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Seasons of Wither: The Curse of the San Diego Chargers
February 1, 2004
by Craig Curtice

April can’t come soon enough for the San Diego Chargers, who are already on the clock with the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Anyone who happened to witness their abysmal 2003 season knows how important this draft is for an underachieving team that hasn’t seen a post season for nine years now. Cripes that’s like 63 seasons in dog years.

About the only thing that went right for the Chargers last year was the play of running back extraordinaire LaDainian Tomlinson. In fact, the team might want to change their name to the Tomlinsons, because without his incredible season, well, you could just imagine the horror. Behind a terrible offensive line, he ran for 1,645 yards and led the AFC in receptions with 100 (which set an NFL record). He scored 17 touchdowns, even threw for another, and most amazingly he never lost a fumble all season. And in just three seasons he’s accumulated 6,144 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored 43 touchdowns. I understand his Pro Bowl snub – it’s the Chargers Curse.

Sure, a Curse. How else can you explain everything that’s worn on this hard-luck franchise that the NFL insists on moving to Los Angeles? Years of wasted drafts, poor personnel moves, lousy head coaches, phantom interceptions, and scorched secondaries have doomed the psyche of this once mighty team.

Has Drew Brees been surfing with an evil talisman? How improbable that of all the remaining Charger greats, Junior Seau would be run out of town? Just speculating here, but is it possible a Dolphins fan secretly started the wildfires in San Diego so that last year’s Monday Night game would be moved to Arizona? Worse yet, the Chargers played so badly in that game it’s unlikely that they’ll ever play in prime time again.

Talk about your bad karma moves – in 1981 San Diego Stadium was renamed Jack Murphy Stadium to honor the beloved San Diego sportswriter, but due to corporate greed in 1997, it was renamed again to Qualcomm Stadium. Could there be a more stupid sounding name for a stadium?

All the uniform changes over the years haven’t helped either. The old school baby blue uniforms of the 1960’s were sweet, and the Air Coryell years were flashy, but the current dark navy colors lack soul. Oddly enough, when the Chargers wear their “throwback” baby blue uniforms, they lose.

Beginnings of blasphemy started slowly creeping into this organization in the early 1980’s when then owner Gene Klein refused to deal with players over salaries. San Diego was on the verge of a Super Bowl berth when they parted ways with sticky-fingered receiver John Jefferson and sack master Fred Dean, who ironically left to help San Francisco start their dynasty.

And just as Klein pissed away indispensable players, it continued last year when owner Alex Spanos went insane and dished Junior Seau to the Dolphins, and let safety Rodney Harrison move on to New England. Consequently Harrison had a great year helping the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl, while the Chargers finished with the worst record in the league.

But the cruelest twist of Charger fate has to be the January 1982 AFC Championship game held in Cincinnati, which was almost cancelled by the NFL due to brutal weather conditions. Playing in a wind chill of minus 59 degrees below zero, Air Coryell was grounded in the freezing temperatures and lost 27-7. Just a week earlier, the Chargers won an epic overtime playoff game in balmy Miami 41-38, and afterwards players were treated for heat exhaustion. The thriller over the Dolphins cemented the Hall of Fame entry of tight end and game hero Kellen Winslow, who sadly was forced to retire early just a few years later due to a devastating knee injury.

Then there are the tragic and downright macabre facts about this organization that suggest a curse. General Manager John Butler passed away in 2002 of cancer, linebacker David Griggs died in a car accident in June 1995, and almost a year later, running back Rodney Culver perished in the Valu Jet plane crash in the Florida Everglades. Sadly, quarterback Stan Humphries had to retire due to concussions after leading the Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance, which of course was a San Francisco 49ers blowout. How’s that for karma?

So as the Chargers continue to struggle year after year, the legend of Dan Fouts continues to grow stronger.

Ever since Fouts retired after the 1987 season, no less than twenty different quarterbacks have toiled in an excruciating mediocrity. Remember names like Babe Laufenberg, Billy Joe Tolliver, Bob Gagliano, or Moses Moreno? How about the tenure of Jim McMahon, Craig Whelihan, John Friesz, David Archer, or Gale Gilbert? You probably forgot about the “Marks Bros” too — Malone, Vlasic, and Herrmann. Most likely you’ll remember the Queen Mother of all wasted draft picks – Ryan Leaf. Ugh. With the exception of Stan Humphries’ mildly successful stint, Chargers quarterbacks just rip your heart out.

But in a small, yet symbolic step in the right direction, something happened that might help change the tide after all these wasted years. A few weeks ago an NFL edition of Wheel of Fortune aired that saw Dan Fouts doing word-battle with ex-Redskins QB Joe Theisman and former Bears DT Dan Hampton. Playing for charity, each player was paired with a female contestant who wore that player’s jersey.

Well Fouts and his beard looked the same as he did during his playing years, and showed he still has a sharp mind after all the broken noses and cheap shots by Raiders defenders. He solved the last three puzzles and nailed the answer in the bonus round, winning more than $66,000 for Oregon’s Sisters Schools Foundation.

This seems to be about the only way that San Diego Chargers fans can trash talk lately. Who knows, maybe with a decent draft to compliment Tomlinson, the Chargers can go from worst to first and lift the curse. If that happens it will likely pave the way for David Lee Roth to reunite with Van Halen, and Roger Waters will rejoin Pink Floyd.

(Craig Curtice is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

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