Fires force Chargers changes

Updated: October 29, 2003, 10:23 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers worked out in a basketball arena on Wednesday, then left town because of the deadly wildfires burning in the county.

The Chargers put in their game plan during what they described as a high-tempo walkthrough at UC San Diego before flying to Champaign, Ill. They'll practice at the University of Illinois on Thursday and Friday for their game at Chicago on Sunday.

"We can't sit here and play," defensive end Marcellus Wiley said. "Who knows what the short- and long-term effects are? We're breathing in three, four times as much of the pollutant, maybe, than other people. So I definitely agree, let's get out of here."

The air was clearer than it had been since before the fires started on Saturday night and Sunday morning. But with the state's largest fire still burning out of control in the mountains east of San Diego, and another blaze burning to the north, the Chargers (1-6) weren't taking any chances.

"It's a tough go for us to throw this together, but it's worse for the community right now," general manager A.J. Smith said. "We all know the tragedy we're going through. So we'll adapt to everything and go up there because of the conditions. We have to."

It was the second time in three days the Chargers were forced out of town. Their home game Monday night was moved from Qualcomm Stadium -- where the parking lot had become a major evacuation site -- to Sun Devil Stadium at Tempe, Ariz. The Chargers played their worst game of the year on offense and lost 26-10.

Defensive end Raylee Johnson said the upheaval in the team's schedule was a minor annoyance compared to what fire victims are going through.

"The real thing that's going on is people have lost their homes, some lost their lives. They have the real problems," Johnson said. "I think my job's easy compared to what people are going through in San Diego County."

Wiley said the fires aren't a distraction but they're "definitely in our thought process. This is home for us, and one way or another, it is affecting you, your friends, your family, and the reality is that some people have lost their homes.

"I just send them a prayer, spiritual and mental peace, just pray that you walk away with your life," Wiley said. "You can always purchase everything else again, regardless of your income. You can always get those things back. It's more important that you have yourself."

The Chargers said they got sufficient work done on Wednesday even though they were on a hardwood court, not grass.

"You can't knock anybody to the ground on wood," Johnson said. "But it was a good mental day. All we needed was some basketball to complete the workout. They wouldn't bring out the basketballs, for some reason or another."

Johnson is one of the few players left from San Diego's Super Bowl team of 1994, which had to practice in a hotel ballroom the week before the AFC title game because unrelenting rain left the practice fields waterlogged.

"I loved that," Johnson said. "That was a great week. Move out the tables, the carpet was there. We had a good time on the carpet.

"The carpet was a little bit more forgiving than the wood, so people tended to stay on their feet on the wood," he said, comparing the two indoor workouts. "You took a few more chances and there was a little bit more horeseplay on the carpet."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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