What Would Jack Murphy Do, Say About Bolts’ Stadium Standoff?

It's been 50 years since San Diego's first debate over a new stadium for the Chargers, who were playing at ancient Balboa Stadium at the time.

A lot has changed since then, including civic priorities – and yet all these decades later, another heated stadium debate is under way.

San Diegans who still have clear memories of those earlier times might wonder how the late, great San Diego Union sports editor Jack Murphy would approach what’s happening now.

"I think he would take it to the readers, to San Diego, and say 'What do you want for the future of this city’?” suggests Bill Center, a retired U-T San Diego sportswriter who worked for Murphy before his boss’ death at age 57 in 1980.

Murphy had helped lure the Chargers here from Los Angeles in 1961, and devoted later columns and behind-scenes wheeling and dealing to moving the team from Balboa Stadium to Mission Valley.

"When he started his campaign for the stadium, the bond issue looked like it was going to lose; it looked like it would lose big,” Center recalled in an interview Thursday. “He carried the fight. And yes, he hammered on it."

Murphy nailed it, too – because the $27 million stadium bond measure passed by an astounding 72 percent majority.

The stadium was named after Murphy in 1981 – and nicknamed “The Murph” -- then re-named in 1997 when the place was expanded and renovated for $80 million, $18 million of which came from Qualcomm in a 20-year naming rights deal.

But Center notes that in 1965, San Diego was anxious to shed its image as a backwater Navy town – and that Murphy emphasized the importance of choosing ‘major league’ over ‘bush league’.

Now, long after being colonized by the NFL Chargers and MLB Padres franchises, the city has a more cosmopolitan image -- and new set of civic priorities.

"This population looks more at dollars and cents, and 'Hey, we're not going to underwrite billionaires' is the argument,” Center said. “And I don't know if he could pull it off today. But if anybody could, I think he'd be the ONLY guy that could."

"Jack had tremendous clout, and nobody has that kind of clout today."

U-T sports columnist Nick Canepa, a onetime rival of Murphy’s while writing for the now-defunct Evening Tribune, also doubts that Murphy’s considerable clout ‘back in the day’ would carry as far now.

"If Murphy were working today, I'm sure he'd be writing the same things,” Canepa told NBC 7. “I just don't think it would work. I don't think anybody in this town is powerful enough now to get that done … if this was happening in 1966 – yeah. But it's not. And the city hadn't been through the fiscal fiascos it's been through."

Canepa also cites the dramatic changes in San Diego, and a population that's more than doubled in five decades’ time.

Investing in potholes and pavement are taking a bigger role in government agenda-setting.

To what extent does having a pro football franchise that needs – and a league that demands -- a new palace validate a community as ‘major league’?

Canepa offers this cautionary note about the downside risk in the prospect of the Chargers bolting for greener turf in the Los Angeles market: "When that team leaves -- man, there's going be an empty feeling in this city. It's going to be a disaster. And I hate to be a harbinger of doom -- but it's on the horizon."

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Chargers owner Dean Spanos are set to meet next week, to iron out testy snags involving Faulconer's stadium advisers and other issues, including a proposal to build a joint Chargers-Raiders stadium in Carson.

As for Qualcomm, its naming rights expire in 2017.

Executives have told NBC 7 that the exposure the company got when San Diego hosted Super Bowl 32 alone was worth its whole investment.

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