This week the Chargers owner denied his team will relocate to London. But such rumors are unsurprising when home support struggles
The Los Angeles Chargers returned to southern California on Sunday after playing the previous two weeks on the road, but it didnt make much difference. Home-field advantage doesnt really apply to the Chargers, not when visiting fans routinely make the team feel like theyre behind enemy lines in their own stadium. That was the case again on Sunday, when the Chargers hosted the Green Bay Packers. The predominant color in the stands was the green of the visitors, and the cheers rang out louder for Aaron Rodgers than Philip Rivers. The home team won, convincingly at that, but most people left the stadium disappointed.
It has become one of the peculiar features of the NFL calendar since both the Chargers and Rams relocated to Los Angeles in 2017, marking a reunion between Americas second-largest market and its most popular sporting league: more often than not, the teams home games look and sound like home games for the opposition. Chargers players were showered with boos when they took the field against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles two years ago. The Rams got the same treatment last season at home against the Packers. Both Rivers, the Chargers quarterback, and Rams quarterback Jared Goff have regularly been forced to use a silent count to combat the noise generated by the away sides fans, typically an unnecessary measure to take for a team playing at home.
Its certainly not ideal, Rivers said with a hint of resignation after the 2017 game against the Eagles. The home-field hostility hit a fresh apex for both teams on the same Sunday last month. That afternoon, the Rams were overwhelmed on the field and in the stands, which were blanketed by the red of the visiting San Francisco 49ers. This turned into a home game pretty quickly, said San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after the game. Ive never seen anything like it.
It hasnt been quite as enjoyable for the ostensible home teams. A few hours later that day, the Chargers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose fans roared with approval when the stadium PA system blasted their teams adopted anthem, Renegade by Styx. It was supposed to be a gag; the song eventually transitioned to Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, the punctuation to a long-running internet prank. But the joke didnt land, and Chargers players were miffed.
It was crazy, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said. They started playing [the Steeelers] theme music. I dont know what we were doing that little soundtrack, what they do on their home games. I dont know why we played that. Chargers offensive lineman Forrest Lamp was more blunt: Were used to not having any fans here. It does suck, though, when theyre playing their music in the fourth quarter. Were the ones at home. I dont know whos in charge of that, but they probably should be fired.
The go-to line from Rams and Chargers brass is that it will take time to cultivate a true fan base in Los Angeles. Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who engineered the franchises move from San Diego after voters there rejected his bid for public funding of a new stadium, told the New York Times earlier this year that it will take maybe a generation for the team to find its footing in LA. On Tuesday this week, he was forced to deny rumors the team has discussed relocating to London.
The two Los Angeles teams have varying histories in the city. The Chargers played their inaugural season there in 1960 before decamping for San Diego, where they remained for 56 years. The Rams have deeper roots in Los Angeles, playing in the area for 48 years beginning in 1946. But in 1995, the Rams moved to St Louis and the Raiders went up the coast to Oakland, leaving LA without an NFL franchise.
Its going to take us some time to build the fan base back up again, said Ralph Valdez, the president and founder of the So Cal Rams Booster Club. The Rams were gone for 21 years, and there were a lot of people who were left without a team to follow.
Valdez started the group in 2004, when the Rams were just four years removed from winning a Super Bowl in St Louis, but he has been a fan since watching the team as a kid in the 1960s. Once I saw the horns on the helmet, I was like, Im gonna follow them for the rest of my life, he said. They could be in Egypt. Thats still going to be my team.
Both LA teams are currently playing in temporary home stadiums the Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the permanent home of the University of Southern Californias football team; the Chargers at the 27,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park, which serves as the home for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer before moving to the $5bn SoFi Stadium in the suburb of Inglewood next year. There is hope that the opening of the stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in 2022 and is expected to host the main opening ceremony for the 2028 Summer Olympics, will deepen the bond between the teams and the city.