In February of 2004, Eli Manning, the younger brother of NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning and son of All Pro New Orleans Saints Quarterback Archie Manning, was poised to be the number one pick in the NFL’s draft after a record breaking college career at his father’s Alma-mater, Ole Miss. The San Diego Chargers, coming off of a dismal season, their 10th losing season in the previous 11, had the first pick in the draft. Eli was to be their savior, just like his brother was to the good people of Indianapolis. There was one problem though-his dad. Archie had a very clear message for his son. The Manning’s were too good for San Diego football. He was right.
A bad football organization…
Looking back on the last 11 years of football in the NFL, it’s hard to point to a more prophetic piece of advice than Archie’s to his son. Even beyond football, his guidance has proven to be one of the great “listen to your dad, son” moments in history. Let’s review:
In 2004, the Chargers already had a quarterback, Drew Brees. They went ahead and drafted Eli anyway only to trade him to the Giants for their first pick that would ultimately land the Chargers their current quarterback Philip Rivers. Which means that during one calendar day, April 24th, 2004 the San Diego Chargers had Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers on their roster. Two of those three are on their way to the hall of fame. The other presently plays for the Chargers. It’s not Philip River’s fault though. Besides Warren Moon, he’s thrown more touchdown passes than any other quarterback never to play in a Super Bowl. Which appears to be a very Charger thing to do.
There are only five players in NFL history to throw over 250 touchdown passes and never play in a Super Bowl. Two of them, Rivers and hall of famer Dan Fouts, played for the Chargers. Which means that if your goal is to have your son be the best quarterback of his generation never to win anything, then the Chargers are your team. Archie, who played 15 years in the NFL, made the Pro-Bowl and was widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of his era, never had a winning season. He knew the tune being played in San Diego well. And he didn’t like it.
That’s probably enough of a case for any father. But there’s one other thing that is hard to put your finger on about San Diego and football that perhaps is even more damning. One that Archie probably sensed when evaluating his son’s opportunity. One that no one who loves football in San Diego is really willing to admit. San Diego just doesn’t care that much about the Chargers.
The long goodbye…
Today the Chargers will likely be playing their last game as the San Diego Chargers. Because they are leaving. For decades, the Chargers have been in a battle with the city of San Diego over the construction of a new stadium that deep down inside, most doubt was ever going to be built. Because it takes tax payer money. On average, the 20 or so NFL stadiums built over the last 20 years have averaged about 65% public funding. Which means at a price tag of 1.5 Billion dollars, the city would have to come up with about a billion dollars. Last year the city of San Diego paid their entire police and fire departments about $650M. Starting to see the problem?
You really need to care about football, more specifically about your team, in order to make that kind of investment. You need to care in a way that your team is synonymous with your city. In a way that you feel like this type of investment and re-development will turn you city around. In a way where you believe that the existence of your pro football team is going to make your city more “livable” over the next 30 years. If that’s the case, San Diego isn’t your town. Here’s why.
San Diego is not San Diegans…
There’s an interesting thing that happens when you look at the demographic data of any given NFL city and the surrounding areas. If you take a look at how many people in a city are native to the area and expand that to the state as a whole, something interesting happens. It gets even more interesting when you factor in a team’s historic winning percentage, how long that city has had NFL football and the proximity of other established NFL teams. You can create what I like to call, a cultural significance index for a given team. Here’s how it shakes out. Mind you, this isn’t a fan loyalty index. Instead, it’s an index of how ingrained in the culture of the population of a given city a specific team is. Here’s the top and bottom of it:
Top 10 most culturally significant NFL teams for their current city:
- Green Bay Packers
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Chicago Bears
- Cleveleand Browns
- Detroit Lions
- Philadelphia Eagles
- New England Patriots
- Minnesota Vikings
- New York Giants
- Buffalo Bills
Top 10 least least culturally significant NFL teams for their current city:
- Arizona Cardinals
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Miami Dolphins
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- San Diego Chargers
- Seattle Seahawks
- New York Jets
- Houston Texans
- Oakland Raiders
- Atlanta Falcons
As you may see, there’s some culturally insignificant teams that are filling the stands with lots of energy these days. Seattle and Arizona come to mind. Remember, this isn’t an index of how happy a city is with their team.It’s how much their city identifies with that team as part of their culture. If the Seattle Seahawks rattled off three or four losing seasons in a row, chances are the city would be significantly less energized. If the team left, life would go on. On the other hand, if the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steeler’s left, people would wander around in the empty parking lot crying tears of despair for decades, largely unsure of their purpose as a community.
The Death Spiral
You’ll notice, the Chargers are the 5th least culturally relevant team in the NFL. Of the four less significant then the Chargers to their respective area, only the Arizona Cardinals have had less winning seasons over the last 20 years. Of those five teams the Chargers play in the oldest stadium, 50 year old Qualcomm, ranked 30th out of 31 by Athlon Sports and Life Magazine’s stadium quality index. So, you get it. If the San Diego Chargers were a stock, you’d sell them. Because they’re in San Diego. And now they’re leaving. Because they should.
The billion dollars that San Diego tax payers will have to shell out to build a new stadium is something almost all San Diegans will realize no financial return on. Some local businesses may. Corporations may gain access to box suites. They might get a Super Bowl every 15 years. But your average San Diegan will get nothing, except the satisfaction of knowing their beloved Chargers are still here. Here for the 29% of San Diegans over 25 who are actually from San Diego. Which means, if they’re smart, they’ll never build it. They’ll move up the road to Los Angeles. Which by the way, doesn’t care about football either. They haven’t had a team in 20 years. But they will have a stadium. Because they’re big enough for two teams. Look a little further down the list of culturally irrelevant teams and you’ll see the Raiders. They’re #9. And their stadium is #31. Get ready for 16 weeks of home games in Los Angeles. Because anything else doesn’t make any sense.
As for Eli, he’s got two Super Bowl rings, playing in a brand new stadium the the Giants and Jets self funded without any tax payer money for a team that is hugely culturally relevant in the largest market in the country. He’s played for the same head coach his whole career and he’s got a new contract worth $84 million.
The Manning’s won this debate. It’s not close. Something about the “awe shucks” delivery of Archie Manning makes me feel like he didn’t take the time to do the data dive that I’ve done to validate his guidance though. But like legendary tennis coach Vic Braden, highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, who can predict a fault on a serve over 85% of the time before the ball is even hit because he’s simply seen that many of them, Archie Manning too has seen a lot of bad football. He played for the ‘Aints for over a decade. He knows it when he sees it. It’s likely the people of San Diego will see the last of theirs today.