The Chargers – including quarterback Philip Rivers and alum LaDainian Tomlinson – made a big push Saturday to gather signatures in support of the team’s campaign for a new stadium.
The Bolts held a lively rally to collect signatures in the parking lot at 13th and K streets in downtown San Diego’s East Village, the potential site of the new stadium.
In addition to Rivers and Tomlinson, another huge name was on hand at the event: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was there supporting the team well before the event kicked off.
Chargers fans flooded the parking lot, decked out in Bolts gear, cheering for the team and the plans to build a new stadium.
Speaker after speaker, the fans went wild.
Among the podium lineup was Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos.
"Once we win this – I assure you, there’s going to be a stadium right where we’re standing here," Spanos told the screaming crowd. "It’s going to be something San Diego will be proud of for years to come.”
The fact that Goodell is attending the event speaks volumes about how seriously the league wants to be in America’s Finest City. During the last year, Goodell has said multiple times the NFL does not see Qualcomm Stadium as an acceptable venue for a professional football facility, calling it “unsatisfactory and inadequate.”
In the aftermath of the NFL owners voting to allow the Rams to move to the Los Angeles market and build a new stadium in Inglewood, Goodell released a statement encouraging Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos to try and work out a new stadium deal in San Diego:
“We are very supportive of the decision by Dean Spanos to continue his efforts in San Diego and work with local leaders to develop a permanent stadium solution. NFL ownership has committed $300 million to assist in the cost of building a new stadium in San Diego. I have pledged the league's full support in helping Dean to fulfill his goal.”
Goodell traveling here to make good on that promise shows the NFL is committed to being in San Diego for the long haul, even if the Chargers are not and end up moving the L.A. to join the Rams in their new facility.
After Spanos, Goodell took the podium and voiced his feelings on keeping the Chargers in San Diego.
"This is just the beginning. We all salute Dean Spanos’ decision to stay with and make it work with the Chargers in San Diego," Goodell told the fans. "The Chargers do belong here in San Diego."
Goodell said the new stadium would be "the perfect place for the Super Bowl."
"Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!" the crowd chanted.
Goodell then introduced Tomlinson to the stage, who traveled from Texas to San Diego to help the team with the rally.
"San Dieeeegoooooo!" LT yelled at the crowd. "Fifty-five years the Chargers have been in this community, which happens to be the late Junior Seau’s number, 55. If Junior was here, you know where he would be, he would be sitting right here, probably going from each door in the community to get your vote.”
LT talked about how many great football players San Diego has cultivated over the past 55 years.
"What I’m telling you is, let’s build a stadium for the next 55 years, so we can have more great players in this community. You deserve it," he added. "Thank you so much San Diego, I love you!"
Rivers, the final speaker and headliner at the rally, followed LT.
As the crowd chanted "MVP!" Rivers said, "I wish we played this afternoon."
Rivers said he has been proud to call San Diego home for the past 12 years. He said at the Bolts' final game last season, the team thought their run in San Diego "might be over."
Now, he said there's hope again thanks to, in his words, "what the team means to the community and what the community means to the team."
“We’re gonna win a lot of football games – this year and the next,” Rivers said. "I know there’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s get it done! I hope I’m still around to play in it. Let’s get it done together.
"Can’t wait to see ya’ll out there this fall. Go Chargers!" he added.
Other speakers at the signature drive included Congressman Scott Peters, Congressman Darrell Issa and Congressman Juan Vargas.
Noticeably absent was San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, as some people in the crowd held up signs that read, "Where's Kevin?" Vargas urged the mayor to get on board with the stadium plan.
Fred Mast, special advisor the the Chargers, also said a few words.
Peters, Issa, Vargas and Mast all encouraged registered San Diego voters to sign the petition for the new stadium plan.
Before the rally began, Spanos shook hands with fans, posed for photos and signed autographs.
Approximately 67,000 valid signatures from registered voters in San Diego are required for the initiative to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would increase San Diego's hotel room tax by 4 percent to help pay for the project.
Despite the fan turnout, not everyone rallies behind the Chargers' plan for the new stadium.
April Boling, a board member of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, released this statement about why she won't support the initiative.
“I want the Chargers to remain in San Diego and I support a reasonable public contribution for a stadium, but I won’t sign the Chargers’ measure because it is not a good deal for taxpayers,” Boling said, part.
"If voters think the Chargers have presented a good deal for San Diego they should sign the team’s measure and vote for it in November, but if they don't they should decline and spare taxpayers the costs of placing it on the ballot," she added.
On Thursday, the Chargers released the first conceptual renderings of their stadium and Convention Center proposal, paid for by Citizens for Sports, Entertainment and Tourism, with major funding by Chargers Football Company, LLC.
NBC 7 spoke with Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco Friday, who said Saturday’s event would be a crucial step in securing public support for a new Chargers stadium amid months and months of controversy over the matter.
"We know what’s at stake here. We know that’s a big part of this, is a winning product on the field that the fans are proud of. That’s our job. That’s going to be key," Telesco told NBC 7.
“[Saturday's event is] very important but, like I said, our job is the field, hopefully that gets people excited. So I have to handle what we can handle," he added.