Monday, September 18, 2017

Starting Over

In which I recount the winding road which led me to watch a Los Angeles Chargers game but root for the Miami Dolphins to win.

In retrospect, I think I knew this is how it would end up once the Chargers moved to Los Angeles.

Ultimately, what may be most surprising was that it took so long, and the series of events which coincided to help ease me into the hardest sports fan decision I've ever had to make.

It's one thing to just not root for any team. It's a whole other thing to decide you're ready to start that journey over again with a new team.

For me, that team is now the Miami Dolphins, and this post explains in some small part how I came to that seemingly bizarre decision.

How Fandom Has Changed in The Modern Era

This is kind of a roundabout way to get started, so I'll open with this minor bit of theorizing about modern sports fandom. Most of it is obvious, but I figure I'll lay it out anyway.

One part of the whole hometown rooting interest which persevered for decades was that sports media was truly local in focus, and faced little-to-no competition from the outside. The obvious outliers to this were the New York sports teams, which were able to develop national rooting interests because most national media was based in New York. Further, if someone outside of New York was likely to pick up one outside source of media, it was likely to be the New York Times.

Local newspapers and early local television had total control of the dissemination of news from the team, because they cultivated relationships with players and coaches who needed them just as much to sell themselves. Teams cultivated relationships with local media, because it was the best (i.e. free) form of advertising and building a link with their community. On the flip side, the team was able to benefit from the monopoly like media presence. If you grew up in San Diego during the 1960s and 1970s, you were highly likely to be a Chargers fan, simply because that was the team on TV most often, and that who you got the most news about.

NFL television broadcasts began to change this in the 1960s. Because of the emphasis on both showing local teams in local markets, but also enforcing blackout rules designed to force fans to attend local games, home teams still had near total control over their local markets. But, thanks to blackouts and Monday Night Football, national fanbases began developing for teams which were dominant in the 1960s and 1970s. Particularly, the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Next up, you had the advent of cable, with an emphasis on ESPN. For the 1st time ever, if you were a fan of the San Diego Chargers, but living on the East Coast, it was possible (through shows like SportsCenter and NFL Primetime) to actively follow the team from your hometown by seeing the highlights from EACH game. Not only did you get highlights, but in most cases there was at least cursory analysis. In other words, there was context provided to what you were watching which told you how your team was performing not just this week, but overall relative to the rest of the league.

Like I said, there was a genuine upshot as a fan, but for the first time, there was a significant downside to individual teams...

You were no longer the only game in town, and you couldn't just count on your mere presence to guarantee a fanbase. You had to start winning games.

This became exponentially more true with the introduction of the internet, along with innovations such as NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL RedZone.

The local market monopolies were finished. Individual fans could truly engage with sports leagues on a product/consumer level. Fans can choose teams from any location for any reason, and be just as informed and devoted a fan as someone from the team's home city. You see this borne out with a lot of people who don't live in San Diego who have remained Chargers fans following their relocation to Los Angeles.

In a sense, it doesn't matter where the team plays.

The downside is obvious. With the ability to choose fandom, teams have to win to guarantee fans.

For teams which aren't consistently winning, the next most important thing is treating the fans you do have like valued customers. Relationships with the media, treatment of current and former players, charity work in the community, uniform changes, stadium deals, all take on magnified importance in the quest to draw new business and maintain existing business

For all those reasons, I made the decision when the Chargers left San Diego that I would no longer support the franchise I had grown up loving.

I Made Some Refreshments, Dan!

Having said a moment ago that I grew up a Chargers fan, the next statement might seem incongruous.

Dan Marino was my favorite player growing up.

If you consider most of my elementary and junior high years, the Chargers were coming off the heyday of Air Coryell, and sliding into a protracted rut of misery which lasted from 1983 until 1992.

Watching Dan Marino and the Dolphins offense reminded me of watching Air Coryell.

Furthermore, I'll go ahead and say it - Dan Marino is the best pure passer I've ever seen play football.

Aaron Rodgers comes close, but there was simply nothing like it if you watched any of the half-dozen games or so each year when Marino was dialed in. No player ever seemed more unstoppable at his best (for example, the 1st half of the AFC Divisional Playoff in San Diego in January of 1995). If you caught Marino in one of those games, your only hope was to win a shootout.

