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Cursed Sports Cities in America: San Diego

When we think of the California teams, we think of the ones in the Bay Area (Oakland, San Francisco), and we obviously think of Los Angeles in all sports.  But we do often forget about the one just slightly south of Los Angeles and just right at the US/Mexico border and that’s San Diego.

We think of San Diego is more of the tourist haven, from the lovely weather to the beaches to their history to the San Diego Zoo & Sea World, to their great culinary scene.  And of course, we think of Ron Burgundy, where he has famously or infamously said “Stay classy, San Diego” or the other phrase besides stay classy.  San Diego is the 8th largest city in the nation (though 17th in the metropolitan area) and 2nd only to Los Angeles in the state.  So how come San Diego only has one professional sports team?

Cursed?  Perhaps.

I don’t do cities with only one current team, but San Diego is the exception.  From 1969-1984 San Diego boasted of having three professional sports teams, the Padres, the Chargers, and the San Diego Clippers (as before that the Rockets resided in San Diego for four seasons from 1967-1971).  Exits to the Rockets, Clippers, and then just 2 years ago, the Chargers gut-punched the town’s sports scene.  Unfortunately, the town has endured the two major teams that resided the longest, the Padres and Chargers heartache and just being snakebit.  So San Diego most definitely has that cursed mantra.

SAN DIEGO: SAN DIEGO PADRES (2 WORLD SERIES APPEARANCES), SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCE), SAN DIEGO ROCKETS, SAN DIEGO CLIPPERS: 0 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.

Padres

SAN DIEGO PADRES (2 WORLD SERIES APPEARANCES):  I think of the Padres as the party-poopers of the baseball world on a few issues. But first off, the Padres were just horrendous as an expansion team, not having a winning season from 1969-1981 and then the next two years of being right at .500, so really the Padres hold one of the worst runs to begin a franchise in any sport at that.  The one year San Diego finally breaks through was 1984, winning the NL West with a veteran group like Steve Garvey, Craig Nettles, Goose Gossage, and Ed Whitson while having youngsters like Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds.  They stunned the Cubs after being down 2-0 in the NLCS before being taken down by the 1984 Tigers, who many consider as one of the best teams in the modern baseball period.  However, fans were a bit disappointed in the World Series (save for fans of the Padres) as a Cubs/Tigers 84 World Series would have been bigger and some would say more competitive as Detroit took down San Diego in 5.  However, one of the highlights (and not for San Diego) was hearing Gossage tell manager Dick Williams he wanted to pitch to Gibson with a base open and runners on with one out, which led to Sparky Anderson screaming at Gibson that Gossage “didn’t want to walk you!” Two pitches later, Gibson smashed one into the upper deck at Tiger Stadium, thus building his October reputation.

After the World Series in 1984, San Diego fell back, being around a .500 or less team for most of their run from 85-97 including having one of the first fire sales (even before the Marlins made it famous), trading the likes of Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Greg Harris, all of whom were key contributors, but San Diego was screaming of financial issues and a rebuild was needed.  However, they made some key moves later, notably trading for Ken Caminiti, who would help the Padres win the NL West in 96, and then trading for Kevin Brown, who helped San Diego win in the NL in 98.  And much like the Padres in 1984, the 1998 Padres were bit of an unexpected bunch though they had a good team.  They won 98 games, beat the heavily favored Astros and Braves in the NLDS and NLCS respectively, before getting crushed by the Yankees, who like the 84 Tigers has been widely regarded as one of the best teams ever in modern times.  However, fans were disappointed that it was San Diego and not the Braves (which would have been a 1996 World Series rematch and a duel to see who was the team of the 90’s and had won 106 games) or even the Astros (who won 101 games and had traded for Randy Johnson while fans hoped to see the Killer B’s against the Bronx Bombers).  However, the next 5 years San Diego was in constant rebuild mode and finishing dead last in the West in four of the next five seasons.  After the Padres left Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium in 2003 and went into Petco Park, they experienced success of winning seasons from 04 to 07 including back-to-back division titles in 05 and 06.  However, the Padres failed to get out of the NLDS, losing to the Cardinals both years and just not competitive against St. Louis.

2007 stung at the end however. The Rockies got scorching hot, winning 12 of their final 13 games while San Diego didn’t do anything really wrong as they kept pace, but not as strong as the Rockies.  A one-game tiebreak between the Rockies and Padres in Colorado happened as it was a classic.  It was a back-and-forth game that went into 13 innings.  San Diego got a 2-run home run by Brian Giles in the 13th and then brought in the ever-so-reliable closer and Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, only to give up 3 runs, which the last one was controversial as many thought Matt Holliday did not touch the plate on the game-winning run, but was still ruled safe (truth be told, it is hard to see if he did).

The next two seasons San Diego went into full futility mode, losing 99 games in 08 and 87 games in 09.  The Padres stunned many when they had a big 2010 season and held the division in September, (and at one point in late August had a 6.5 game lead in the NL West) but a mini-collapse happened as the offense wasn’t consistent enough to score runs and the Padres were eliminated from the division on the final game of the season to the Giants.  Ever since, San Diego’s presence in baseball has been irrelevant, as they’ve been at the bottom of the NL West.

