Here is some classified information on the San Diego Chargers: Last Saturday's edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune included 75 want-ad listings from people wanting to buy—or, in a few rare cases, sell—tickets to the loam's home game the next afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, that's news. For most of the past decade, Charger tickets have been about as coveted in San Diego as mittens. A matchup of these two teams only two years ago in San Diego, for the season opener, no less, left 15,641 seats unsold.
Ah, but San Diego had reeled off four wins to open this season, a feat no Charger team had accomplished since 1980. And now here were the Chiefs, the defending AFC West champions, led by 38-year-old Joe Montana and 34-year-old Marcus Allen, coming to Jack Murphy Stadium. No wonder it was the hottest ticket in town, hotter even than another geriatric team that was playing the Murph the following week: the Rolling Stones.
At least two fans, proving you can't always get what you want, offered to swap their Stones tickets for Charger tickets. Not a tempting deal, that one: A field-level ticket for the game fetched up to $275, while the going rate to see the Stones from the same perch was $125. Who could keep his bearings in all this excitement? Certainly not the person who offered Stones tickets on the "50-yard line."
Charger fans have gone nuts over the Bolts. The hibachis were fired up as early as 9:30 in the morning in the stadium parking lot, and fans who arrived later than that found themselves in an unaccustomed traffic snarl. That included several former players who were to be honored as part of Alumni Day but didn't make it in time for the pregame ceremonies. Hey, the old days were never like this.
All told, a crowd of 62,923 was accounted for—the most people ever to watch a Charger home game—and the throng created enough noise to actually give the Chargers a home field advantage. Center Courtney Hall, whose six years in San Diego are second only to the nine years put in by defensive end Leslie O'Neal, could recall nothing like it for a regular-season game at the Murph. "Not since I've been here," he said. "Then again, they haven't had much to cheer about."
The Chargers hadn't beaten the Chiefs since 1989, and Hall and O'Neal were the only current San Diego players still around from the team that pulled off the victory. Since then, the Chargers had lost eight straight regular-season games to Kansas City. This is a franchise that has qualified for the playoffs once in the previous 11 seasons. So who knew if the Chargers could keep winning? Not even their general manager, who on Friday afternoon admitted to nervousness. "I know we're a pretty good team," Bobby Beathard said. "But I know the Chiefs are a real good team. We're trying to get to the Chiefs' level, in terms of what they've accomplished, and this is part of the test of getting there. People are watching to see how we handle being the only undefeated team and in a game this big."
Alas, the commemorative uniforms won't be worn again (the players are allowed to keep them), though a deli owner in Mission Valley, Calif., collected nearly 5,000 signatures on a petition asking the club to adopt them permanently.
Suitably attired, the Chargers played a near flawless game: no sacks allowed, no interceptions thrown, one fumble, one penalty for five yards, and a score on each of the four possessions when the offense got inside Kansas City's 20-yard line. The Chargers finally graduated from the surprise team of the NFL to one of its elite.
"K.C. has been a team we haven't been able to get off our backs," tackle Harry Swayne said afterward. "We talked about it all week. It's time for us to get over the hump. Well, we did it. That was a big step for this team. We've shown a lot of toughness in five games."
San Diego already has swept the AFC West, beating the Seattle Seahawks by 14 on the road and coming from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Raiders—also away from home. "People said, 'Yeah, you beat the Broncos, but maybe they're not so good,' and they said the same thing about the Raiders," said Means. "This game sends the message around the league that the Chargers are for real."