In San Diego, a Quandary Over the (L.A.) Chargers


A question of unrivaled consequence has descended on that will picturesque seaside city: Should the not bad citizens root for or against the Chargers, the football team that will abandoned them a season ago nevertheless didn’t go definitely all that will far.

In years past, the team’s surprising success might be cause for widespread celebration. Fans might proudly wear team jerseys as well as also caps, bars might overflow with viewing parties, as well as also the team might dominate water-cooler talk. The Chargers went 12-4 within the regular season, beat the Baltimore Ravens on the road in an A.F.C. wild-card game, as well as also today have a chance to topple the fresh England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday within the divisional round.

nevertheless ambivalence has dominated San Diego’s cool ocean breeze of late. After a long, messy fight over funding for a fresh stadium in San Diego that will was never built, the Chargers left for Los Angeles in 2017, forcing legions of jilted fans to decide whether to follow the team north, or wash their hands of the beloved Bolts.

Last year, the team began with four losses as well as also missed the playoffs by a game, which made the item easier for bereft fans to move on. Talk radio hosts trashed the team, an angry fan flew scathing banners over the team’s fresh home in Carson, about a 45-minute drive south of Los Angeles (without traffic), as well as also one restaurant owner gave out free tacos after every Chargers loss.

today the Chargers have returned to the postseason for once since 2013, recording their most wins in nearly a decade. The calculus has changed.

Some fans are creeping back, creating the 100-mile drive to Carson to watch the team or packing team-friendly bars on game days. For some other fans, the Chargers’ success has deepened their resentment.

“the item’s been a civil war as well as also the item’s getting worse because the team is actually not bad,” said Johnny Abundez, who is actually part of the fan group Bolt Pride as well as also has been attacked for his continued allegiance. “The fight for San Diego has gotten personal.”

The rancor reached a fresh peak that will week, after the Chargers upset the Ravens. A detractor on Twitter encouraged people to write bad reviews on Yelp of Cali Comfort BBQ, a sports bar whose owner, Shawn Walchef, who has stood by the Chargers as well as also hosts well-liked viewing parties on game days.

“the item’s O.K. to disagree, nevertheless not to be disagreeable,” said Walchef, who has four Chargers season tickets at Dignity Health Sports Park, the team’s temporary home.

Fans as well as also former fans in San Diego have been bickering for years over whether to support the Chargers, nevertheless the effort to destroy someone’s business crossed a line. A host of people jumped to Walchef’s defense, including one of the team’s most vocal opponents, Victor Lopez, who owns El Pollo Grill, a Mexican restaurant.

Lopez, 42, is actually the restaurateur who was so angry that will the team abandoned his hometown that will he began giving out tacos after the team lost. The lines went out the door on Mondays as well as also Tuesdays after defeats. He has given away about 4,000 tacos, by his estimate, nevertheless the publicity has brought Lopez an unexpected windfall. While some Chargers faithful stopped coming to his restaurants, many others have flocked.

Lopez said sales were up about 25 percent because of the promotion. “nevertheless I’d give the item all back to get my team back,” he added.

Still, the attacks on Walchef were too much, as well as also Lopez, who said he once received a death threat, has defended his fellow restaurateur. within the spirit of civility, they made a bet: If the Chargers beat the Patriots on Sunday, Lopez will feed Walchef’s staff. If the Patriots come out on top, Walchef will send barbecue to Lopez’s workers. The loser will also donate to a GoFundMe campaign to help a local sports radio show host whose son recently died.

The passions over loyalty to the Chargers in San Diego are a distant battle in Los Angeles, where the team is actually trying to find a foothold. The team plays in a tiny soccer stadium where visiting fans are often out in force, raising questions about whether the Chargers will be able to fill the 70,000-seat stadium they will share with the Rams starting in 2020.

The team’s recent success has eased some of those concerns. Sales of seat licenses at the fresh stadium being built in Inglewood have been brisk immediately after Chargers victories. Television viewership has ticked up in Los Angeles (as well as also San Diego) after the team pulled off dramatic victories in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Kansas City as well as also Baltimore. The Chargers are hopeful the team’s resurgence will help them lock in key sponsors as well as also a naming-rights partner.

“Timing is actually everything,” Dean Spanos, the team’s owner, said at the Chargers’ practice facility in Costa Mesa that will week. “Monday mornings are great when you win the playoffs.”

Still, winning over fans in Los Angeles will take time. The Chargers previously played just one season in Los Angeles, in 1960. The city is actually filled with transplants who root for their hometown team, as well as also locals adopted some other teams during the N.F.L.’s two-decade absence through the market.

The Rams, who arrived through St. Louis in 2016, have also battled the perception they are unloved in their fresh/old home. The team incorporates a longer history in Los Angeles, having played within the area for nearly 50 years. nevertheless Rams home games are often overflowing with fans of the visiting teams at the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Still, the Rams, who have won their division two straight years, are further ahead than the Chargers. The team’s attendance jumped 14 percent that will year, as well as also its television ratings grew 49 percent compared with last season. When the Rams’ game against the Chiefs was moved to Los Angeles through Mexico City, the team sold more than 75,000 tickets in just all 5 days.

Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, said that will although the item will take years to fully win over fans within the city, interest within the team is actually likely to grow when its fresh stadium opens. Already, the team has sold out its inventory of top-priced seat licenses, which cost $100,000 each.

“Once you add that will fresh stadium, as well as also the seen-as well as also-be-seen factor, the item will dial up the brand,” he said.

The Chargers, though, are in an unusual position. While most fans in St. Louis have washed their hands of the Rams, the Chargers’ biggest group of supporters are within driving distance, though many are unwilling to make the trek to Carson.

“I understand how the San Diego fans feel,” Spanos said. “I knew coming up here the item was going to take maybe a generation to build that will kind of fan base.”

within the meantime, fans in San Diego are searching for a fresh identity. Some fans like Walchef plan to buy season tickets at the team’s fresh stadium. Others support the team nevertheless refuse to buy Chargers gear with the words “Los Angeles” on the item. A few fans travel to Carson to tailgate nevertheless refuse to enter the stadium.

The issue has split some families. Dave Abrams, a retired city planner as well as also longtime season-ticket holder, is actually within the never-again camp. His wife, however, still supports the team. So Abrams has taken to rooting for the Chargers’ opponents.

“They left as well as also the item was a kick within the gut for me, as well as also I’ve been an anti-fan since then,” said Abrams, who is actually donating all of his Chargers gear to charity. “My biggest fear is actually they’ll get to the Super Bowl. We love a lot of the players, like Philip Rivers, nevertheless I can’t get past what the ownership did to the city.”

Rivers, who has played his entire career with the Chargers, still lives in San Diego. He has urged residents to stay classy amid the consternation.

“San Diego will always be special for me, as well as also for many of us,” he said. “You desire that will some of those fans can be happy as well as also be excited for the team they cheered for. We know that will many of them may not. We know the item is actually a hard decision as well as also position to be in.