Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
No four-leaf clover here

By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

Cold Pizza
EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2, along with ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," is counting down the 15 Most Tortured Sports Cities in America. Today we suffer along with No. 9, San Diego, as we present our theory on why Eli Manning wanted no part of "America's Finest City" and the Top 10 most painful moments in San Diego's sports history.

San Diego has a pretty dismal sports history. One Super Bowl. Two World Series. And all three were ugly defeats. Here's a look at the 10 most painful moments:

THE 15 MOST TORTURED SPORTS CITIES
15. Tampa Bay
14. Kansas City
13. Cincinnati
12. Phoenix
11. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
9. San Diego
8. ???

Want to find out what the No. 8 city is? Tune into ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" next Tuesday morning. Then head back to Page 2 to read all about it.

10. Chargers vs. Raiders, Sept. 10, 1978
The infamous "Holy Roller" game. The Chargers led the Raiders 20-14 and the Raiders had the ball at the Chargers' 14-yard line with 10 seconds left and no timeouts. Oakland QB Kenny Stabler scrambled, and flipped the ball forward as he was about to be sacked. Running back Pete Banaszak picked up the ball at the 12-yard line, and just as he was about to go down, he tossed it with two hands towards the goal line. Tight end Dave Casper couldn't pick it up, so he kicked and batted the ball into the end zone, and fell on it as time ran out. The play was ruled a touchdown, and the Raiders won the game with the extra point.

After that game, the NFL's Competition Committee changed the rule -- from then on, an intentional fumble was considered an incomplete forward pass and no other offensive player could advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a game. The Chargers' record dropped to 1-1, and they lost three more games in a row after that. They did win seven of their last eight, to finish with a record of 9-7. But who knows what might have happened if they had won that game?

9. Clippers sign Bill Walton, Sept. 18, 1979
The Clippers had a respectable 43-39 record in the 1978-79 season, their first in San Diego after moving from Buffalo. They didn't make the playoffs, but there was reason to be optimistic, especially when they signed San Diego native Bill Walton away from the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton was a big risk -- he hadn't played at all the previous season because of injury.

Bill Walton
We had to dig far to find a picture of Walton actually playing in a Clippers uniform.
The move totally backfired. The Clippers had to dismantle their team to get him -- they sent Kermit Washington, Kevin Kunnert, Randy Smith, cash and future draft choices to Portland as compensation. And Walton reinjured his foot after playing only 14 games. The team finished 35-47. Walton missed all of the next two seasons as the team plunged to 17 wins. He returned to play 88 games over the next two years, but the damage was done: owner Donald Sterling moved the team to Los Angeles (see below).

Sterling has said he'd thought about moving the Clippers to L.A. ever since he bought the team in 1981. But Walton has admitted he feels at fault. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2000, "I'm personally responsible for the failure of the Clippers in San Diego. Blame me. I deserve it. It's the one thing I hope to rectify."

8. Padres' fire sale, June 24, 1993
In the summer of 1993, with the Padres floundering in last place, the team's owners (led by Tom Werner) ordered GM Randy Smith to purge salary and trade away some of the team's most expensive players -- which caused an uproar in San Diego. Outfielder Gary Sheffield, who'd contended for the Triple Crown the previous year, was traded to the Marlins on June 24. First baseman Fred McGriff and starting pitcher Bruce Hurst were also shipped out of town. But ironically, the moves worked out pretty well for the Padres. They got closer Trevor Hoffman for Sheffield and young starter Andy Ashby, who eventually became an All-Star. Only the McGriff trade didn't pan out.

And, their diminshed payroll allowed them to add players like Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley later in the decade, when a new owner permitted greater spending. Subsequently the Padres, who hadn't qualified for the postseason since 1984, made the playoffs in 1996 and and the World Series in 1998.

7. Chargers vs. Oilers, Dec. 29, 1979
This was simply a playoff game the Chargers weren't supposed to lose. They had one of their best teams in franchise history, with a 12-4 record, and the high-powered Air Coryell offensive attack. Meanwhile, the Oilers were playing without Earl Campbell, the NFL's leading rusher, and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini, due to injury. The Chargers trailed 10-7 at the half, but opened the scoring in the third quarter with a touchdown by Lydell Mitchell. They trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter, but QB Dan Fouts threw two of his five interceptions. It was a stunning upset.

