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The Fault in the Chargers’ Stars

Can the NFL’s cursed team change its destiny? 

On September 10, 1960, at 8 p.m. in Los Angeles, the Chargers kicked off for the first time as a professional football team. Planets were aligned at that exact time and place, creating a birth chart offering some clues into the team’s future. Astrologically speaking, a birth chart represents a snapshot of the sky at the time and place in which a person—or, for the purposes of this exercise, a fledgling football franchise—is born, conveying fundamental truths about their character. The Chargers’ sun was in Virgo, making them hard-working and self-sacrificing if sometimes bogged down by details. Their rising sign was Aries, making them appear energetic, if sometimes impulsive or hasty to others. Their Mars, the planet of aggression, was in Gemini, meaning they had a tendency to assert themselves, sometimes without deep focus or forethought.

A football team’s destiny is determined by a variety of factors: X’s and O’s, wins and losses, injuries and acquisitions, all combining to tell the story of a franchise and its place in the broader context of the sport. Football has developed sophisticated tools to help us understand the vagaries of a game that relies on so many variables. But some things are beyond the insights of even the most advanced statistical analysis. Dilip Bhatt, a Los Angeles–based astrologer, explained to me that certain planetary alignments can be used to signify different parts of a football team. According to Bhatt, the planet Mars represents offensive plays, and Saturn represents defensive plays. A team’s sun is its quarterback. By examining how the position of the planets at a given time corresponds with a team’s birth chart, Bhatt says astrologers can interpret what the stars say about their fortunes. Bhatt says the most important things to determine are which planet rules the chart and the movement of the transit planets. For example, Bhatt said, Saturn moving across the location of the sun on the team’s original birth chart can mean a mistake by the quarterback, while Jupiter transiting is a good sign. Mars moving across that same location can mean injury.

“A major goof-up always happens in a game when transit planets are bad,” Bhatt said.

If that’s the case, the Chargers’ transit planets have been unfavorable an awful lot over the years.

For much of the last decade, the Chargers have set new standards in spectacular feats of failure. It’s not only that they have been a talented team that cannot win games—they consistently reinvent the form of losing, finding creative and innovative ways to deny themselves victory. In 2010, they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs despite ranking second in points scored and 10th in points allowed. In 2011, they lost to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football because Philip Rivers fumbled on a kneel-down. In 2012, they blew a 24-0 halftime lead to the Broncos and lost to the Ravens by giving up a first down on fourth-and-29—the longest fourth-down conversion of that season. In a two-year span from 2015 to 2016, FiveThirtyEight found that the Chargers had lost more win probability in the fourth quarter and overtime of games than any other team in the Super Bowl era and termed them “unprecedented late-game failures.

In 2016, the Chargers started 1-4; in each of their four losses, they had at least a 77.9 percent chance to win in the third quarter or later (twice it was 99.9 percent in the fourth quarter). The Wall Street Journal, using a computer simulation, found that a team should lose all four of those games just once in 30 million tries—two-thirds of the time, the team would have won all four games under those circumstances. In the Chargers’ case, two shanked punts, a muffled field-goal snap, and three cataclysmic fumbles said differently. Last year, these exemplars of erraticism gave up a game-winning field goal drive in all of nine seconds. I could chronicle all of their kicking debacles from over the years, but we’d be here all night, and the Chargers play later this evening. (Besides, my colleague Danny Hefeitez did so expertly last year.)

This season, the Chargers are appointment viewing for all the wrong reasons. They’ve lost twice in overtime and by seven points or fewer six times. In November, FiveThirtyEight calculated that the Chargers had been the unluckiest team in the NFL by comparing Pythagorean win expectation with actual record. The gap between the two was greater in the Chargers’ case than for any other team. In November, they became the first team in NFL history to blow leads of 16 points or more in four straight games. For a quarter of the season, the fourth quarters of Chargers’ win probability charts looked like the northern face of Mount Asgard.

Again, the odds of some of the Chargers’ losses are infinitesimally small. In fact, they should be smaller, considering that their first-round draft pick, quarterback Justin Herbert, is three touchdown passes away from breaking Baker Mayfield’s rookie record, and hope springs eternal with a franchise quarterback. Legitimate stars like Joey Bosa and wide receiver Keenan Allen and valuable players like running back Austin Ekeler are under contract—someone, after all, had to build those leads for them to be blown. There is a good team trapped inside this troubled franchise.

The Chargers have defied mathematical odds so often, perhaps it’s time to find new methods for understanding their penchant for self-destruction. In sports, we rightfully use numbers and probability to make sense of outcomes, but their usefulness runs out when there’s no sense to be made. “I think we’ve lost every way that you can possibly lose,” Chargers coach Lynn said in November.

“Shit, it’s been like this since I’ve been here,” Allen said. “Pretty much the last eight years, we lose a lot of close games. When we do have the lead, we still losing.”

At that point, why not consider turning to the stars?

Jeffrey Wands is a psychic medium from Port Washington, New York. He considers himself “a bridge to the other side” and counsels clients who are grieving a lost loved one, looking for a missing person, or simply seeking advice in their personal or professional life. In his work as a psychic, he reads the energy around people, places, and organizations to help them make decisions and understand their path.

“It’s not just dead stuff,” Wands said. “I do Maury.”

Wands is also a Jets fan, with a tendency to ramble unprompted into complaints about his team.

