COSTA MESA – In their wake, they left cursing fans, smoldering jerseys and, in one extreme example, a guy willing to pay $2,000 to have lightning bolt tattoos removed from his shoulders.
That’s right. So scorned in San Diego were Chargers fans that a man named Alonso Rodriguez went from permanently devoted to eternally revolted.
Then, on Sunday, the team officially arrived here rebranded as Los Angeles and reborn as playoff hopefuls, the Chargers finally feeling something different than the hatred that paved their path north on the 5 Freeway.
Something very different, something as opposite, in fact, as a heart that’s beating and a heart that’s broken.
“Love,” defensive end Melvin Ingram said. “You feel love when you come out here. When we got off the bus, it was all love. That’s what you want. They welcomed us with open arms.”
I’ll pause right here long enough to allow San Diego, en masse, to upchuck. Open arms? Not two hours away, the Chargers were wished good riddance with clenched fists, save for the occasional extended middle finger.
An estimated 5,000 fans – waving signs, chanting names and screaming allegiance – greeted L.A.’s second NFL team to show up in as many years, the Chargers joining the Rams in a market once bankrupt but now bulging.
Sorry, but I’m still not convinced a ton of people in the Southland are all that passionate about the Chargers, at least compared to, let’s just say, the Raiders, whose fans are the type loyal enough to logo-tattoo their eyelids.
I am, however, willing to admit that everyone in attendance Sunday appeared to be absolutely smitten with the idea of this team’s relocation.
And that includes the person who showed up with a No. 00 Chargers jersey wrapped around his dog.
“It’s pretty surprising,” defensive end Joey Bosa said of the turnout. “We all questioned the amount of support we’d have in another city. It obviously showed up today.”
Philip Rivers called the crowd “awesome,” admitting, “I didn’t anticipate this,” the quarterback, as an 11-year NFL starter, paid to anticipate everything on and off the field.
When Rivers was a rookie in 2004, the Chargers had training camp at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Though he wasn’t around for the whole thing, Rivers does remember the general atmosphere.
“I think there were about 12 people there,” he said. “I’m serious. I think you could literally count 12 bodies there. So I wasn’t sure (about Sunday). But…