I was leaving the parking lot of the team hotel at Chargers training camp in 2006 when I saw security escorting a homeless woman off the premises. We’ve all been there — at an intersection or driving down the road when you see a person down on their luck, and you stop for a split second and think about what you might be able to do to help.
But you just keep driving and go on with your life.
I’ve done it too. It’s natural. We’ve got places to be and things to do, and we see it too many times to be able to stop and help everyone.
But I thought especially hard about this one because at the time, I had been working with a non-profit organization called Alpha Project — it’s basically a shelter whose mission is to help homeless people get back on their feet.
So this time, instead of driving by and going on with my day, I stopped and convinced her to let me take her to the shelter. I got her signed up and left her in Alpha Project’s care.
Then, I went on with my life.
I played for six years in San Diego and eight years in the NFL, and anyone who’s familiar with my career knows that I battled multiple injuries, which meant frequent trips to the doctor. On one of those visits — about seven years after I dropped that young lady off at the shelter — I was walking through the parking lot when somebody came up from behind me and grabbed me. I snapped around because I didn’t know who it was.
It was parking lot security. A female security officer looked at me and said, “Remember me?”
The same homeless woman who was being escorted out of the parking lot at the team hotel in 2006 was back on her feet, and this time, she was the one patrolling the parking lot. She was proud, too. She was popping her collar at me and showing off, telling me how well she was doing.
She thanked me, and we both teared up a little. It felt good to know that I had made such an impact.
Truth is, that story could have happened in any city in America. But it didn’t. It happened in San Diego, and it’s one small example of the relationship current and former Chargers have with this community. It’s just one of 50 stories I could tell you about how I and other players spent our time getting to know everyone in the community — at the Salvation Army handing out food, working at local schools, you name it.
And with the Chargers among the teams linked to a possible move to Los Angeles, it’s also one of the reasons I’m helping fight to keep the Chargers in San Diego — because I know how important this team is to the people in this city and I understand the relationship between the team and the community.
I was 20 years old when I got drafted by the Chargers and I lived in San Diego all through my 20’s. In a sense, I grew up here. I purchased my first piece of real estate here. I opened my first club and my first restaurant here. A lot of my business is still here, including recyclable energy companies and other green ventures.
San Diego is where I grew as a football player, as a businessman and as a person, and the Chargers and their fans are the ones who helped make it happen.
And I’m not alone. Former Chargers from all generations are getting together to help save the Bolts and keep them in San Diego, and we all have different stories about why saving the Bolts is so important to us.
I spent my entire 15-year career in San Diego, and although it’s been a long time since I played there, the city is like an old friend to me. We had our rough times and we had our great times, and we experienced the ups and downs together.
I think about the birth of “Charger Power,” when Don Coryell came and transformed our team into a contender with a unique and groundbreaking type of offense that’s still copied today. The fans were so hungry — it had been a long time since the Sid Gillman days, and before we brought them a winning team, there were some tough times. We as players appreciated the enthusiasm of the fans. It felt good to bring back the winning team they’d missed for so long.
I lived in San Diego for three years after I retired and I consider San Diego as my hometown as much as I do San Francisco, where I grew up as a child. I grew from a 21-year-old kid to a 36-year-old man and to built a Hall of Fame career in one city — how could that city not hold a special place in my heart? I’ve been fortunate enough since to be able to broadcast some Chargers preseason games and to attend halftime ceremonies, such as inducting players into the Chargers Hall of Fame and celebrating the life of Junior Seau.
My heart and soul is still in this city and with this team, and I’m proud to say that the city of San Diego and the Chargers are as much a part of me as anything else.
Once you lose an NFL team, it’s very difficult to get one back. It’d be devastating to the fans and to the city of San Diego if they lost the Chargers.
I’ve been a part of the San Diego community since the Chargers drafted me in 2003, and for the last 12 years I’ve done everything in my power to tap into the community and really get to know the people there, such as giving out scholarships to high school students all over the city.
I’m not just a former Charger, I’m a business owner in San Diego. I have such an emotional tie to the community because the same people who supported me by buying my jerseys when I was playing are the same people who support my Snug Pet Resort business today. Those people trust my business because they supported me as a Charger and they know what I stand for
So while my love for this city will never go away, it’s truly this Chargers team being in San Diego that bonds us. The affection I have for this community is equal to the emotional attachment the fans have to this Chargers team. I don’t want to see these fans lose something they love so much.
There’s nothing fair-weather about San Diego. This city loves and supports this Chargers team no matter what. I’ve seen it.
I wasn’t just a football player in San Diego. This is where I really grew up as a man, and I was supported by the city not only through really great times, but also through tough times, from playoff losses to battling injuries. I’ve always felt that this place has been a very nurturing community for me and my family. I’ve spent my entire adult life here, and now that I’m retired, my family and I plan on being here for a long time to come.
I’m raising kids in this city, and I want them to have heroes to look up to — men they can watch and see tangible work being done. I want them to see them sweating, getting dirty and putting it all on the line for everyone in this city the way my Chargers teammates and I did every week. I really believe young kids need heroes, and if you take away this football team, you don’t just take away a group of those heroes, you take away something this community physically rallies around, and experiencing that is a real part of childhood that I want my children to have.
In the fight to keep the Bolts in San Diego, I’m not working for the stadium advisory group. I’m not on the Chargers’ side. I’m on the fans’ side. I played 11 amazing years for the Chargers, but I’m not a player anymore. I’m a fan now, and I want nothing more than to see our team stay here so I can watch them for years to come and cheer on the Bolts.
The bigger the support and the larger the rallies are, the more the community knows how important it is to everybody to keep this team in San Diego. This is too great of a city to not have a professional football team. I think it’s the best and healthiest place in the world you can live. For me, to have such a great city without a pro football team would be an absolute tragedy.
Nick, LaDainian, Dan and I are just a few former Chargers rallying to keep the team in San Diego, along with other Chargers legends like Donnie Edwards, David Binn, Billy Ray Smith and more. Our mission is to serve as the voice of the people of San Diego and to mobilize the community to spread the word or attend the Save Our Bolts rallies.
The first rally had maybe 50-100 people. The second rally had 3,000. And it’s just been getting bigger.
This isn’t about a football team. It’s also not about a city. It’s about the relationship between a football team and a community, as well as other opportunities for economic growth that a new stadium and keeping the Chargers in San Diego would bring to this city — our city.
But what it comes down to is, I love the Chargers, and I love San Diego. I can’t imagine a world where the two aren’t one in the same, and hopefully I don’t have to.
Shawne Merriman, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson and Nick Hardwick are part of Save Our Bolts, a grassroots, fan-based organization which supports any and all solutions that will help keep the Chargers in San Diego. You can learn more by visiting saveourbolts.org.