Monday, October 18, 2010

There's going to be hell to pay in San Diego.

If you think things are bad in Dallas, consider San Diego. The fans there are prepared to riot and burn down GM A.J. Smith's house and neighborhood. In past two months, it has become commonplace for fans to refer to him as "The Lord of no Rings". This, of course, is a direct reference to the fact that the Chargers have been a quality team for some 8 years and have not even appeared in a single Super Bowl during this time. The fans are laying the corpse at Smith's doorstep, holding him directly responsible for their failure to get over the hump.

The count-down to Armageddon began with the Saints' victory in Super Bowl 44. People have a tendency to forget that Drew Brees was drafted by the Chargers. A.J. was never sold on him, and this is why selected Eli Manning and then traded for Philip Rivers. When Bress suffered his catastrophic injury, Smith made the decision to let him go, and make a run with Rivers. Rivers has become one of the NFL's finest passers, but the Chargers have not even sniffed the Super Bowl, despite being loaded with Pro Bowl talent. Ad meanwhile, the Saints won the Super Bowl last year.

I had no idea what impact this would have on the Chargers until I tuned into 1090AM XTRA sports radio and found one of their hosts under full war-siege. He was under brutal attack from fans in a damn ugly mood. They were all convinced that A.J. Smith had committed a deadly error allowing Breesus to get away. The host tried to defend Rivers performance--and rightfully so--which only enraged the fans more. They were certain the Chargers would have won the Super Bowl by now, if Drew Brees has simply remained. Well... let them have their illusions, but the coaching staff could never had gotten them there.

Then A.J. made the decision to release Ladanian Tomlinson. This was not greeted well by the fans. LT was the identity of the 2000 Chargers. He was the man most identified with their turn around and their quality years. The fans loved him.

The A.J. decided on a course of maximum labor strife with several of the Chargers' stars, most notably Marcus McNeil and Vincent Jackson. Most believe this is the root cause of the Chargers' bad start this season.

Then LT began running well behind the Jets' high quality offensive line. Charger fans could see the writing on the wall. I wasn't LT's fault that his production dropped over the past couple of years. The Charger OL isn't what it was. Their commitment to running the ball isn't what it wa either. Given good blocking, LT still has it. As you might imagine, this shoved a bee in the fans' collective bonnet. This did not sit well at all.

Two weeks ago, the Chargers lost to their arch-rivals the Raiders, ending a 13 game winning streak. Most understand the dominance the Chargers have enjoyed over the Raiders. Most understand what the end of that winning streak means. The loss came at the hands of a highly questionable, highly suspect Raider team. It was pregnant with significance for the Charger fans. Most believe their grip on the AFC West was broken by that loss.

Just last week A.J. made the decision to place Shawn "Lights Out" Merriman on the wavier wire. Charger fans have long regarded Merriman as their Lawrence Taylor; the key figure in their championship defense. Psychologically, losing him has great significance to the Charger fans. It signifies the closing of the Super Bowl window, period. Loosing Merriman means the official end of the Chargers' quality years and the beginning of the down slope into a rebuilding phase. This was the last BTU necessary to make the boiling caldron overflow. A ton of outrage was expressed over the Merriman move on 1090AM radio last week. To say the fans did not agree with this move is putting it very mildly. Figures such as Hacksaw Lee Hamilton and the Coach John Quintera did nothing to defend A.J. from the onslaught. Indeed, they were part of the onslaught. No one likes the direction the Chargers are headed in right now.

And now the Chargers have lost to their arch-rivals the Raiders, and to my Rams in back to back weeks. Some may not understand or appreciate the significance of the loss to my Rams. The Rams and Chargers used to be back-yard rivals. The Chargers were once the Los Angeles Chargers, powered by a former Ram coach named Sid Gilman. Then the Chargers moved south to San Diego. Then my Rams also moved south to Anaheim. They were a scant 60 miles apart for some 14 years.

Charger fans regard their history to be much greater than that of the Rams. They think they have a much greater organization. During the past 20 years, the Rams have not often given them a reason to think otherwise. We had a little 3 year run there, but 3 out of 20 ain't good. Losing to the Rams is a ghastly proposition for most long-time Charger fans. They never want to be on the losing end of that deal. For Charger fans, this was the final straw.

I heard a bit of sports talk this morning on 1090AM, and the hosts like Jim Rome are stirring the cauldron. When the open sports lines happen in the afternoon, I expect the Charger fans to be on-fire. A.J. is going to take a vicious shot to the shitter. They're not going to let up on him either. I think the Charger ownership is going to have to make a move. If they don't, the fans will stop coming to the stadium. If that happens, there will be many a blackout, creating a two-fold drop off in revenue. The Spanos family has always been highly focused of fiscal sanity and running in the black. Now they will have to consider the proposition that A.J. has become a financial liability rather than an asset.

The Spanos family is going to have to accept the fact that A.J. Smith has lost the good faith and confidence of the people. They no longer believe his goal is winning. There comes a point where you have to accept your losses and move on. With guys like Charlie Casserly out there hanging around, you might be better off making a move.