On Christmas Eve at Chargers Park, Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos sipped scotch from a Chargers tumbler, moving boxes scattered about.
Suddenly, the song, “San Diego Super Chargers,” blared, even though he did not turn it on.
Odd, he muttered.
He sipped more scotch, wishing the song would end. It always got on his nerves. Especially the San Diego part. Bah humbug, he muttered, when thinking of San Diego.
“Los Angeles Super Chargers,” he said aloud, smirking at his little joke.
Then, even though the door did not open, a person stood before him. He looked oddly familiar. It can’t be, he said to himself. But it sure looked like his former business partner, a beer distributor who got rich from selling overpriced beer at Chargers games. He was supposed to be dead.
He carried the chain links from a first-down marker with him. Yet, it was much longer than 10 yards. It looked like it could go as far as a whole football field.
“San Diego Super Chargers” continued to blare. With a wave of ghost’s hand, it stopped.
Spanos looked horrified, though he held on tightly to his scotch. It was expensive scotch.
“You … you’re dead. I went to the funeral …”
“Yes, I’m very much dead,” the ghost said. “But I’m here to save you. There is no glamorous owner’s skybox in the great beyond. I’m doomed to travel the earth with this chain, which I forged in life for selling $15 dollar beers that cost me 70 cents… “
“So what? It’s business? You were a great guy. You went to all of the games, even the lousy ones …”
“Quiet!” the ghost screamed. “Mankind should have been my business! And you! What of your players? The concussions they suffer? The ACL tears? The non-guaranteed contracts? … You’re looking at one serious chain, my friend.”
“But people love football,” Spanos said. “I’m giving them what they want.”
“Yeah, right, only 43 percent of the people love it,” the ghost said. “And you’re going to break their hearts next.”
“San Diego? Bah humbug,” Spanos said. “We’re so out of here.”
“This city gave you more than 50 years of support and love and yet you want more, more, more and more,” the ghost said. “Ticket guarantees. Hiring Fabiani …You have a chance to turn it around, though. That’s why I’m here, to tell you how. Soon, you will be visited by three spirits. Listen to what they tell you. And you might just be spared my fate.”
And, like that, the ghost vanished, as fast as this year’s Chargers playoff hopes …
Spanos thought it was just a bad dream. Or the scotch had a serious kick. He went back to work, though there was not much to pack. No Lombardi Trophies for instance.
Again, the San Diego Super Charger song blared. Spanos looked in shock. Before him, stood who looked like to be Dan Fouts.
“Are you the spirit I was told to expect?” he asked. “But you’re not dead.”
“Details, details,” the ghost said.
“And what ghost might you be?
“I’m the ghost of the Chargers past,” the spirit said.
Spanos looked pale. “I got to relive all of that, even the 1-15 season? Drafting Ryan Leaf? Firing Marty, too? Just shoot me already.”
The ghost shook his head. “And now you know how the fans feel.”
Come with him, he said.
They were whisked magically back in time, to 1967, to Stockton, where a 17-year-old Dean was watching a football game on TV. It was the Chargers, playing their first game in a brand new stadium in Mission Valley.
“The Q,” Spanos said mournfully.
“San Diego Stadium,” the ghost corrected him.
The young Dean was excited. “Wow, what a beautiful stadium,” he said to his dad, Alex. “And what a great location, near all of those freeways. It sure beats downtown, what with all of those seedy businesses.”
His father looked at it and gave a shrug. “I’m going to own that team one day,” he said. “And I’ll make the taxpayers make it even better. You take note, son.”
The older Dean, looking to the ghost, was irate. “Sure the Q looked good then. It was brand new. Now it’s a dump. This is totally unfair. Bah humbug!”
The ghost took him to 1988, when the stadium, now called “Jack Murphy Stadium,” after the local sportswriter, hosted its first of three Super Bowls.
The place was mad with fans. You couldn’t help but feel the energy and excitement. It was a historic game, with Doug Williams being the first African-American to quarterback a Super Bowl game.
A young Dean Spanos was in the owner’s box, with his family. His father did indeed buy the team four years earlier.
“Our first Super Bowl,” he said to his dad.
“That’s right son. And we’ll get more, once we squeeze the city to make more improvements. I’d like to see the whole place enclosed.”
“They’ll do it, dad. They always do.”
His dad smiled fondly at his son.
The older Dean shot a glance at the ghost. “Hey, like it’s my fault we don’t host any more Super Bowls? The NFL said it’s never coming back because the Q is a dump.”
“You have money, don’t you?” the ghost said.
“Yes, I have money,” he said. “But so do the taxpayers! Get me out of here, please.”
The ghost did, just as Williams lofted a touchdown pass, one of four he would throw. Spanos did not pay attention.
The second ghost
Spanos found himself back in his office.
Sure, the Q had nice moments, but it’s now one of the older stadiums in the NFL. Other owners were getting new palaces, why not him? “I just wanted a billion dollars for a new downtown stadium,” he said. “A measly billion.”
