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San Diego Union-Tribune

TIM SULLIVAN

Chargers' new offer deserving of fair look

December 18, 2002

Abstract:
Watchdog Bruce Henderson wonders if the Chargers' offer is a stealth renegotiation notice, if the letter sent Monday means the clock is surreptitiously ticking. Attack dog Mike Aguirre suspects it is an attempt by the Chargers to circumvent scrutiny, to shield sensitive financial data from prying eyes. I'm guessing San Diego's twin prophets of doom have been spending too much time with Oliver Stone.

We're not naifs here. We fully expect the Chargers to engage in coercion, distortion, extortion and obfuscation in order to secure a new stadium. Yet if there is a cryptic message underlying the offer to delay the trigger period long enough to let the Task Force on Chargers Issues complete its work, maybe it is this: Maybe the Chargers really want to stay.

Some of those who can smell a rat across a mountain range suspect the Chargers want to delay the trigger because: a) they can't meet its financial requirements; b) they are reluctant to produce the paperwork necessary to justify their case; or c) they like the leverage of the trigger threat without the fallout from actually exercising it.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Dec 18, 2002

Editions vary

No strings attached. No hidden charges. No hassle. No obligation. No kidding.

Turn the Chargers' latest offer upside down -- go ahead, we've got time -- and try to find the fine print. Try to find the sinister motive in the team's attempt at sincerity. Try to find the hidden agenda that would lead the local football franchise to propose postponing the start of its renegotiation trigger period until March 1.

Let me know what chicanery you turn up, because I just can't see it.

Watchdog Bruce Henderson wonders if the Chargers' offer is a stealth renegotiation notice, if the letter sent Monday means the clock is surreptitiously ticking. Attack dog Mike Aguirre suspects it is an attempt by the Chargers to circumvent scrutiny, to shield sensitive financial data from prying eyes. I'm guessing San Diego's twin prophets of doom have been spending too much time with Oliver Stone.

We're not naifs here. We fully expect the Chargers to engage in coercion, distortion, extortion and obfuscation in order to secure a new stadium. Yet if there is a cryptic message underlying the offer to delay the trigger period long enough to let the Task Force on Chargers Issues complete its work, maybe it is this: Maybe the Chargers really want to stay.

Frankly, I've had some doubts on that point. If money talks as loud with Team Spanos as some suppose, the lure of Los Angeles would be hard to resist. If there is a deal to be made in L.A. -- either for a new stadium downtown or a renovated Rose Bowl -- it is difficult to see how unassuming San Diego could match all of its chichi components.

Efforts to enforce the team's existing lease at Qualcomm Stadium are contingent on an uncertain legal strategy plugging a meteor- sized loophole. Efforts to demonize the Chargers for outmaneuvering the city in previous negotiations amount to political pandering. Efforts to reopen dialogue at a lower volume have so far been frustrated by the City Council's head-banging reprise of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

And yet the Chargers did not exercise the trigger when they thought themselves provoked by the City Council, though they claim to have met the necessary criteria and have already drafted the triggering letter. They keep saying their desire is to make this marriage work. Maybe they mean it.

"It goes back to a very personal decision that Dean (Spanos) made," Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani said. "He said, `I want to give this process every chance to succeed. I'm disappointed that the council didn't want to talk to us. But I'm going to give things every chance to change.' "

Spanos declined to speak for the record when approached Sunday in Buffalo, but he has repeatedly said he will leave some money on the table to stay in San Diego. Fabiani says the Chargers and the NFL would expect to bear at least half of the construction costs of a new stadium in order to make the deal palatable at the polls.

Even this figures to be a tough sell, given the depth of public distrust of the Chargers. Maybe, however, it's a starting point.

"This whole process has been like one large chess game," said task force member Geoff Patnoe, who first floated delaying the trigger dates. "I've been giving the Chargers the benefit of the doubt, but I have gone back and forth about (their intentions). They've been saying all along that they want to work something out in San Diego, but you have to keep in mind that this is a business and there are certain decisions that the team and the city have to make when the time comes."

If the Chargers are to persuade San Diego their grand scheme is to stay put, their strategy must be founded on good faith. To that end, Monday's initiative is the most encouraging move the team has made.

Offering to eliminate the trigger and the city's obligations under the contractual ticket guarantee was disingenuous. The Chargers offered those concessions only in exchange for a truncated contract that would have facilitated their flight following the 2004 season. The team's announcement that it would no longer bill the city for Qualcomm's "phantom seats" was nothing noble, simply damage control.

But the Chargers have placed no conditions on their proposal to push back the trigger period. It's a small gesture, but it should help change the contentious climate between the city and its pro football tenant.

"I think this letter is a truly positive step," task force member Karen Heumann said. "You've got the cynics out there who are saying they're doing this because they can't trigger. You've got the optimists out there who are saying it's because they have a commitment to San Diego. But if they're being honest, if they're being sincere, putting off the trigger notice is a good thing."

Some of those who can smell a rat across a mountain range suspect the Chargers want to delay the trigger because: a) they can't meet its financial requirements; b) they are reluctant to produce the paperwork necessary to justify their case; or c) they like the leverage of the trigger threat without the fallout from actually exercising it.

Fabiani says the team can easily meet the trigger's conditions and has offered city officials the opportunity to study supporting documentation. The Chargers surely understand that should they attempt to trigger, their books as well as those of the other NFL teams will likely be subpoenaed. Only the most brazen owner would try a bluff under those circumstances.

Dean Spanos has decided to try something different. From here, it looks like an olive branch.

Tim Sullivan: (619) 293-1033



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