And to add insult to injury, the two Super Bowl teams that year were the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams. In the regular season, the Chargers beat the Steelers 35-7 and the Rams 40-16.

Mark Langston
Langston should have been walking back to the dugout. Instead ...

6. Padres vs. Tigers, Oct. 12, 1984
The Padres' first trip to the World Series was a disappointing one. The Detroit Tigers, who owned the best record in baseball at 104-58, defeated San Diego in five games. The series wasn't very close -- in fact, the Padres' starting pitchers lasted only 10 1/3 innings total in the five games, and had a combined ERA of 13.94. If there was a turning point, it was in Game 3, with the series tied 1-1. In that game, San Diego pitchers gave up 11 walks, all in the first five innings. They walked Larry Herndon with the bases loaded in the 2nd inning, and hit Kirk Gibson with a pitch with the bases juiced in the 3rd. The Tigers went on to win, 5-2.

5. Chargers vs. Bengals, Jan. 10, 1982
Following the Chargers' thrilling 41-38 OT playoff win over Miami in the previous round, this AFC Championship Game was a miserable one for Chargers fans -- especially for those who made the trip to Cincinnati. Simply put, it was the coldest day in NFL history. Temperatures at Riverfront Stadium were measured at -9 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind-chill factor of -59. The Bengals led 17-7 at the half as the Chargers turned the ball over three times within the Bengals' 33-yard line. Then San Diego turned the ball over again to start the second half, the Bengals answered with a field goal and went on to a 27-7 victory.

4. Padres vs. Yankees, Oct. 17, 1998
The Padres were again unlucky in the World Series, facing a New York Yankees team that tied an American League record with 114 wins. In Game 1, they had a golden opportunity, leading the Yanks 5-2 heading into the bottom of the 7th inning, after two home runs by Greg Vaughn and one by Tony Gwynn. But Chuck Knoblauch hit a three-run homer to tie the game at 5. Then came the big blow. The Bombers loaded the bases with two outs, and Tino Martinez faced the Padres' Mark Langston, who had come on in relief. The count went to 2-2. Langston threw a pitch that looked like strike three to end the inning. But umpire Rich Garcia called it a ball, to the utter dismay of Padres fans. Martinez then hit a grand slam, giving the Yanks a 9-5 lead, and they went on to sweep the Series.

3. Losing the Clippers , May 15, 1984
On this day, Clippers owner Donald Sterling announced he was moving the team to Los Angeles. In six years in San Diego, the Clippers went 195-306. The team has not fared much better in L.A. over the last 20 years. But the loss of the Clippers was still a big blow for San Diego. This was the second NBA team the city had lost -- the Rockets played there for four years, before moving to Houston in 1971. And the city had also previously lost two ABA teams. It appears unlikely the city will get another shot at an NBA team.

Ryan Leaf
Is that rain or tears of pain from frustrated Chargers fans?

2. Chargers vs. 49ers, Jan. 29, 1995
In the Chargers' only Super Bowl appearance, the Bolts were routed by their California rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, 49-26 in Miami. Less than 90 seconds into the game, 49ers quarterback Steve Young connected with Jerry Rice on a 44-yard touchdown pass. On San Francisco's next possession, Young and Ricky Watters hooked up on a 51-yard TD. The Niners led 28-10 at the half, then tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter for a 42-10 lead. Young set a Super Bowl record with six TD passes.

1. Drafting Ryan Leaf, April 18, 1998
Sometimes a sports moment can seem like a triumphant one at the time -- and then over time, it can come back to torture you. This is one of those moments. Before the 1998 NFL Draft, there was a fierce debate about which quarterback should be selected No. 1 -- Tennessee's Peyton Manning or Washington State's Ryan Leaf? The Colts went with Manning at No. 1. The struggling Chargers traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 to snag Leaf. "Quite frankly, this man [Leaf] will solve all those problems for the next 15 years," Chargers owner Alex Spanos told the Associated Press after that draft.

Leaf may have been the biggest bust in NFL Draft history. Before retiring at 26, he threw 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions -- and finished with the worst passer rating in NFL history. And the Chargers have seemed spooked ever since. In 2001, with the No. 1 pick in the draft and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick available, they traded the pick to the Atlanta Falcons. This year, No. 1 pick Eli Manning refused to play for San Diego, so he was traded to the Giants. The Chargers ended up with Philip Rivers -- perhaps he will turn out to be the quarterback they've been seeking to erase the memories of Ryan Leaf.