SAN DIEGO (AP) — This could be awkward. Or oh-so-charming, depending on one’s point of view.
Imagine an Oakland Raiders fan, decked out in his finest game-day decadence of skulls, bones and other scary things, giving a bro hug to a San Diego Chargers fan wearing his powder blue Philip Rivers jersey and flip-flops, in between swigs of beer in the parking lot on Sunday.
OK, so maybe the lovefest will be limited to the owners’ boxes.
The vibe around the rivalry that dates to 1960 between original AFL members is different this year. Loyal fans on both sides are uneasy about the prospect of losing their beloved teams because their owners are focused on trying to win the race to tap Los Angeles’ riches.
Apparently spooked by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s intended move to Inglewood, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis hopped into the proverbial SoCal hot tub together. They announced plans to build a stadium on the site of a former toxic waste dump in Carson, in the shadow of a refinery, if sweetheart deals for new stadiums don’t materialize in their current home markets.
The Raiders have done this before, moving to Los Angeles in 1982 and then back to Oakland after the 1994 season.
In San Diego, fans feel they’ve been curb-stomped by Spanos and point man Mark Fabiani, a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles. Many feel the Carson ploy is an elaborate bluff, designed to give the Bolts even more leverage than they’ve enjoyed over City Hall. The Chargers walked away from negotiations for a new stadium in mid-June and have insulted Mayor Kevin Faulconer, with Fabiani calling Faulconer’s approach “remarkably unsophisticated.”
So much drama, so much trauma.
“All that stuff goes to upstairs and the big room. Right now I just focus on playing football and my teammates are focusing on trying to get the win this week,” said Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett, whose brother, Tre, is a customer service rep for the Raiders.
Here are some things to look for when the Bolts (2-4), wearing their powder blue throwbacks, host the Raiders (2-3) at aging Qualcomm Stadium:
RIVERS REDUX: Rivers is coming off an epic performance in a gut-wrenching, 27-20 loss at Green Bay. He set team records by completing 43 of 65 passes for 503 yards. He couldn’t get the final 3 yards to tie the game, though, as his pass to Danny Woodhead in the closing seconds was batted down by rookie cornerback Damarious Randall.
“I feel good. I’m just still sick, really, to be honest with you,” Rivers said. “I’ve moved on. I’m ready for this week. All those things, you want to win the game. I’ve thought way more about the lack of plays and the plays I should have made than the ones we made. They all go for naught, other than I think it should give us great confidence as an offense.”
Rivers leads the NFL with 177 attempts, 253 completions and 2,116 yards.
CARMEN POLICY’S MEGAMARKET: One of the biggest punches to the gut for San Diego fans came in August, when former NFL executive Carmen Policy, who’s marshaling the Carson effort, said: “The Chargers and Raiders are committed to Los Angeles.” Policy, who got into salary cap trouble when he ran the San Francisco 49ers years ago, envisions a “megamarket” stretching from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.
Asked if he thinks Chargers fans would drive to Carson to cheer on the beloved Bolts, Policy said: “We don’t expect it but we’re going to work on it. We’re hoping they’re going to follow the Chargers to Southern California.” Um, Carmen, they’re already in SoCal.
BYE BLUES: The Raiders are coming off their bye week. While the extra rest might be good for some teams, it has historically not been beneficial for the Raiders. Oakland has lost 11 of its last 12 post-bye games, including at home against San Diego last season. The only win in that span came in 2013 against Pittsburgh.
TALE OF TWO HALVES: Raiders rookie receiver Amari Cooper has been a completely different player in the first half compared to the second. Oakland has done a good job getting Cooper involved early and he has caught 18 passes for 311 yards and two TDs before halftime, with his 62.2 yards receiving per game the most in the NFL. Cooper has just 10 catches for 75 yards after halftime as defenses adjust and Michael Crabtree plays a bigger role in the offense. Coach Jack Del Rio said the team will try to get him more involved, within reason.
“We’re not going to do anything crazy,” Del Rio said. “I think the read just took it away from him on a few occasions, but certainly there are opportunities to make sure the guy stays involved and we’ll look to make sure that happens.”
HANG ON, MELVIN: Chargers rookie RB Melvin Gordon is looking for redemption after being benched Sunday, when he fumbled twice, losing one.
“I am eager to go out there and just prove to myself and prove to everyone that I can take care of the football and I can go out there and do what they need,” said Gordon, who has lost three of his four fumbles this season.