Going further, Marino was also one of the very best at pulling off late game heroics. As a casual fan from a distance, these four in particular stand out - the season opener at Cleveland in 1992, the season opener versus New England in 1994, at home against Atlanta in 1995, and the Wild-Card win in Seattle in January of 2000.

As a result, because the Dolphins and Marino were entertaining (if not always good), they were on national TV with regularity. Oddly enough (as I alluded to above), many of the more memorable games I remember watching in San Diego happened to involve the Dolphins...

  • There was my birthday in 1991, where I saw the Chargers beat the Dolphins 38-30.
  • The playoff game I mentioned above, which resulted in a 22-21 Chargers win.
  • A Sunday night game in 1995, which the Dolphins won 24-14.
  • The home finale in 2015 (and the spiritual end of the Chargers in San Diego), with a 30-14 Chargers win.

When I played pickup games of football with my friends, I was decidedly un-athletic which left me an awkward fit, especially when playing defense. With a few exceptions - I was tallest among my friends, had a strong arm, and a quick release.

-jump forward many years-

All the relocation business had not only let me feeling like a fan without a team, but I had almost forgotten what I loved about football. In what must be a stunning coincidence, NFL Network's latest episode of the hagiographic series "A Football Life" just happened to be about Dan Marino. Accordingly, I set the DVR and watched on Friday evening...

While watching, the most wonderful thing happened. I forgot about relocations, piss-poor owners, stadium controversies, and was able to remember - in that amazing mythical slow-motion sun dappled way NFL Films does so well - what I loved about watching football. I was able to "just be a fan" again, and remember without compromise or complication what "just being a fan" felt like.

In a word, it was wonderful.

Letting Go of the Past.

This leads into Sunday's game between the Chargers and Dolphins at the StubHub Center in Carson. I had assiduously avoided watching the Chargers season opener against the Denver Broncos for a few different reasons.

I didn't have it in me to actively root for the Broncos, a team I have spent most of Sports Life disliking actively, if not with the vitriol I've reserved for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.

I worried about seeing players I've loved watching over the years like Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, players I've met (and taken pictures with) like Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry and worried about being sucked back into old habits - like eating an entire box of Cheez Its in one sitting without considering I no longer have a teenager's metabolism.

Stupidly, I also wanted to believe I was past it all, as though avoiding something is ever the same as confronting it - and yet I couldn't help snarking about the Chargers' loss to Denver on Twitter, even though I'd only watched the highlights and based my impression of the game on the reactions of others.

I learned one important thing in all of this - I'm not built for hate watching.

If I was ever going to be able to consistently watch the NFL (generally), and see the Chargers as "just another team" (specifically), I needed to be able to see them as an opponent with some other motivation besides hate-watching.

As minutes counted down on Sunday morning, I thought a lot about how much I enjoyed watching that episode of A Football Life. I thought about that 1984 Marino throwback jersey in the garage, and the autographed Marino jersey currently without a place to be displayed at my house.

Everything was perfect. For the 1st time since the Chargers left San Diego, I was ready to be a fan again. And so, just before kickoff, I posted this on Facebook...

The first quarter of the game was decidedly awkward... rooting for a team with Jay Cutler at QB against the team with Philip Rivers at QB only added to the surrealism of the whole thing.

But it got better as they game went along. The Chargers, starting out as the Los Angeles team I hated because of ownership moving them from San Diego, became an LA team I didn't give a damn about. They became the Dolphins opponent. They started to become... just another team.

There was the twinge of nostalgia when future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates scored his NFL record 112th receiving touchdown - I was at the final Chargers game in San Diego when he tied the record - and I remembered many of the great moments he provided when the team was in San Diego.

I won't deny the tremendous feeling of schadenfreude when Chargers' PK Younghoe Koo missed a game winning 44 yard FG attempt with less than 10 seconds to play.

More importantly, I felt a whole other range of emotions I hadn't felt for more than a few years...

