The last of the light towers came crashing down last week at the Mission Valley stadium where once the San Diego Chargers, Padres and San Diego State University’s football team entertained fans from around the county and elsewhere. The stadium, built in 1967, also hosted annual Holiday and Poinsettia Bowl games, a World Series, three Super Bowls, two baseball All Star games and countless concerts and other events. It was home to the San Diego Soccers and the huge parking lot accommodated plenty of parking and tailgate parties. Now it’s a pile of rubble to be cleared away to make room for a new, smaller 35,000-seat football stadium for SDSU. Only memories remain of some great moments in sports and entertainment.
The stadium, variously known as Jack Murphy Stadium, Qualcomm Stadium, SDCCU Stadium or, more informally, the “Murph” or the “Q,” was easy to access, served by four major freeways and a trolley station. At 54 years old, it was by no means an eyesore, at least not to those of us who loved the venue, but it lacked some of the features that newer stadiums began offering. Even so, visiting sports announcers often gushed over the venue until they were probably reminded that the team ownership was seeking a new stadium. But negotiations with the city didn’t go at all well. At one point, the team offered to finance building a new stadium on the site in return for the land it sat on plus some adjacent space for commercial development. It seemed like a good deal to me since the area sits in a flood plain, is subject to flooding, is located near a fuel farm but could still generate a lot of revenue for the city. But discussions between the then-city attorney and the team’s legal counsel became contentious and apparently doomed further negotiations.
While I was foreman of the San Diego County Grand Jury, I urged the city to work with the county to fund a new or refurbished stadium, since the team was a regional asset, with supporters from around and beyond the county. Cities much smaller than San Diego were building stadiums. Surely the nation’s eighth largest could find a way to keep the team. Nothing came of that. That same year, the Grand Jury issued two separate reports, one finding that the city misused the City Box perquisite and the other criticizing the notorious Charger ticket guarantee agreement which was not a good deal for the city.
With the prospect of losing its coveted National Football League (NFL) franchise growing, the city still failed to reach an agreement with the team to build a downtown stadium and the rest, as they say, is history. Mayor Kevin Faulconer became the mayor on whose watch the city lost its valuable NFL franchise and the team moved to Carson, California, soon to become the Los Angeles Chargers, one of LA’s two NFL franchises. Thankfully, for area baseball fans, the Padres got their state-of-the-art stadium downtown, a great place to watch baseball if you can afford the price of tickets, parking and food and drink for the family. But the NFL franchise is gone, probably forever.
To be sure, it isn’t just sports teams that make a city a great place to live, but they do provide a lot of wholesome entertainment for much of its population even if they can only afford to watch their home teams on TV. They are a great source of community pride and they tend to bring people together. Cities less than half the size of San Diego boast NFL, National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) franchises as well as major league baseball teams. San Diego has only the Padres and they would have lost them, too, had not McDonalds’s owner Ray Kroc rescued the team in 1974. The city does have a minor league hockey team, the Gulls, which is a farm team of the Anaheim Ducks. The last time I looked, the Ducks were in last place in their division. In addition to being unable to support more than one major league franchise or get stadiums built and potholes filled, the city hasn’t displayed notable skill in negotiating real estate deals, the latest examples being the purchase of the asbestos-contaminated former Sempra headquarters on Ash Street and the purchase of expensive motels for the growing homeless population. This is the city that once had the opportunity to purchase what is now the Miramar Marine Corps Air Base for an airport for a token amount. It declined because it was considered too far away from the city. Who knew any better back then? Well, almost anyone with a vision.
With a Mediterranean climate, the area has the best weather in the world and I’m truly grateful to live here. It’s got a lot of things, including beaches and other natural attractions, going for it but multiple major league sports franchises aren’t among them. They are part of what adds to a city’s appeal and reputation. Most people in the rest of the country tend to think of San Diego as a somewhat distant suburb of Los Angeles down by the border with a very small, single runway airport and a large naval base. They hear it’s a very nice place to visit but much too expensive to live there and look surprised when you tell them that it’s the eighth largest city in America.
But it’s a major league-sized city with minor league vision. I once referred to it, affectionately, in a column as “America’s biggest and finest hick town.” That got me invitations to live elsewhere if I didn’t like it. I did. I live in Coronado. And I never said I didn’t like San Diego. It’s got Balboa Park, interesting museums and a really convenient airport. And it’s a nice place to visit.
Go Padres! (Not literally, of course.)