Like other visitors, Packers expected to have big fan advantage at Chargers on Sunday

Like other visitors, Packers expected to have big fan advantage at Chargers on Sunday

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San Diego Chargers fans - relocation, AP photo

Fans stand around a pile of Chargers memorabilia in front of San Diego Chargers headquarters in January 2017 after the team announced its move to Los Angeles.

COSTA MESA, Calif.  In the San Diego days, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and fans exchanged fist pumps and shouts of "let's go" hours before kickoff, in the parking lot outside the Mission Valley stadium.

San Diego looked and sounded like home, and had been home since the 1960s, when local leaders and voters smartly bought low on NFL football and built a multi-use stadium.

Nowadays at Chargers home games, at a soccer stadium some 110 miles north in Carson, it's typical for the visiting team to feel at home. The opponent gets about half of the fan support, sometimes much more.

In ratio and total turnout, Bolts supporters at home games have dwindled since Dean Spanos and his three siblings moved the club north in 2017.

At the team's recent home game, about three of four fans were for the opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have a national following, but this was over the top.

Sunday it'll be the popular Green Bay Packers in Carson, and a pro-Packers crowd is likely to amass inside the 27,000-seat venue.

It's a home-field disadvantage for Team Spanos, is what it is.

By now, Rivers and mates know what's coming.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of Packers fans," said fullback Derek Watt, a Wisconsin alum who attended Packers home games before launching his NFL career in San Diego. "They always travel well no matter where they go. It's not going to be too big of a problem for us. We're not worried about who's in the seats, really. We're just trying to focus on our game."

Branded three years ago by the Spanoses as the "Fight For L.A," it's really not a fight. Not this one piece of the team's L.A. venture. The Chargers got knocked out, and are still bleeding three years into it. They've not turned L.A. on. They're not enjoying the home support that most NFL teams get. They're not getting nearly the love at home games that they got in San Diego back in the day, before the tedious stadium politics — not to mention the much-neglected stadium itself — caused many Bolts fans to stay home.

When the Broncos visited Carson recently, a week before the Steelers showed up, the crowd scene was half-orange.

Visits next month from the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders likely will paint the Carson stands at least half in purple and silver-and-black, respectively. And that'll wrap up the Carson Era for Team Spanos.

No one should be surprised Rivers and friends play in a house divided.

Remember, Los Angeles didn't invite the Spanoses. They showed up, like Cousin Eddie and family (with dog Snot) arriving at Clark Griswold's door in "Christmas Vacation."

There are other pieces to The Relocation. You can choose to ignore them. But they're not small.

The Spanoses decided to move the team, but only after the NFL made it possible and stipulated some terms favorable to them, involving tenancy in an Inglewood Stadium to open in 2020, but also terms favorable to the NFL, such as the $650 million relocation fee. By then, the NFL had become a $14 billion industry, far more powerful than in the 1960s, and where its venues were concerned, far more difficult to fund in an increasingly complex California.

Supply and demand being what they are, the Chargers are charging Beverly Hills prices for tickets to the Carson thimble, which is a comfortable place and affords good traffic flow. From Bolts fans or not, the money's still green.

On the secondary market, the opponent's popularity can infuse helium.

Average ticket price for the Packers-Chargers game is $377, per TickPick.com, a no-fee secondary site for tickets, and that's the highest such price for an NFL game this week.

As of Tuesday, the cheapest ticket for the game was $441, per the same site.

For that kind of money, Packers "Cheese Heads" should get a free brat and beverage.

Chargers season ticket holders who've sold their tickets to Packers fans are no more faithful to the dollar than NFL owners are.

Bolts players aren't oblivious to these market dynamics, or the results, with receiver Keenan Allen noting last year that the L.A. newbies' annual journey equates to 16 road games.

The players are just trying to make the best of the unique hand they've been dealt. A year ago they adopted the slogan "any squad, any place" and went 9-0 in games outside of Southern California before the lopsided loss at New England in the playoffs.

This year, at 3-5 overall and 1-3 at home, Bolts coaches and players are trying to weather headwinds stiffer than those generated by visiting fans of the Packers, Steelers and Broncos.

"I don't think we play against the crowd; no matter what, we just go out there and play," said newly promoted play-caller Shane Steichen, who can expect the din from Packers' fans to force Rivers into a silent snap count Sunday.

Chargers end Isaac Rochell, who as a collegian played before hugely supportive crowds at Notre Dame, noted that players "have the same job, no matter what." He added: "No excuses."

In the final three games in Carson, Watt can't expect the crowd support to get near that which he enjoyed at Wisconsin. But the fullback said it shouldn't matter.

"I don't really worry about it, honestly," he said. "Whoever's in the seats, we'll try to put on a show and just try to win the game."

What a strange L.A. story it is.

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