Spanos drops role of strong, silent type


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Jan 22, 2006
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Spanos drops role of strong, silent type

May 20, 2006

Throughout the four years of tumult, shouting and dither – almost 100 percent provided by City Hall's magnificent visionaries – over the Chargers' quest for a new stadium, there has been one constant: the silence of club President Dean Spanos.

While deeply involved and hands-on trying to get something done on the Qualcomm Stadium site, Spanos chose not to speak publicly – at least to the media – regarding the issue.

“Mark Fabiani makes a lot of money,” Spanos says of the team's general counsel he hired in 2002 to speak on stadium issues. “Given the way things are with the city and how things can get misconstrued, I thought it wise that we have one spokesman. It has been Mark's job to present this to the public, and he's worked hard to get something done.”

Spanos is not the confrontational type, which makes talk of the team possibly moving to Las Vegas ludicrous. The owner who attempts to move an NFL team to Vegas will be a renegade, an Al Davis. The Spanoses are conservative league folk, and that would be an all-out battle they wouldn't feel comfortable fighting.

Under terms of their lease with the city, the Chargers can't even discuss cities outside San Diego County until January. I don't know where they're going to end up, but it won't be Vegas, nor can I see Susie Spanos, Dean's wife, in San Antonio wearing high-heeled Tony Lama boots and a sequined Stetson hat.

Anyway, now that the city has amended its lease with the Chargers, allowing the franchise to talk with other cities within the county, Spanos feels as though the cuffs have been removed. And he's looking forward to the peace and quiet of dealing with people who may put their petty, self-serving issues aside.

Sitting at the adults' table will be a new experience for everyone regarding this matter, because the chances of the team getting anything done with City Hall, and especially the Qualcomm site, are finished.

“I see no way of getting anything done there,” Spanos laments.

Says Fabiani: “Our shot at the Qualcomm site was this time around. When the housing market was great, when we agreed to pay for the entire cost and put it on the ballot in '06. Blame it on us. Blame it on the city. We tried. We didn't get it done.”

Spanos is far from happy about the expensive nothing that has transpired the past four years. He's aware that, in some circles, he always will be the bad guy in all this, even though Qualcomm Stadium has rotting insides, the fault of the slum/landlord – i.e., the city – not the Chargers.

“It's disappointing,” Spanos says. “We worked really hard on it for a long time. It's just that with the city's (fiscal) situation, the city attorney (Mike Aguirre) and all the stuff, it became impossible.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders, while wisely making no campaign promises, said he would work with the Chargers. Within a few months of his inauguration, he did a Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of the team, turning his sporting attention to Torrey Pines, which can't relocate.

“I may not agree with what Jerry Sanders did, but at least he stepped up to the plate,” Spanos says. “Now I'm looking forward to meeting with people who really, sincerely, want to get something done – instead of not getting something done. That's not how you approach a business opportunity. It's hard to get a deal done when only one side cares.”

Chula Vista and National City are interested. Fabiani says he and Spanos hope to meet with county officials and others next week. There's little time between now and Jan. 1, when any city in the United States can come courting.

There's a chance that, as a show of good faith, the team may not accept overtures from cities outside the county starting in January. But that may depend on whether any progress is made here, although it would take the lame-duck pressure off.

Remember, the Chargers may be free to move after the 2008 season, but they don't have to. After that, their lease is year-to-year through 2020.

“That (Qualcomm) site is subsidized by taxpayers,” Fabiani says, “and it's going to be subsidized to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars if the lease plays out all the way through 2020. They're already putting $19 million a year into it, and if you start to get into deferred maintenance, it easily will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

All for a dump the city itself let go to hell. Ah-hah! San Diego can't afford to have the Chargers continue to play there.

Still, naysayers argue the team can't wait to leave town. Some even insist the Chargers purposely had a lousy draft to make the team worse so it will be easier for them to go. Listen up. They don't have to be bad to leave. They can just leave.

“That's unbelievable,” Spanos says. “I get so discouraged over that stuff, especially when I see it in print (letters to the editor). I want to get something done – without misinformation. My focus is on getting something done in the county. We never – ever – have said we're leaving.

“I'm cautiously optimistic now. I feel like I want to – have to – get more involved publicly. I'm more encouraged this time. We'll see.”

That's all we can do.
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