  • I remembered how it felt to just cheer, without the baggage of San Diego vs Los Angeles, stadium crises, attendance trolling, or anything else which has accompanied the Chargers the last few years.
  • I remembered how it felt to cheer when the team you root for steals a win. 
  • I remembered how it felt to be a fan without the conflicting emotions about the ownership, and the feeling of complicity by financially supporting their incompetence.

I want to make clear, I'm under no illusions. The NFL is a deeply compromised product, at the very least as it regards player safety, personal conduct, and (honestly) quality of play. The Dolphins are a deeply flawed team which will need every break to make another playoff run this year. The Dolphins haven't been consistently competitive for almost 20 years. I do like Adam Gase as a Head Coach, and (as someone who loves offense) I love watching his teams play offense.

Not coincidentally, I respect how after Miami and the State of Florida said no, owner Stephen Ross put his own money into a major renovation of the stadium where the Dolphins play (Joe Robbie Stadium also happened to be the 1st privately funded modern NFL stadium when it opened 30 years ago). Going further (regardless of how he may have personally felt), I also respect Ross for defending his players last year when some kneeled during the National Anthem in protest.

If there's one thing I've learned over the last 3 years, there's a huge difference between being a fan of a bad team (an experience with which I am intimately familiar) which at least tries to do the right thing, versus being a fan of a bad team which goes out of its way to make you feel bad for rooting for them.

In Closing

In choosing to become a fan of the Miami Dolphins, I acknowledge it's also time to stop (or severely limit) taking potshots at the team I used to root for.

It's best to think of the Chargers as a long friendship which started in preschool, and lasted well into my early 30s before things became stale and toxic.

There was heartbreak along the way, but there's also some wonderful memories which I'll never forget. Those memories helped become the sports fan I am today. In the end, this old friend decided they had to go in a direction which I could not follow.

To my friends who are sticking with the Chargers in Los Angeles, I wish you all the best, so long as it doesn't conflict with my rooting interests. I'll keep following you all via Social Media, as I respect your football knowledge and writing skills. For those of you who followed me on Twitter mostly because I wrote about the Chargers, feel free to unfollow me now. No hard feelings.

Just as the Chargers have moved on, it's time for me to move on as well.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Chargers Aren't Coming Back to San Diego

There's been a string of reports recently of the Chargers "panicking" over their preseason attendance numbers. That may or may not be true, but one thing is for sure: they're staying in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.

Some people don't think Dean Spanos or the National Football League meant it when they moved the Chargers to Los Angeles in January? Not even when they moved their equipment and materials from Murphy Canyon this summer? Not even with their "Fight for LA" campaign?

Maybe the team and league is panicking over their preseason numbers. One (unidentified) source alleges this is the case. Spanos says otherwise.

I hope it's true, for my own personal schadenfreude regarding the Spanos family, but that hope certainly doesn't make it true.

More importantly, the problem I have is the long leap people are making from the alleged panic over preseason attendance to the possibility of the Chargers returning to San Diego.

Every single one of the stories which lay out why the Chargers are eventually returning to San Diego are built on speculation and fantasy. Nothing has been stated or proposed which would indicate a return to San Diego is a real possibility.

I'll go a step further... people who tell these stories are trading on the anger and heartbreak of San Diego sports fans for personal gain, and I think that is utterly fucking terrible.

All that said, let's get into why the Chargers are going to be staying in Los Angeles for a long time.

More below the jump...

Monday, July 3, 2017

How San Diego Helped Push the Chargers to Los Angeles

Over the last couple months, the stumbling ineptitude of Mayor Kevin Faulconer has cast new light on the Chargers' last year in San Diego. I still maintain Dean Spanos is primarily at fault for the Chargers relocation to Los Angeles, but it seems more apparent than ever that Faulconer (among others) helped to push him out the door.

Just to be explicitly clear, Dean Spanos is the primary reason the Chargers are in Los Angeles.

As I outlined in January, Measure C was perfectly designed to give Spanos the political cover he needed within the National Football League to execute his option on Los Angeles. Further, it's plainly obvious Spanos could've made a deal in San Diego by putting some of his own skin in the game, as opposed to doing barely more than then minimum required and expecting taxpayers to shoulder the rest of the burden.