For the Chargers, Wands sees a lack of team identity as a source of their problems. The Chargers share SoFi Stadium with the Rams, who have been the more successful team and, as Wands sees it, have the stronger identity, which is interfering with that of the Chargers. He suggested using sage and crystals—specifically a 16-foot amethyst in the center of the locker room—to cleanse the space so that they can begin making it their own.

“They need healing energy because they’re finding every possible way to lose,” Wands said. “They actually have a good quarterback. I actually think he’s going to be OK. But I don’t think the coach is going to last. He actually was a Jet assistant at one time.”

In two years’ time, Wands said, he thinks the Chargers will be a winning team. In the meantime, though, they have conflicting energies to sort out.

The Chargers’ powder-blue uniforms? Good energy, Wands said. (“Although the others I would get rid of.”) Justin Herbert has good energy, but Justin Herbert’s haircut has bad energy. The Spanos family, who owns the Chargers, has bad energy: “Probably a Greek curse, or the people in San Diego cursed them because they left.” The Falcons, whom the Chargers beat Sunday to snap a two-game losing streak? “The Falcons have worse energy.” (This checks out: Only the Falcons rival the Chargers when it comes to inventive ways to lose games. They found a way to lose by scoring a touchdown this season.)

Energy has its own prescriptive challenges, just as cold, hard, odds do. Even if you take Wands, or anyone dealing in the cosmic, at face value, how radically do you act on his information? Should the Chargers really burn sage in the locker room or get rid of their alternate jerseys? Are they forever doomed for forsaking San Diego for Los Angeles?

Somewhere during our conversation, Wands switched over from reading the Chargers’ energy to reading mine. He said he saw a grandfather of mine and told me to tell my mother that he’s resting peacefully. Wands might be correct—my mother’s father is alive and well, but he does take frequent naps during his otherwise active lifestyle for an 89-year-old. Wands said he sensed a number of things about my future that most people would like to hear: confidence, independence, that my future husband will be tall and our kids will be healthy. He also said that I’m repelling men, which I don’t think is true, but then again, who’s to say? He said he felt my connection to Boston, the city where I live; I’d called on a cell phone with a Massachusetts area code. I was pretty skeptical about this information, which had not been requested.

After we ended our conversation, though, a funny thing happened. I started using the things Wands had said about me, even the things I felt were untrue, as framing devices to think about my life, my choices, my goals. I thought about how much I value independence, but occasionally could do a better job of reminding people I love that I do need them. I sent a few texts. I had no great epiphany, but, for one afternoon, I was a little more intentional in my interactions with the people in my life than usual. Maybe that’s how this is supposed to work—not by predicting the future but by posing some possible outcomes and encouraging someone to set intentions to make the future they want.

Joanne Gerber is a medium in Salem, Massachusetts, who’s worked with professional athletes in the past. She’s quick to point out that clients should not come to her expecting a quick fix for their problems. She does not perform magic; rather, she sees her work as providing people with information about their lives that can help them make more meaningful decisions for themselves. Ultimately, her work is about empowering people.

“Some people just feel like the whole world is deciding what their fate is going to be and that’s just not true. It’s amazing how many people live their life like that. We have to realize the power of our own being, the light within us,” Gerber said.

The athletes Gerber has worked with usually come to her with the same concerns as any other client: career choices, relationship drama, family concerns. What’s significant about athletes, she says, is that they, like other public figures, have a greater tendency to internalize their worries about their job performance or what’s going on in their personal lives for fear of public scrutiny. Without an avenue to articulate their concerns, their problems become something that’s simply happening to them that they feel they have no agency to fix. A feeling of helplessness becomes self-fulfilling.

“People become very uncertain whether they’ve made the right or wrong decisions for themselves. And sometimes it’s a matter of sabotaging themselves because they think they made the wrong decision, so already they’re thinking the negative about everything,” Gerber said. “So I try to also have people be aware of their thoughts and also how thoughts are energy too and what we think is what we manifest in the physical world, because thoughts are energy and they become physical things.”

There are some earthly explanations for the Chargers’ struggles. Namely: clock management and one of the worst special teams units in NFL history. Last week, against the Falcons, Los Angeles managed to combine both in a first-half ending sequence that rose to the level of self-parody. With 22 seconds left before halftime, facing a third-and-1 from Atlanta’s 8-yard line, the Chargers ran the ball for no gain. As the clock kept running, half the field goal unit walked onto the field while some members of the offense walked off, with obviously too many men on the field the entire time. No one got set, time expired, and the Chargers had blatantly cost themselves three points. The week before, against the Patriots, they had the wrong number of players on the field for three separate punts. The Chargers are dead last in special teams DVOA by a significant margin, have not had a top-10 special teams ranking by DVOA since 2012, and have been in the bottom 10 every season since then.

There will be changes to come for the Chargers this offseason. Lynn’s job, according to multiple reports, is safe until the end of the year but, as Wands put it: “You don’t need to be psychic to know they’re going to have a new coach.” Lynn has made enough mistakes to justify a change, but so did previous Chargers coaches, quarterbacks, other players and staff—and goodness knows how many kickers. The faces change but the losing doesn’t, and at a certain point doubt must have crept in for the holdovers who are still there. A self-fulfilling prophecy sounds hokey until you think about all the times one fulfills itself. The Chargers probably aren’t going to consult an astrologer or burn sage in their locker room, though it’s hard to see how it could hurt at this point. Whatever they do, there are no perfect answers, but buried somewhere in the act of just doing something is the belief that they do have the power to change their own circumstances.

The Falcons, however, may be beyond help.