Chargers linebacker Antwan Barnes celebrates after sacking Vikings quarterback… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
From San Diego -- It's been so long, I almost forgot what a scam this is.
Here it is NFL opening Sunday, and a fine day it is. The grass is green, the seats an eye-catching blue with banners and flags waving everywhere in this picturesque stadium.
This appears to be the ideal home eight or nine days a year for any football team and its loyal following, but then this is the National Football League.
Remember what that was like 17 years ago?
Now as you know, the folks who work in the National Football League never say "NFL," lest someone think the National Football League really isn't something special.
The National Football League is a big deal, all right, the most popular sport we have, and so National Football League owners can demand almost anything for the privilege of watching National Football League games.
Remember Georgia and how quickly she went shopping elsewhere when folks back home opted not to watch the Rams?
The National Football League starts every day fat and sassy and making billions from the TV networks, but it is the stadium game where the league really excels.
When you ask Chargers employees why the team needs a new stadium, they talk about the disgusting bowels of Qualcomm Stadium, as if that's the reason they have to have a new stadium, as if the bowels anywhere are all that appealing.
Everywhere else in Qualcomm Stadium seems just fine for eight or nine days a year, and that's without the owner or city sinking any significant money into the place.
There's plenty of room in the concourses, no long lines for concessions, club areas for those who want more comfort, decent bathrooms and plenty of parking with trolley cars also available to drop off thousands here.
It's true the fans don't seem in a rush to buy tickets, 1,800 still available early in the week for the season opener, but that's not because they don't like the stadium.
How many tickets would go unsold if San Diego had a new stadium and the higher prices that would come with it?
The reluctance to buy tickets here has more to do with the cost of the Chargers experience as well as the disappointing team that doesn't always give everyone their money's worth.
The stadium's problem, as if it is one, is the fact it's not new and lacks the suites and premium seats that would allow Chargers management to wring more money out of fans.
Do you really want the return of the National Football League?
Remember John Shaw? He took the Rams to St. Louis because of a new stadium. Now the Rams are on the verge of pulling out of St. Louis unless they get a new stadium to replace the new one built 16 years ago.
We forget what it's like to have the National Football League in town, since we've been linked to the game the last 17 years by TV.
It's amazing how much angst the Chargers add to the lives of the people living here.
Fans are asked to wrestle with the ripoff notion of paying full price for exhibition games and routinely threatened with a TV blackout if they don't step up and sell out the stadium.
Fans elsewhere wonder what's wrong with San Diego, knowing how eager they would be to attend an NFL game.
Football fans have to be concerned when a player holds out for a better contract because the team's success might be affected as well as the fans' affection for a superstar.
Two of every three fans here seemed to be wearing some kind of football jersey, making it clear how much they identify with their Chargers.
The jerseys sell for $85 each here, which explains why a number of fans still have "Tomlinson" stitched across their backs. Tomlinson left here bitter and disappointed — more angst for those who regarded him so highly.
The fans here love their Chargers, but the morning paper is writing about the team's wandering eye, with the owner considering a move elsewhere only because fans elsewhere will pay him more.
City pride becomes a casualty, folks who never attend a Chargers game feeling the same angst as those who adore the Bolts.
A few years back the owner here did a deal with the city, which was required to guarantee sellouts or buy all unsold tickets. What a stupid deal, public money being used to make sure the owner of the football team here remained well off.
But then this is the National Football League.
It's a good bet these people will consider it the end of their world when the Chargers drive up the highway and leave them behind. Remember the feeling when the Rams and Raiders left, and how you now regard NFL Sundays?
Were these people better off Sunday because they have a team in town? The Chargers, usually loaded with talent but disappointing year after year, were down a touchdown 15 seconds into the season.
With 9:31 remaining in the second quarter, Chargers fans began booing the home team. "We wouldn't do that in L.A.," cracked someone in the press box.
"No, the crowd wouldn't have arrived yet," noted someone else.
Minnesota trailed by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, had an old man at quarterback and an attitude that suggested it wasn't all that excited to be here. The Vikings not only allowed the clock to run while gathering slowly to punt, but repeatedly stepped offside so the Chargers could kneel and end the game.
It wasn't so much an exciting win for the Chargers as relief for the die-hards that they didn't disappoint again.
But it was better that they won so no one starts the week here depressed. Think about that: When's the last time anyone in L.A. started a week depressed because their football team let them down?
Oh, I forgot about UCLA.