TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The San Diego Chargers were never happier to go home.
They will play their game against the Houston Texans when and where it was supposed to be played — on Sunday in Qualcomm Stadium.
“Just getting a chance to say ‘You know what, I’m going home’ To me that’s special,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson said in the locker room after the team's final workout in Arizona. “I think these guys feel the same way.”
After the Friday practice, the Chargers boarded buses for the airport, then flew back to San Diego. They arrived in a city still dealing with devastating wildfires, although the worst, at least in San Diego County, seemed to be over.
Qualcomm Stadium was closed as an evacuation center on Friday, giving crews two days to get it ready for kickoff.
The stadium’s emergency use and the smoky skies led to discussions about moving the game or delaying it until Monday night. The news that the Chargers had hoped for came from the San Diego mayor’s office on Friday.
“Early Friday morning the Chargers informed me that the NFL has decided to play Sunday’s game as scheduled at Qualcomm Stadium,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said in a press release. “The City will be able to provide sufficient public safety personnel to manage a professional football game without impeding ongoing wildfire recovery efforts.”
Several players and coach Norv Turner said they expect an emotional scene Sunday.
“Just thinking about it I get goosebumps,” Tomlinson said. “I think it’s going to be very emotional, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of tears in that stadium.”
The Chargers, who had a bye last week, canceled practice Monday, then flew to Phoenix for workouts at the Cardinals’ facility Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“We wanted to come over here and get three good days of practice and not have where we were playing as a distraction,” Turner said. “Obviously, we wanted to be at home, wanted to be in our stadium in front of our fans. It’s worked out for us.”
Quarterback Philip Rivers said Turner never mentioned the uncertainty surrounding the game during practices.
“From a fire and home and town perspective, it’s been a rough week for so many people in San Diego who had it a lot tougher than we did,” Rivers said. “From a football perspective, it’s been challenging, but at the same time it’s been good. … With the right guys, you can make any place work, any situation be a good one.”
The mayor’s spokesman, Fred Sainz, said Qualcomm was never intended to be a long-term shelter, because it doesn’t have a roof and showers weren’t available.
“The mayor’s concern has always been that evacuees be dealt with correctly and appropriately,” Sainz said.
He said the city’s three main concerns were that the remaining evacuees could be moved to other sites, that there would be enough police to work a game as usual and that the stadium would be ready.
“When those three boxes were checked off and the mayor felt comfortable, is when we told the Chargers that the stadium could be ready,” Sainz said.
Some 46 players, coaches and staff members had to evacuate their suburban homes starting early Monday morning. Among them were Tomlinson, Rivers, Turner, Shawne Merriman, and general manager A.J. Smith. As far as anyone knew, none of them lost their homes.
Four years ago to the week, the Chargers had to move a home Monday night game on short notice to Tempe because Qualcomm was sheltering evacuees from deadly wildfires and the air was fouled by smoke.
This time, the Chargers hope they can provide some relief to a city that could use some.
“Sometimes when you cheer, you’re able to let some steam off, just to yell,” Tomlinson said. “So hopefully we give them a lot to cheer about on Sunday.”