SAN DIEGO — Jerry Hemberger, who has had Charger season tickets for 10 years, didn't think twice about driving down from Orange County for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I pay to watch the Chargers play, and the Chargers are an organization," said Hemberger, 27, who moved from San Diego to Orange County four years ago. "When I first started coming to Charger games, all the players were different from who's out there now."
The boos that had showered the Chargers on their final game before the strike were there again to greet the players at Sunday's pregame introductions. But most of the 47,972 in attendance seemed happy to have the regular players back, although there were signs of appreciation for the replacement team which was 3-0 and put the Chargers on top in the AFC West.
Assistant player representative Gill Byrd had said the Chargers would have to "earn" their way back into the hearts of San Diego's fans. That was a journey that was shortened considerably by Sunday's 42-21 victory over the Chiefs.
The going appeared rocky at the outset Sunday, though. All of the players were booed during the pregame introductions. Dan Fouts, Dennis McKnight and player representative Wes Chandler received the loudest rousing.
"I heard it, but I don't take too much into that," said McKnight, an offensive guard who was particularly outspoken against the replacement players during the strike. "Those people booing, they don't know me as a person, they don't know anything about me, so I don't really care."
Fouts seemed less inclined to discuss the fans' reaction, saying: "We were not playing the public, we were playing the Chiefs."
The fans didn't begin cheering for the Chargers until the third play of the game, when Fouts hit wide receiver Timmie Ware on a 23-yard pass play.
During the first quarter, highlights of the previous three games were shown on the diamond vision screen and the crowd went wild.
Even the signs hung around the stadium were indicative of the fans' feelings early in the game:
"Thanks Re-Chargers You Struck (3-0) While the Un-Charged Were on Strike."
"Welcome Back Chargers No. 1 . . . Don't Blow It."
And "Scab Ball and New Coke--They're O.K. But We Prefer the Real Thing."
Said Byrd: "I don't think the strike will be forgotten, but I think this victory helped to put it into the past."
But Hemberger said the players "walked out on San Diego during the strike."
"I think the season ticket holders realize that there were certain principles involved," Hemberger said. "While it kind of infringed on our entertainment, I at least respect them for what they tried to do for themselves. But I'm not sure it was the best thing for San Diego."
Dennis Orr, a meat cutter and a member of the retail clerks union, said he sympathized with the players during the strike. Orr struck himself, four years ago for two months.
"I know what its like for someone to take my job while I'm on strike," Orr said. "I wouldn't have come if this would have been a scab game. Maybe it has to do with being in a union, but I wouldn't have known any of the guys playing in the scab games."
Don Macek, the Chargers' starting center, summed up the reaction of the fans best.
"We went out on the field and they were booing," Macek said. "But they were cheering when we left, and that's all that matters."