Having made that point, it has also become clear the political establishment in San Diego, headed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, was virtually as hard-headed, short sighted, and possibly compromised by alternate options in trying to reach an agreement to keep the Chargers in San Diego.That's what I want to explore in this post.

I know there are many people who simply want this issue to die off (it's as painful and maddening for me to write it as it will be for many to read it). I still believe it's crucial to document what's happened, before party spin doctors and political consultants start attempting to whitewash events - especially if recent California gubernatorial scuttlebutt is accurate. And if San Diego is ever going to have a chance at another professional sports team, it's high time to understand the failures of the past.

So, let's take a trip back in time after the jump.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Heroes We Need: Moana & Wonder Woman

Of the movies I've seen in 2017, two have hit me with an emotional punch that no others have. Those films are Moana and Wonder Woman. This won't be a traditional review of either film, rather an unpacking of ideas and feelings about why they really hit a nerve with me.

Author's Note: I'm aware Moana was released theatrically in 2016.


I loved both Moana and Wonder Woman

I love the brightness, vivid color, and clarity both films presented. Both films are buttressed by a terrific musical score. Both women are portrayed beautifully, by Auli'i Cravalho as Moana & Gal Gadot as Diana, and they get splendid support from Dwyane Johnson as Maui and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Both films touched a nerve for me in really unexpected ways. Both are elegant in the simplicity and directness with which they engage their audiences. 

There's real pleasure and joy in watching these women fulfill their destinies. As befits great heroes, they have to overcome everything: their parents, social norms, overbearing machismo, and finally using love to both overcome the final challenge and fulfill their own considerable potential. Both films' heroes achieve greatness by simply becoming that which they have always been, and being willing to commit the ultimate act of love - sacrifice - to save humanity.

With this in mind, I'm going to spend some time comparing these two films and seeing what it is they've done well and why I've felt so moved by both of them.

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get to it. More below the jump.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant. Review & Analysis

Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott's sequel to 2012's Prometheus, also brings us closer to 1979's Alien. While there are sequences and shocks which recall the latter, there is a fair amount of the former's ruminations on divinity, creation, and destruction. The end result is tense, heady, & entertaining, but it also feels like a hybrid of two different films imperfectly stitched together.


Part of the problem is expectations. We know what to expect from an Alien film.

We also have high expectations when it comes to Scott and science fiction, primarily thanks to Alien and Blade Runner (more recently, The Martian, and for some, Prometheus). Fair or not, we've seen what Scott is capable of when he maximizes his ability. Let's also be honest - no one is more aware of those expectations than Scott himself.

Alien: Covenant, like Prometheus, is preoccupied with making a big statement. Like Prometheus, the narrative twists doesn't cohere well enough to make the film an unqualified success.

But, also like Prometheus, it's visually resplendent and thematically challenging, as well as one of the bleakest franchise films in recent memory.

Tons more past the jump!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Scene Analysis: The Last Supper, Alien

Scene Analysis is where I'll take a look at a scene from a film and try to determine what makes it work (or not), and what it communicates to the audience about the characters, plot, and themes of the film in question.

For my 1st post in this series, the most iconic scene from my favorite movie will kick us off. I'll be taking a look at the infamous "The Last Supper"scene from Ridley Scott's 1979 classic, Alien.

It should go without saying (Alien is 38 years old in May) that spoiler warnings are in full effect. This particular scene also has several NSFW images.

Let's get started!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My 10 Year Plan for San Diego Sports

We can't do anything about the Chargers. We can start setting up San Diego to be successful with sports over the next 10 years - and maybe even give ourselves a second chance at the NFL.

Ok folks, here's the deal. The Chargers are gone. They aren't coming back.

San Diego should grieve, and San Diego fans have every right to be angry. After a certain point it becomes unhealthy to dwell too much on the sadness and anger. As a community, we're fast approaching the point where those raw emotions need to be channeled into something productive.

I don't mean anti-trust lawsuits against the Chargers or NFL. They don't want to be here. Let them go. Don't chase the name, logos, uniforms, colors or records. I want to talk about something different.

My 10 year plan for San Diego sports follows past the jump.