gone? No. Because even if the Chargers opt to move they will be confronted elsewhere by equally daunting public challenges and political firestorms -- not dissimilar from those that have defaced the team's image in San Diego.

While the recommendation by the citizens' task force that the Chargers be given exclusive development rights to the 166 acres where Qualcomm stands, in exchange for bearing wholly the cost of a new stadium, raises doubts in some people's minds, it may well be the most viable solution. The recommendations, including a 50-acre riverside park to be built by the team, along with other desirable public amenities, have significant appeal. But the key is the commitment that says the stadium can be built without public funds.

The task force members deserve praise for their efforts, their devotion to public duty. But I would have preferred consideration of another option -- one involving other municipalities and the county of San Diego (more than 50 percent of the team's season ticket-holders reside outside San Diego city limits). If the Chargers are an asset, not only to the city of San Diego, but to the entire region, then why shouldn't the entire region, from Chula Vista to Carlsbad, from Solana Beach to Santee, be involved in keeping the team? If you benefit from the Chargers' presence, shouldn't you also share in keeping the team here? Isn't that a fair and reasonable question?

There was a time, I am now embarrassed to say, when wins or losses by the Chargers affected my emotional life. God, I hated it when they lost -- which they often did. But I've matured somewhat. If they win, great. If they lose, I can deal with it.

I hope they stay, but if they go, they go. The names San Diego and Chargers belong together. The means by which they stay together, however, is the issue. It's about real life and hard choices. A difficult challenge lies ahead.

Credit: Mitrovich is president of The City Club, and served for eight years as a member and chairman of the San Diego Stadium Authority.



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