Chargers leave for Arizona with lots on their minds
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers boarded a plane for Phoenix on Tuesday night, not knowing where or when they'll play their next game.
They left town because of the wildfires that chased many in the organization out of their homes, fouled the air and left Sunday's scheduled home game against the Houston Texans in doubt.
Their superstar running back knows his home survived the firestorm. Their general manager hasn't heard if he'll have a house to come home to.
While they spent Monday taking care of their families, it was time to get back to business.
"We need to get ready to play football," said general manager A.J. Smith, who evacuated his home and doesn't know if it's still standing.
The Chargers will practice at the Arizona Cardinals' headquarters in Tempe on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They packed for any eventuality, since the NFL and the Chargers are still debating what to do about Sunday's game.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the options for Chargers-Texans include playing the game in Los Angeles, at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium -- the Cardinals' former home -- at Texas Stadium in Dallas or Reliant Stadium, the Texans' home field.
Qualcomm Stadium is being used as an evacuation center. An estimated 10,000 people were there on Tuesday, under smoky skies.
"Our attitude is, we're going to practice for three days, and give us a buzz and let us know where we're going," Smith said as the Chargers lined up at their headquarters to board buses to the airport. "Wherever it is, or whatever day it is, we'll do the best we can to get a victory against Houston. That's where it's at."
The Cardinals have a bye Sunday, and their stadium, located in Glendale, is scheduled to host a motorcycle show Friday through Sunday afternoon.
Qualcomm Stadium general manager Erik Stover said the building can be ready to host an NFL game by Sunday, but it all depends on when the fires are contained.
"The longer it goes, the less likely," Stover said. "We're an evacuation site until we're no longer needed."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been meeting with Chargers president Dean Spanos and others. Goodell said the options include playing the game in Los Angeles, at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium -- the Cardinals' former home -- at Texas Stadium in Dallas or Reliant Stadium, the Texans' home field.
The precedent for playing at Reliant Stadium would be the New Orleans Saints playing a "home" game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands after Hurricane Katrina. That move was later criticized.
Regardless, flying to Arizona is a drill familiar to 15 players on the active roster.
Four years ago to the week, the Chargers were forced to move a Monday night game against Miami -- and Junior Seau's much-anticipated homecoming -- to Tempe on short notice because of deadly wildfires. As it is now, Qualcomm was being used as an evacuation center and the air quality was awful.
"It's a little weird," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "It wasn't expected. Two times in my career. You're just thankful you haven't lost a house. This is the closest I've come to losing one, though. It was burning on my property line."
Tomlinson and his wife had to flee their suburban home early Monday.
"I could see the fires coming," said Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP. "You wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning. You get the phone call, 'You need to evacuate.' I see the sky was orange, so I'm like, 'It's serious.'
"You just adapt to it and deal with it. Everybody is. Look at all those people over there at the stadium."
Some 46 players, coaches and staff members had to evacuate, including coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rivers said smoke was coming under the doors of his suburban home, and he and his wife and three young daughters got out before the evacuation orders came. He said his house was OK.
"It was scary," Rivers said. "A lot of us haven't experienced it. A lot of us were not here in 2003. It's such an unknown, too. You don't know what it's doing."
Rivers said the players are in a good frame of mind.
"All our families are safe. That's what's most important. Obviously we feel for the people that were more directly affected. There is going to be a game this week. We've got to put all the focus there. From what I gather, we've all been able to do that."
While the Chargers would love to be back in town Sunday, they know it's out of their control.
"Again, you can let it affect you really as much as you allow it to," Rivers said. "It's an unfortunate situation, but again, it can be more unfortunate. We're all safe, and for the most part, everybody's home is safe. We could be in the position like a lot of people are in the county, that are worse off."
The Chargers (3-3) are coming off their bye. After a stunning three-game losing streak, they righted many of their early season wrongs by routing the Broncos 41-3 in Denver and then beating the Oakland Raiders 28-14 at home behind Tomlinson's 198 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Turner was Miami's offensive coordinator in 2003, when the Chargers had to move their Monday night game to Tempe. The Dolphins flew into San Diego on Sunday evening, then to Phoenix the next day. The Chargers, who weren't very good back then, were flat and lost to the Dolphins, 26-10.
"If we prepare properly, all the other things are irrelevant," Turner said. "Obviously, with the way we started, we don't have a lot of room to have a setback. So we have to focus in and we have to do a great job in the next three days."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
Despite more than a dozen wildfires in Southern California, conditions have improved enough for the Chargers and Texans to still play their game in San Diego. The shifting flames have burned across nearly 600 square miles, destroying nearly 2,000 homes and prompting evacuations from north of Los Angeles, through San Diego to the Mexican border.
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