Updated: Jan 25
Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, made famous by Willie Nelson, but written by Patsy and Ed Bruce, is a half-century-old song that cautions mothers about the attendant pain that awaits the life of a cowboy.
According to the song, a life of cowboy'n can only result in vagrancy, heartache, loneliness, and poverty. A cowboy's life is one you should steer clear of if possible. A hard life.
The same lament might be more familiar in the form of this meme:
When Baron Hilton named his new American Football League franchise 'Chargers' in 1960, the name, suggested by someone in a naming contest, appealed to the hotel magnate for its adaptability, multiplicity, and obscurity.
A Charger is:
1: a person or a thing that charges.
2: a horse of a kind, suitable to be ridden in battle. literary: a horse that a knight or soldier rides in battle.
3: electricity. an apparatus that charges storage batteries. a device that is used to add electricity.
Hilton liked the bugle being blown at USC Trojan games and the crowd's enthusiastic response, "CHARGE!" a tradition the team continues at home games sixty years later.
Webster's Dictionary does not include any definition nor mention of Chargering and I will not make further of it here. But if you are reading this then I would assume that you are aware of how poorly the Wildcard Playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars ended.
The lightning bolts were on the wrong side of history (again) becoming the first team to lose a game in which they won the turnover battle 5-0. The 27 point lead that the team squandered en route to losing 31-30 is not the biggest comeback in NFL history. It was the third biggest.
"So your guys got the bronze?" is how my girlfriend phrased it.
Loving a thing passionately inevitably means that losing the thing hurts. Passionately.
In the aftermath, the sting of losing can make one question their decision to ever love the thing in the first place. Their spectrum of emotions swinging recklessly from anger to jealousy, regret, denial, guilt and shame before running the gamut again in a cycle.
Modernity affords us the luxury, or perhaps burden, of sharing that pain with an infinite amount of other people. How is Reddit dealing with the latest Charger meltdown? How is Twitter? How are the Salties doing down in San Diego?
With a few clicks on your phone you have can access a whole swath of individuals eager to commiserate in your pain—or exalt in it. If we are keeping the receipts, then you know that they are. Trolls cannot wait to revisit an exposed take to make sure that you are suffering to the degree that they feel is germane. If it is not, rest assured that they will tell you; just as we would.
The hours turn to days. The days turn to months. Coaches are fired. New players get drafted. The memory of the loss fades; facts, statistics, blame, and repercussions metastasize into narrative. The opinions of the pundits, podcasters, and fans are like assholes; everyone has one.
The assholes, err...I mean, the opinions seem to be pointing towards a public lynching. If I had a nickel for every tweet on my timeline that read: Fire Staley, then I would find myself going to a Super Bowl before my beloved Chargers ever will.
Personally, I have never been comfortable calling for someone's head. It is not my job as a fan to hire a coach, or a general manager, although it seems like that lack of presumption puts me in the minority.
Tempering your outrage online has become a signifier of weakness. I've been accused of settling for being a "weak ass" (fill in the blank) whenever someone's grievance with the team fails to rise to my own definition of embarrassment.
As the Chargers were losing their grasp on the game I never once thought about the organizational stigma that Chargering has come to define. I promise that none of the players were thinking about the Holy Roller, 4th-and 29, or Marlon McRee as the Jaguars roared back.
"I don't even have any words for it right now. I have been playing football for 21 years and I ain't never felt nothing like this." -Derwin James
This ain't my first rodeo. By the tenor of his voice, and the tears in his eyes, you can see that it was Derwin's.
Our heroes are trapped acting out a tragedy of their own making. The names on the back of the jerseys change; the faces in the seats morph anonymously; the tomfoolery, the shenanigans, the mismanagement all seem familiar, but they are not.
No, this team creates fresh story lines that dishearten their most fervent devotees in newfangled ways that confound the oldest and most jaded among us. You can't make this stuff up.
If you told me before the Jaguars Wildcard game that the Chargers would win the turnover battle 5-0 and score thirty points then I would have bet you my kidney that they would have won. Hell, I would have purchased tickets to Arrowhead and secured accommodations in Missouri. Actually, I might have done that anyway.
As we all have been picking up the pieces and putting ourselves back together I've been thinking about a taco shop in San Diego that I patronized twelve years ago this week.
I was there to meet a friend and to pay off a bet after the Chargers had lost a playoff game to the New York Jets. Not only did the 2009 Bolts (13-3) fail to cover the nine point spread, they lost to a rookie quarterback named Mark Sanchez 17-14 in a game where All Pro kicker Nate Keating missed three field goals.