Then, out of the blue, there came the song, “San Diego Super Chargers …”
Rats, he said.
Yep. Another ghost. This one looking like Philip Rivers.
“Shouldn’t you be in Cleveland? We’re playing today. And you better not lose to the Browns. That’s all I need,” Spanos said.
“I’m the ghost of Christmas present,” he said.
“OK, sure, but you better cool it with the interceptions,” Spanos said, under his breath.
“Take my arm,” the ghost said.
“I’ll do it, but I’m going to be very gentle, giving how much money I pay for it.”
First, they went to Dean Spanos’ home, where a huge Christmas party was unfolding. The tree was 14 feet tall! Dozens of beautifully wrapped gifts were beneath it. Guest sipped on wine that ran $200 a bottle.
Spanos watched himself open a tiny gift. It was a key — to a new Tesla! He beamed at his wife.
“Yeah, so I got it good,” he said to the ghost. “You’re not doing so badly yourself, you know.”
The ghost took him by the arm and led him to another house, this one in Scripps Ranch. Inside a living room were a father and his son. The boy, about seven, who looked tiny for his age, had tears rolling down his cheeks.
“But why dad, why are they leaving?”
“Tim,” he said, “I’m afraid it’s business. He can make more money in Los Angeles, he figures.”
“But dad, what are we going to do on Sundays? Who will we root for?”
The boy used a Chargers jersey to wipe away more tears. His dad was quiet.
Dean Spanos said to the ghost: “It’s a two-hour car drive to L.A. Geez. Can’t the dad tell him that?”
“In that traffic?” the ghost said.
Spirit No. 3
Back in his office, Spanos had trouble focusing. The kid unsettled him. But that’s life, he told himself. Kids in St. Louis are dealing. So there.
He was getting his groove back, thinking about how he was going to soon be entertaining movie stars. San Diego didn’t have any movie stars. Just pandas. Bah humbug, he said again.
Then came the song, “San Diego Super Chargers.” Sounding even louder this time.
Then came the ghost, and this one was the worst one yet. When he saw the spirit, Spanos let out a gasp.
It was of …
Steve Young …
“Six touchdown passes in our only Super Bowl,” Spanos choked out. “You still haunt me. ”
The ghost said nothing. It mentioned for him to hold onto his jersey. Spanos did so.
Immediately, they were in a new stadium, this one in Los Angeles. Spanos saw his family in the luxury box, but without any movie stars.
“Those movie stars, they always show up late,” he said to the ghost. The ghost pointed to the scoreboard. It was the third quarter.
“Oh,” Spanos said.
The stadium was half empty. The Chargers were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. They were losing 37 to 7.
A smattering of boos could be heard. The Chargers were in punt formation. They were at their own 17.
A couple fans brushed by, saying they couldn’t believe the Chargers, now winless in seven of their first games.
“Bums,” one said. “And I thought the Rams were bad.”
“What do you expect?” the other said. “The Spanos kids run the team. They’re as brilliant as their dad. Can’t believe the way he went, choking on chicken wings before kickoff of the first game at his new stadium. Never saw a snap. Then again, maybe he’s the lucky one.”
“Yeah, no big loss,” one fan said. “This is the only team that can’t sign their top draft picks.”
Spanos looked at the ghost, horrified. “What?”
Spanos, all white, went to the ghost: “Is this really the future? I mean, can I somehow change it? We got instant replay in the League, you know. Though McCoy is constantly botching it.”
The ghost said nothing.
He took him to the luxury box, where a photo of him was on the wall. It said, “In loving memory, Dean Spanos.”
Spanos trembled, then fainted.
The end of it
Spanos woke up in his bed, in San Diego. He ran to the window, to see the Pacific Ocean.
“What the … I’m here, in San Diego? It’s not too late not to move!!! “
He was giddy. His mind was racing with thoughts on what to do next. San Diego! Beautiful, lovely San Diego. He got his smartphone and called the mayor.
“It’s me, Dean. I think we can make a deal. No, no, no, it’s not a crank call. Let’s make this work. Mission Valley is fine. The trolley is right there. It’s great for tailgating. I actually love that place. We’ll get right on this!”
Then he called Nick Saban, head coach at Alabama. “I’m hiring you as head coach. I’m not taking no for an answer. The fans deserve the best and you’re the best. Pack your bags!”
Spanos felt like a kid again. He saw all kinds of possibilities. As soon as the season was over, he was going to make a play for Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver for the Bears and soon-to-be free agent. “He’ll be a game changer,” Spanos said, clapping his hands together.
Then he drove to Scripps Ranch and found that house with the boy. He knocked on the door. The tiny boy answered.
Spanos gave him a present.
It was a jersey.
It said: “San Diego Chargers.”
“We’re staying,” he said.
The tiny boy smiled and said: “A Merry Christmas to all of us; God bless us every one …
Even the Raiders …”