Once upon a time, the Chargers were the toast of professional football. After playing their initial season in the American Football League in Los Angeles, the franchise moved to San Diego and was one of the more innovative teams in the sport.

charging through the nil, chargersAfter being the only NFL team in southern California for two decades, the Chargers now find themselves sharing the same (and unenthusiastic) Los Angeles fan base with the newly relocated Rams, and are temporarily consigned to playing in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium.

The Chargers’ announcement this week of their return to L.A. after 56 years was an expedient move, hotly denounced in local and national sports media even though it was expected.

News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture

Also In This Issue: A College Football Thriller; Black Sports History Exhibit; Best Sports Books For Business; Remembering Graham Taylor

Years after Chargers president Dean Spanos began demanding a new publicly-financed stadium, and with San Diego officials refusing to buckle, he finally absconded to the nation’s second-largest media market. A deadline was set to expire on a dirt-cheap lease offer to play second fiddle in a new stadium being built for the Rams, who left St. Louis this time a year ago just as swiftly.

The Chargers also unveiled a lazy, uninspiring new logo that was quickly changed after public mockery.

The Chargers’ halcyon days are long-gone, and recent seasons have been especially dispiriting, as the franchise has sagged into on-field futility and front office indifference. It’s easy to forget how important the Chargers have been to the development of pro football, especially on the offensive side of the ball.sid gillman, chargers

Coach Sid Gillman’s wide-open, passing style was in stark contrast to the ground-oriented NFL. The Chargers won the 1963 AFL championship featuring the Hall of Fame wide receiver Lance Alworth and set the tone for a more entertaining style of play in a league that went head-to-head with its stodgier rival for players and fans.

After the AFL-NFL merger, the Chargers’ “Air Coryell” offense, with quarterback Dan Fouts at the controls and Kellen Winslow as his main target, was one of the most proficient and exciting in the game during the 1980s.

LaDainian Tomlinson’s running exploits and the stellar linebacking play of the late Junior Seau revived the Chargers in the last couple of decades, but the possibility of returning to Los Angeles had long been on the minds of the Spanos brass.

With the Raiders threatening to move back to L.A., Spanos beat them to the punch, and just in the nick of time. The Raiders reportedly have secured financing to leave Oakland for a second time, where a new stadium was not in the cards, and apparently will move instead to Las Vegas.

Whether the Chargers’ return to L.A. smacks of NFL desperation or not, as some have suggested, loyal fan bases in two California cities are feeling burned.

So some have taken to burning tangible things about a team they once loved, and whose notable history has become even more of an afterthought than their affinities.

A Few Good Reads

  • For the second year in a row, Clemson and Alabama put on a College Football Playoff championship game masterpiece, good all the way down to the very last second;
  • But is there a coming bubble for the seemingly resilient college football television financial juggernaut? We’ve heard this before;
  • Here’s one writer’s solution for college football games lasting longer than four hours, which in prime time often means endings well past midnight on the East coast;
  • What are the best sports books for business? There are some good recommendations here, but this could have been a longer list;home and away
  • First-year Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton is his father’s son, to a certain degree. This is a very different version of “The Waltons” than you may have watched in the 1970s;
  • Last summer’s Brexit vote in the U.K. may have an effect on English county cricket, whose teams occasionally invoke a European Union clause that allows South African players to skirt foreign roster limits;
  • Among the selections of a new suggested soccer and literature reading list is “Home and Away,” correspondence between novelists Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund that included their observations on the 2014 World Cup;
  • The average person killed in skiing accidents in the U.S. isn’t a novice or tourist, but rather a skilled thrill-seeker who takes more risks than usual;
  • The father of Derek Boogaard, the late NHL tough-man whose tragic death prompted John Branch’s reporting and book “Boy On Ice,” is working to ban fighting in professional hockey.

Sports History Files

  • The National Museum of African-American History and Culture has been a smashing hit since its recent opening in Washington, and it includes a sports exhibit, “Leveling the Playing Field,” which figures to be among the more popular draws. Curator Damion Thomas says the objective is to go far beyond the obvious inclusions—Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, etc.—and further back in history than the modern age of sports: “The greatest beauty of this museum is that we can recapture history that’s been lost or forgotten, or even denied;”
  • One of the last remaining former Negro League ballparks in America is getting a $50,000 restoration grant. Hamtramck Stadium, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was the home venue for the Detroit Stars during the 1930s;
  • Molly Schiot also went beyond the usual subjects for her new book “Game Changers,” about women’s sports and history, and admits that “I almost didn’t want to put anyone that was famous in the book . . . the vast majority of people that have gotten the book know maybe three percent of the people in the book;”
  • In the late 1960s, FC Nuremberg won the German Bundesliga, then crashed into relegation a year later. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s rather spectacular;
  • The New York Islanders honored announcer Jiggs McDonald, who’s marking his 50th year behind a hockey microphone, with a ceremonial dropping of the puck before a game this week;
  • The Philadelphia Flyers are marking their 50th anniversary this season, but it’s been more than 40 years since their glory years as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions;
  • The very first Super Bowl was played exactly 50 years ago today, on Jan. 15, 1967, and the halftime show at the L.A. Coliseum might have been the most novel part of the event.

Passings

Graham Taylor, 72, was one of the more accomplished managers in English professional football, and earned the loyalty of many of his players in stints with Watford, Aston Villa and Wolves. But it was his tenure as the last manager of an England team that failed to qualify for the World Cup (USA 1994) that also hangs over his legacy. Some of the reaction was unfairly mean-spirited, but he was sanguine about it all before the last World Cup: “What I experienced taught me a lot about life and human nature.”

The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 69. published Jan. 15, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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