So from a historical side, of the Padres, they just have not mustered many successful seasons and the ones that are memorable, end with a resounding thud.  Then you have the logos: we remember the swinging friar, which was a little comical and hokey, but it was their thing.  I guess because it was too comical and the Padres struggled so badly during that major time period, they changed it to a generic one where it just said the team name on it.  First in brown and orange and then blue and orange.  Then the Padres experimented with a logo where it said the team name inside home plate with ocean waves also inside it.  They went back and just kept it simple with the SD interlocking, but still, the logos somewhat kept the identity of the team: bland.  The uniforms while today’s fans have gone into nostalgia, were pretty rough to see.  The brown and yellow jerseys were a bit of a mess while having a reminiscent look of what fast food places wore.  Also, bland.

Petco

The Padres venues have been ridiculed as well.  Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium as when the Padres were playing there was regarded as one of the worst ballparks for its cavernous feel (multi-purpose stadium) and just a large slab of concrete as many pointed out.  When the Padres moved to Petco Park, fans were happy with the move as it was a gem of a park, but one problem: they had massive dimensions.  Players the Padres acquired to net offense saw their numbers drop tremendously.  Brian Giles, who was a constant 30 HR threat with the Pirates came over saw his power numbers take a decline (though his first season at Petco was good).  The same could have been said for Ryan Klesko, Carlos Quentin (though his was more of injury), and others.  Many viewed Petco as a place where offense goes to die and a 3-2 game would be considered a slugfest.  It also meant the Padres would have trouble attracting players as free agents and the only way to bring hitters in was to make trades (like they did for Matt Kemp and Justin Upton).  However, the Padres did push in the fences, but many view it as not as strong and remain as one of the most offensively inept teams in all of baseball.  Some credit Petco Park for that.

CURSED MOVE:  Oh boy.  I don’t remember any major move that the Padres have done where they gave up somebody big and then have that somebody just flat-out produce.  But it may be what the Padres did before the 2015 season as they opted to go “all-in,” trading for Dodgers star Matt Kemp, Braves slugger Justin Upton and lights out closer Craig Kimbrel, young star Wil Myers from Tampa Bay, and then signing durable starter (and as my friend calls him a bulldog) James Shields to a 4-year contract.  San Diego hoped the moves as well as seeing Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko would come into their own would increase fan interest, where it was near the bottom in 2014 and also be a competitive squad.  However, it never panned out.  While Kemp and Upton had good years for the Padres but Myers was injured a good bit, Shields didn’t live up to the lofty expectations, and Alonso/Gyorko never got over that hump.  The Padres lost 90 and save for Myers, most of that team is long gone.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  I’m debating the Gossage/Gibson encounter in the 1984 World Series or the Holliday slide/no slide against the Rockies in 2007 were the two ones that really stick out in Padres history.  I have to lean towards the Holliday slide given it was controversial and the Padres were still in one of their strongest runs.

CURSED RATING: 5/5 (VERY CURSED)

Chargers

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1961-2016; 1 SUPER BOWL):  The Chargers actually started in Los Angeles in 1960 but moved in 61.  They were always considered a threat from their early days and the 60’s were one of the tops of the AFL (champions in 1963).  However the 70’s weren’t as nice until the end of it.  San Diego was a common team at the bottom of the standings in the AFC.  However, in the late 70’s thanks to the likes of Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow the Chargers were near the front of the AFC, alongside the likes of the Steelers and Raiders.  They also had a classic game against Miami in the Orange Bowl and the famed moment of seeing Winslow, exhausted after a monster day for the Chargers as they stunned Miami.   However, despite that great moment a week later the Chargers got blistered in Cincinnati (nicknamed the Freezer Bowl where the game started in sub zero temperatures and wind chills of negative 30 degrees and worse) in the AFC Championship game.  So in other words the Chargers had a nearly 130 degree flip from one week to the next.  The loss was the 2nd straight year of the Chargers coming up one game short of the Super Bowl.

After that run, the Chargers went into futility, being near the bottom of the AFC West from 83-91.  However they had another small run with Stan Humphries, Natrone Means, and Junior Seau from 92-95 where 1994 was the pinnacle moment, stunning Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship only to get obliterated by the 49ers in the Super Bowl XXIX.  And much like the Padres in 84 and 98, fans were disappointed to see them and not their counterpart as it would have been a 49ers/Steelers Super Bowl (and it would have been big as both teams at that point had won 4 Super Bowls out of 4 tries and it would have been a debate to see who was the greatest NFL franchise in Super Bowl history).

