NFL game will go on as regularly scheduled in San Diego
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chased from their homes and practice fields by deadly wildfires, the San Diego Chargers headed home Friday night and will play the Houston Texans at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday as scheduled.
"That's the best news I've heard since this happened," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "I never thought I'd feel so good just going home."
The team worked out for a final time at the Arizona Cardinals' facility Friday afternoon, then boarded buses to the airport for the flight to San Diego.
"It was like a relief," tight end Antonio Gates said, "to be able to go home and play in front of our home crowd, considering all the trials and tribulations that are going on in San Diego."
The game's date and time had been in doubt because Qualcomm was used as a major evacuation center during the wildfires that swept San Diego County. The stadium closed as an evacuation center at noon Friday.
"Early Friday morning the Chargers informed me that the NFL has decided to play Sunday's game as scheduled at Qualcomm Stadium," San Diego 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."
Fires alter sports schedules
The massive wildfires in Southern California disrupted high school football championships, San Diego Chargers' practices and scholastic soccer and volleyball matches this week.
List of canceled sports events
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."
Though several blazes still burned Friday across San Diego County, thousands of evacuees have been trickling back to neighborhoods stripped bare.
"Hopefully, we can bring some excitement to a community that's going through a lot of turmoil," Rivers said.
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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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Despite more than a dozen wildfires in Southern California, conditions have improved enough for the Chargers and Texans to still play their game in San Diego. The shifting flames have burned across nearly 600 square miles, destroying nearly 2,000 homes and prompting evacuations from north of Los Angeles, through San Diego to the Mexican border.
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