The shame of the loss was compounded for me by the fact that the home crowd curdled in the final quarter to the point that they booed a one yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. Frustration towards the play-calling is one thing, but booing one of the greatest players of all-time in what would be his final game played in San Diego is something else.
Though complexity and rationale exists for the crowd's behavior that day, you cannot dispute the fact: The last time LT touched the ball in San Diego, he was booed. I know. I was there.
Did I boo? I'm certain that I did not. My idolatry of Tomlinson bordered on religious in nature and remain acutely aware of how ashamed I was for him.
Writing that sentence should illustrate how deeply I've allowed myself to suffer the emotional roller-coaster of fandom.
The high when the team rewards us should come with the disclaimer: CAUTION! The tether to your emotional well-being tugs in the opposite direction too.
History is written by the winners. Losers remember the gaffes. Losers lament opportunities squandered. Losers want to write 2K words about how Joey Bosa can't elicit a single holding penalty in sixty minutes of a playoff game with the frame-by-frame breakdowns and photographs of the choke-holds as proof! Emphasis on breakdown —as if breaking down film could somehow atone for Bosa's.
Like everyone else wearing lightning bolts, Bosa was coping with his inability to stem the tide. Like us, he was powerless to.
Twelve years ago the owner of that taco shop in San Diego had a sign printed as he dealt with his own feelings of powerlessness.
The sign he had posted read: I will wear a Chargers jersey every day of the year until the Chargers win the Super Bowl or until I die. If anyone catches me outside of a team jersey they can have a burrito on the house.
At the time the burrito guarantee struck me for its impotence. You are a kite in the hurricane sir; and no amount of complimentary adobada pork can change that.
But we are powerless, as fans. So we lash out, change our Twitter avatars, broadcast rants, burn memorabilia, and print signs. I write a blog.
In the intervening years the Chargers have not won the Super Bowl—nor gotten any closer to playing in one—although I suspect the burrito guarantee was abandoned long before the team moved up the coast in 2017.
In his own way the business owner was doing the exact same thing I was: paying off the debts of my own obstinacy, but that didn't stop me from looking down my nose at it. Too demonstrative. Too public. Too easy to regret.
By promising a free burrito the man was making a public display of his emotional investment in the team. A pledge of allegiance, if you will.
I love this thing more than you do, despite all of the pain it has caused me, and I will prove it to you.
There are some fans who would question the veracity of that devotion.
"You call yourself a fan...Where are your tattoos?" is my personal favorite barb. That challenge even has some merit. The morning after the latest Chargers debacle I can choose to wear another hat out to coffee to avoid indignity, whereas a tattoo must be covered up.
We Chargers devotees; breaking up with our team over and over again in the great abusive relationship of our lives.
We do not hate our offensive coordinator so much as we hate all offensive coordinators, forever failing to call the plays that work so well in Madden.
How could Joe Lombardi call a jet sweep to Michael Bandy on a 3rd-and-1 when a quarterback sneak works every single time?
Some of us are not built to trust people; so to trust an organization must be immeasurably more ludicrous, and we are fools to do so.
Being made to feel foolish coarsens people. The longer you cheer for this team, the harder it is to defend why you ever did in the first place.
Like single parents navigating a dating app, the collective weight of disappointment coarsens us. The reneging on those sacred vows. Micro-aggressions. Lies. The financial drain. Infidelity.
Seeking reciprocation for the time and energy that we have poured into our team is as apocryphal as a high school romance, and yet we do it every day.
Writing about the team is my own version of therapy. By framing my emotions I am able to process the enigma of Chargers football and preserve it for the poor zealots who will eventually replace me.
The blog acts both as a conservatory for a team that once lost its fan base, and as an education for one that is marginalized by the national media. We tell these stories in our own words out of an obligation: because we do not trust anyone else to.
It is a tiny gesture, but it is mine to make.
In the end, we are all paying off burrito bets, in some shape or form, until that indeterminate day our team rewards our devotion by winning the whole enchilada.
Dominic Mucciacito, a staff writer, has followed the Chargers franchise since moving to San Diego in 1989. Blending an eye for theater, cinema, style, and with a deep-seated affection for the collected works of Steve Sabol, he weaves contemporary subjects into an anecdotal tapestry of history. His pending work includes profiles of linebacker Junior Seau, quarterback Philip Rivers, and coach Don Coryell.
His cultural writing and reported features—which focus primarily on the intersections of myth-making, anthropology, football history and football philosophy—is currently writing a nonfiction book called “Salty Dogs” about the 2004-2005 San Diego Chargers who had a Hall Of Fame starting quarterback in Drew Brees, and another Hall Of Famer waiting behind him in Philip Rivers. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, before moving to San Diego and now resides in Culver City, California.