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The Los Angeles Chargers were granted a rare (for them, anyway) opportunity to show the world that they matter, that they are unworthy of the jokes leveled at them since forever, are and totally worthy of your admiration and attention. They paid off big-time, except in the one place you knew they wouldn’t.

A breakout win against a big-time opponent would have finally made them upper-case R Relevant to a skeptical world. Instead, they ended up out on their arses yet again, close but not close enough, wearing the blank face of rewardless exhaustion that is their secondary logo, only worse than that because Donald Parham Jr. incurred a horrifying injury on the fifth play of the game whose true scope we do not know but forces us to consider the worst.

This was, to put it clearly, their chance to jam both index fingers in the eyes of the other owners who allowed them to leave San Diego, come to Los Angeles, and then mocked them unmercifully to the point of using word-of-mouth to undo their relocation. This was their chance to then replace their index fingers with middle fingers as the first step in a long plan to replace those with ring fingers and kick Stan Kroenke’s overprotected ass up and down Highway 5 until Dustin Hopkins’s leg fell off.

But no. They lost 34-28 in overtime to the best-ever views of Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, without ever doing anything with the ball but kicking it to the masters of their doom. No last chance for Justin Herbert to amuse and amaze as the closest version yet to Mahomes that this nation has seen, only the tired and stupid old “they scored too soon” bromide that ought to come with a free kick in the throat for every user, in tandem with the less annoying because it’s far more accurate: “Same old Chargers.”

First, though, this disclaimer. Leaving San Diego was a disgraceful act, and for those folks who cannot let that go, we fully understand and support you. You did and are doing the right thing by hating him, even if it means neglecting your children and relatives.

But in a world of graded evil, Dean Spanos has done less to offend the gods than Stan Kroenke has just by waking up every day, resuming the purposeful intake of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide, getting dressed, having breakfast, and going out to face a grim new day with that mirthless smile that looks like a vandalized cemetery. In the fight for Los Angeles that rightly should go to “Neither, as fate intended,” I’ll take the Chargers if only because it will ruin the NFL’s actual plan of surrendering it all to Kroenke Hellscape LLC.

Let’s remember first how Los Angeles became infested with football teams again after 21 years of glorious nothingness. The Chargers were trying to blackjack a stadium they neither needed nor deserved out of the sensible folks of San Diego, who told them repeatedly to piss off. Northward, the Oakland Raiders, in a more shambolic stadium but in fairness also a more shambolic operation (the logo of the eye-patched pirate was close to having its other eye similarly closed to be spared any more views of this decrepit carcass), and Spanos and Mark Davis (Jesus on two sticks, what a pair to draw) merged desperations and offered the league a two-team solution to its no-team problem. The league through its subsidiary, Treacherous Bastards All, told Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels they were in, then stabbed them in the front by letting Kroenke breeze in under cover of boardroom fluorescents. They then told Carrey, er, Spanos he could come to L.A. himself without Daniels, er, Davis in a year if San Diego did the sensible thing and told him to piss off one more time, which to their eternal yet painful credit they did, and to his eternal shame he did.

So they went north, got stuck in a small soccer stadium, and while they did eventually bring back the undisputedly best uniforms in the league, they were mocked relentlessly as an unnecessary burden on people who didn’t watch them but liked complaining about their hapless state. They ignored the facts that 1) the league brought this ridiculous state upon themselves and deserved to have it all decompose in a heap at Roger Goodell’s satanic hooves, 2) that Kroenke is never the one you root for in any situation, even if the opponent is a pack of rabid dingoes, and 3) that Kroenke is actually way worse than that, and that dingoes deserve higher quality prey. The Chargers may suck, but at boardroom level the Rams power-vacuum far more.

But slowly and maybe even surely, the Chargers built an offense with multiple weapons, a defense that is generous enough to make all the offense’s work necessary, and a history of soul-eviscerating defeats that make them both detestable in Bordertown and pitiable everywhere else. Herbert and Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams and those baby blues simply deserve better as a reward befitting the glorious entertainment they provide us all in these gray-on-pewter times.

Instead, they lost Parham to a horrific injury and the game to a coin, and missed their chance to potentially be listed as the second-best team in a conference that has mocked it in a league that has shunned it and in a nation that can use all the fun they can provide in exchange for just a bit more appreciation than it’s gotten. Not a lot more; leaving San Diego must have its lingering tax bill. But some.

They did, however, gives us new arguments about the value of analytics that sensible people thought had passed long ago but are re-raised weekly by we-need-Vince-Lombardi-back-by-cracky TV analysts who view math the way kids view lima beans. Now there’s a fresh new hell we don’t need on top of the Omicron variant that has relocated old veins of as-yet-unmined stupidity. Frankly, for all the electrified wonder and joy the Chargers offered Thursday, we all deserved a better result, not because the Chiefs are unworthy, but because this team needed their breakout moment far more.