COSTA MESA, Calif. — Philip Rivers will be a California commuter this year. His wife and eight children are staying in their north San Diego family home while the quarterback leads the Los Angeles Chargers in their relocation season.
As the Chargers began their first training camp in Orange County on a postcard-perfect Sunday, they were eager to meet their new fans. They’re also hoping many of their long-faithful San Diego ones will join Rivers in sticking with their team without making the move 83 miles north from Chargers Park.
“Our goal is to come here and try to win these fans over, and at the same time, keep those fans that we had over the last decade,” Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. “That alone just speaks volumes about our fans in San Diego. Hopefully they’ll continue their support.”
Judging by the thousands of fans who cheered at practice and clamored for autographs on opening day at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, the Chargers clearly have supporters on both ends of Southern California. Vintage San Diego paraphernalia was everywhere, but so were brand-new Los Angeles shirts and gear.
After conducting their offseason program in San Diego and gradually moving up the coast, the Chargers are now in Orange County to stay. After camp at Jack Hammett, they’ll move 2 miles down the road in Costa Mesa to their new regular-season training complex.
“Being in San Diego was amazing, and being here was amazing,” pass-rusher Melvin Ingram said. “I feel like if we can both combine, it will be even more amazing. … You feel the love when you come out here. We felt the love coming off the bus.”
The coming months will reveal whether the Chargers can catch all of LA’s attention, perhaps with a playoff run under new coach Anthony Lynn.
“I think (the fan support is) really better than anticipated,” Rivers said over the screams of fans clamoring for signatures and selfies. “Not that I didn’t have high hopes and weren’t excited about the fan base that’s here, and really all over Southern California, but I didn’t anticipate this.”
Rivers again recalled the Chargers’ training camp during his rookie season in Carson, the suburb south of downtown Los Angeles where the team held training camp once.
“I think literally there was about 12 people there,” Rivers said. “So I wasn’t sure (about this season), but there is a lot of excitement here, and we have a lot of guys to be excited about. We have a lot of guys that fans recognize right off the bat. We have a lot of good players all the way through, but there’s a lot of players that fans recognize, either from their college days or what they’ve done in this league, and I think that adds to the excitement.”
From Rivers to Gates to rising star defensive lineman Joey Bosa, those players were all on the field for their first practice. But first-round pick Mike Williams wasn’t among them: The Chargers revealed that the receiver will miss training camp while recovering from a back injury incurred on the first day of the rookie offseason program.
When asked if Williams’ injury could be season-ending, Lynn was blunt: “It could be. I don’t know.”
Injuries were the primary culprit in the Chargers’ last two miserable seasons, which featured only nine wins and an erosion of fan support. The Chargers’ move essentially was sealed when San Diego voters soundly rejected a ballot measure in November to raise money for a new stadium.
The team expects to have no trouble filling cozy StubHub Center in Carson this season, but its long-term standing in LA will take years to determine. As Chargers learned on this 77-degree Sunday in Orange County, thousands of fans see a sunny future.
“It’s pretty surprising,” Bosa said of the turnout. “I mean, after last year, we all questioned how much support we would have in another city. It obviously showed out today, and it’s pretty great.”