It’s a bit of a change of pace for this space, but I couldn’t go a Throwback Thursday without commenting at least a bit on the sad news that the NFL’s franchise owned by the Spanos family is leaving San Diego after 55 years.
As a second-generation San Diegan, I grew up with the Chargers and my dad was a big fan. He wasn’t at the first game here, an exhibition (now called “preseason”) game against the Houston Oilers (another dead team) on Aug. 6, 1961.
However, he might have been at the game covered by ABC’s Wide World of Sports on Sept. 9, 1961, when the Chargers entertained the Dallas Texans (still another dead team).
What’s cool about this video is it shows a partially expanded Balboa Stadium. Built for the 1915 Panama California Exposition in Balboa Park, the stadium seated about 22,000 and was expanded to 35,000 with a second deck for the Chargers. Observant viewers will notice there are pieces of the second deck missing; that’s because they hadn’t been built yet!
The upper deck was finished during the ’61 season and served the Chargers in their glory years through the ’66 season… and AFL Championship in ’63 at Balboa Stadium, plus Western Division championships in 1961, ’64 and ’65. They arrived from Los Angeles as Western Division Champs, but will return to Los Angeles as Western Division doormats.
In 1967, San Diego Stadium opened on Aug. 20, 1967, and we were there. My dad had somehow come up with not only tickets for this exhibition game against the NFL’s Detroit Lions, but they were on the 50 yard line in the press level, opposite the press box. You’ll see tents on the ends of the field where they did pregame festivities. Close examination shows small, auxiliary scoreboards on the lower corners of the main scoreboard; the computer gizmos in the new scoreboard weren’t working yet.
I was 8 years old and still remember. We were sitting a few rows down from Esther, the wife of head coach Sid Gillman, who was trying to yell plays down to her husband on the Chargers sideline, on the other side of the field. The Chargers lost.
My dad stopped going to games in the early ’70s when the ticket prices went up, the team was lousy and even had one of the earliest drug scandals in professional sports. He died in 1983, but enjoyed those Dan Fouts days when the team got good again starting in 1979. If he was still with us, he’d probably be resigned to the exit just like most of the rest of us.
Back in 2006, I did a Weekend Driver column on the Chargers stadium search in the South Bay area of San Diego. It was a nice drive; take it if you like.
So, off the franchise goes to Los Angeles. But they’ll never take away our memories.