SAN DIEGO — As angry fans gathered outside to say goodbye to the franchise they've loved for decades, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos announced to his employees that the team is moving to Los Angeles, where it will join the recently relocated Rams to give the nation's second-largest media market two NFL teams for the first time since 1994.
Spanos told his employees Thursday morning that the team will relocate for the 2017 season. The team posted a letter Thursday on its Twitter account, which was rebranded as the Los Angeles Chargers.
"San Diego has been our home for 56 years. It will always be part of our identity, and my family and I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the support and passion our fans have shared with us over the years. But today, we turn the page and begin an exciting new era as the Los Angeles Chargers," Spanos said in the letter.
The move had been in the works for years, as a long, bitter saga failed to result in a new stadium to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium.
Still, the final blow was hard for some fans to take. While they supported the team itself, many are angry at Spanos for his scorched-earth tactics the last two years.
As Spanos was driven to the airport to fly to Los Angeles to meet with civic officials, fan Chuck Homenick got close to the SUV and yelled an obscenity.
"Pretty horrible. Born and raised here in San Diego and been going to these games, and just can't believe they're leaving," Homenick said. "I knew the decision was coming up soon and I was hoping they were going to stay. Business decision, but when it comes to fan support and loyalty, they're not going to have much support, fans."
Joseph MacRae held a sign that read, "Alex Spanos would never leave SD! You failed us Dean." Chargers owner Alex Spanos turned over control to son Dean years ago.
"It's really a dark day in San Diego sports history," said MacRae, 30, who wore a Chargers jacket. He said he'd been going to Chargers games since he was 7. "That's what it was all about, September through December, football on Sundays."
The Chargers are leaving behind a loyal fan base that cheered for Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow during the Air Coryell years in the 1970s and early 1980s; for Junior Seau, Stan Humphries and Natrone Means on the Chargers' only Super Bowl team in 1994; and in recent seasons, Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.
The Chargers' decision to move comes less than three months after San Diego voters resoundingly rejected team-sponsored Measure C asking for $1.15 billion in increased hotel occupancy taxes to help fund a $1.8 billion downtown stadium and convention center.
The Chargers privately admitted they believed Measure C wouldn't pass. Spanos had spent 2015 trying to get approval for a stadium in Carson near Los Angeles that the Chargers would share with the rival Oakland Raiders. That plan was voted down by fellow owners, but the Chargers were then granted the option to move to LA.
"For more than a decade, the San Diego Chargers have worked diligently toward finding a local stadium solution, which all sides agreed was required," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday, pointing out that the Chargers delayed exercising the option to move to LA that was granted a year ago. "The Chargers worked tirelessly this past year with local officials and community leaders on a ballot initiative that fell short on election day. That work - and the years of effort that preceded it - reflects our strongly held belief we always should do everything we can to keep a franchise in its community. That's why we have a deliberate and thoughtful process for making these decisions.
"Relocation is painful for teams and communities. It is especially painful for fans, and the fans in San Diego have given the Chargers strong and loyal support for more than 50 years, which makes it even more disappointing that we could not solve the stadium issue. As difficult as the news is for Charger fans, I know Dean Spanos and his family did everything they could to try to find a viable solution in San Diego."
However, the Chargers didn't work with City Hall and the city's powerful tourism industry in writing Measure C. Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsed the measure a month before election day, only after Spanos agreed to certain conditions that weren't legally binding.
The Chargers will become a tenant in the stadium being built in Inglewood for the Rams. Before then, the Chargers will make their temporary home at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson.
Relations have been strained for years between the Chargers, who've sought a big public subsidy to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium, and City Hall, which has been beset by scandals and various economic crises.
Faulconer formed a task force in 2015 to try to find a stadium solution, but the Chargers didn't like its recommendation and walked away from negotiations with the city and county. Faulconer recently met with Spanos, and helped cobble together a $375 million package from the city, county and San Diego State, which also plays football at Qualcomm Stadium.