By Justin Halpern
I was born and raised in San Diego. I grew up 10 minutes from the beach in a small naval community, went to San Diego State University, and wore shorts 363 days a year. The only way I could have been more San Diego is if I were a carne asada burrito made by Tony Gwynn that said only the phrase, “Get out of the water, this is a fuckin’ local break, bro.”
But in 2003, after graduating college, I decided to move to Los Angeles. I wanted to become a screenwriter, and if I was ever truly going to “make it” I had to make the move. So I packed up all my shit, got an apartment in Hollywood next to a rent-by-the-hour motel, and started waiting tables. Fast-forward three years and I was in that same apartment, still waiting tables and desperately trying to get someone, anyone, to read one of my screenplays. Only two things brought me joy: listening to a coworker of mine who used to be in porn tell me about the weirdest dicks she ever saw, and watching the San Diego Chargers play football on Sunday afternoons. For a couple of hours, watching LaDainian Tomlinson bust through sure tackles made me feel like I was back home, where my life felt like it still had promise. Los Angeles had kicked the shit out of me in a way that only Los Angeles can.
Los Angeles is built on apathy. It has perfected the art of letting you know it doesn’t give a fuck about you. Everyone comes here to “make it,” and, because it’s so hard to do that, no one has the time or the sympathy to give a shit about you. You never even get a “no” in Los Angeles, because a “no” takes almost a second, and fuck you if you think you’re worth that. In fact, Los Angeles gives a shit about you only once you’ve become successful enough that the approval is no longer something you need. Apathy always seems better than hatred until you realize that at least someone has to put in effort to hate you. So when I saw the news that the Chargers were officially moving to Los Angeles, my mind immediately went to their owner, Dean Spanos.
Dean Spanos was given charge of the San Diego Chargers by his father in 1994, and, from minute one, no one in San Diego ever took him seriously. He so perfectly looked and sounded the part of “fuckwit son of a rich guy” that he was never really going to have any other identity unless he did something truly great. Unfortunately for him, and San Diego, that was not to be his destiny. Year after year he made decisions so dumb that even the incredibly mild San Diego sports media took notice. When he fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14–2 season, he hired Norv Turner, a man who had finished 9–23 with the Oakland Raiders in his last head-coaching stint, to handle the primes of Philip Rivers and LT. And Dean did this not because he had any real faith in Norv as a head coach (no one did, not even Norv), but because Norv was the kind of coach who would pretend that Dean was somebody. Marty Schottenheimer made it very clear he did not give two shits about what Dean Spanos thought. Norv treated Deano like a smart football mind who had earned the job of president instead of like the son of the guy who owned the team. Every year, the Chargers found new and embarrassing ways to lose, and the once-pliable identity of Dean Spanos as “fuck-up rich kid” began to harden. Barring a Super Bowl win, Dean was running out of ways to become the respected big shot he so desperately wanted to be. There was one more way to create his own legacy: build a brand-new stadium.
If you’re not rich enough to build a football stadium, then you’re not rich enough to own a football team. It’s like owning a Ferrari; you can’t just be a guy who has the money for a Ferrari. You gotta be someone that can afford all the bullshit that comes with owning a Ferrari. Dean Spanos is like a dipshit who saved all his money for a Ferrari and now lives in a one-bedroom apartment and has to park that thing on the street, where it gets fucked with daily. In the mid-aughts, he started asking the city of San Diego to build him a stadium so he could feel like a big shot. We told him to fuck off and pay for it himself. We did it several times, in several different ways. At some point he realized he was never going to get his stadium. He would always be a loser in SD, and the only way he was going to be able to feel like a big shot was if he took the Chargers and left the city. He was like a high school nobody named Josh who dreamed of going to college in another place and rebranding himself as J-Money. So every year Dean would put forth some kind of bullshit proposal that he knew was bullshit to try to get us to help him build this stadium, just so he could someday say, “Hey NFL, I did my best, see? Can I be allowed to move to L.A. now?”
I still live in Los Angeles. I was driving down the 110 Freeway on Wednesday, the night the news of the Chargers move broke. It’s strange to think about my favorite team moving closer to me and being upset about it. But thinking about the Chargers moving to Los Angeles brought me back to all those Sundays when I’d first moved here, when I was struggling to be somebody who mattered enough to even get a “no.” I remembered how much the San Diego Chargers meant to me during those times. I thought about how Dean Spanos was moving here for the same reasons so many people move here. And then I thought, the Chargers are about to experience what it’s like to move to Los Angeles and have no one give a fuck about you.
Justin Halpern is an author and TV writer living in Los Angeles who only has the Padres and Clippers left to root for. Pray for him.