However, after the run, San Diego fell off fast and was plagued by having drafted Ryan Leaf in the 1998 Draft.  As San Diego hoped he’d be the answer at quarterback, similar to Dan Fouts and Stan Humphries, he was anything but.  Leaf underperformed, got into it with the local media, teammates, and everything under the sun it seemed.  It would haunt the Chargers for a good while.  However when the dust was settled, the Chargers did get back to the playoffs with the likes of Drew Brees, LaDanian Tomlinson, and others in 2004, but a 40-yard FG miss by kicker Nate Kaeding in OT cost the Chargers a win.  2 years later, Tomlinson won MVP and the Chargers were considered favorites in the AFC for the Super Bowl.  However, after having an early lead on the Patriots and having an 8-point lead the Chargers had one of the craziest things happen as Marlon McCree picked Tom Brady off on a 4th down play (Brady threw three INT’s in that game) but Troy Brown stripped McCree and the Patriots recovered.  The Pats scored and converted a 2-point conversion to tie the game.  San Diego couldn’t move the ball on their next drive and ended up allowing New England to kick the game-winning FG.  They had one more chance but Kaeding’s FG came up short and the Chargers blew it.

San Diego had homefield in 2009 for the AFC, as they had now Philip Rivers at quarterback and Tomlinson in his last year with the Chargers as they saw the young and arrogant New York Jets squad.  The Chargers had a strong offense, and a solid defense while the Jets had a strong run game and a stronger defense.  The Chargers mustered to get on New York’s field on numerous chances, but Kaeding missed three FG’s and some shrewd moves by Rex Ryan in that game gave another Chargers heartbreaking loss.  It would also be the last playoff home game San Diego saw.  The next few years the Chargers remained hovering around the .500 mark but no playoff appearances and the last two seasons saw stinkers, including 2016 where they went 5-11 and probably saw numerous ways to lose a game in the 4th (whether it was 4 INT’s in the 4th by Rivers, a 63-yard bomb with a minute left, blowing a 24-10 lead, etc.)

And then they moved to Los Angeles because San Diego didn’t want to pay for a new stadium.  A place that the fans wanted no part of the Chargers.  How bad is it when you relocate a team to a city that doesn’t want you and you still move them because the current city wasn’t an option anymore?

CURSED MOVE:  Obviously Ryan Leaf is it, though some Chargers fans probalby think drafting Kaeding is near there for all his playoff failures.  But Leaf set the tone of people not wanting to play in San Diego.  The Chargers had the top pick in 01 and 04 and had Michael Vick and Eli Manning on their sights.  Vick, while never coming out and saying he wanted to play or didn’t want to play for the Chargers, seemed lukewarm on going to San Diego and Manning pouted like a 3-year old and refusing to play a snap for San Diego if they drafted him.  That said, those drafts also netted Drew Brees in 2001 (though his career in San Diego was up and down), Tomlinson (part of the Vick trade) and Philip Rivers (who was traded for Eli).  But I guess when the Chargers believed they had the best QB in the 98 Draft in Leaf, even over Peyton Manning.  However, Leaf was a head case and severely hurt the team where instead of drafting players to build around him for a Super Bowl run, they had to find two franchise quarterbacks in six years.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  Has to be the McCree INT/fumble, though Kaeding’s stinker game agianst the Jets ranks up there as it solidified the Chargers as being a truly snakebit team.

CURSED RATING: 5/5 (VERY CURSED)

Clippers

SAN DIEGO ROCKETS/SAN DIEGO CLIPPERS: I’ll sum it up easy on both of them: 10 seasons among them: 1 playoff.

Despite seeing the likes of future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, Calvin Murphy, and Rudy Tomjanovich, the Rockets didn’t amount to much, and the attendance dropped poorly.   And the Rockets were moved to Houston.  T

As for the Clippers, they were a 2nd chance as the Braves moved from Buffalo (also another cursed sports town).  However, they never made the playoffs in their time in San Diego.  The lone highlight was getting World B. Free, who could score.  And they brought in an aging Bill Walton on top of it, but was oft-injured.  Attendance dipped again as the Clippers played poorly and Donald Sterling bought them and moved them to Los Angeles.

CURSED MOVES: The only one to me and this is before my time was the Clippers trading Free to Golden State for Phil Smith (not a bad piece but no Free) and a first round draft pick (Lancaster Gordon).  Gordon never panned out for the Clippers, but by this time they had moved to Los Angeles.  Interesting note: The Sixers traded Free to the Clippers for a 1984 first round pick.  That pick?  Charles Barkley.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I’ll admit, I wasn’t around to know what was the cursed on-court moment for the Clippers or Rockets.  So I’m going with Donald Sterling buying the Clippers.  And honestly, I don’t think the Clippers were cursed for moving to San Diego as San Diego is cursed for even having the Clippers.  Let’s face it, even with the Clippers leaving San Diego, they still remain a major joke in the NBA, even when they’ve had decent seasons.

CURSED RATING: 3/5 (RELATIVELY CURSED-despite the struggles and such, you lose two NBA teams, similar to Atlanta with NHL teams, but there was nothing really earth-shattering the Rockets or Clippers had happen to them while in San Diego).

San Diego is definitely a cursed spot for teams.  Most of them leave whether it is poor attendance (Rockets/Clippers) or stadium deals that don’t happen (Chargers).  It’s unfortunate a city has to go through that, but it is too much not to keep them from being cursed as a sports city.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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