San Diegans left feeling sad as 'The Murph' comes down
SAN DIEGO (AP) - The greatest chunk in San Diego sports history is slowly being knocked down and torn to pieces.
They are tearing down the stadium that was once affectionately known as "The Murph".
Every day, heavy equipment is wreaking havoc on the 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley, where careers were born in the Hall of Fame and where most of the city's greatest sporting moments took place.
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Dan Fouts led Air Coryell there to start and Junior Seau stopped ball carriers with bone-rattling tackles.
Tony Gwynn has worn out the "5.5 hole" between third base and shortstop, and Trevor Hoffman first trotted out of the bullpen to the menacing gongs of "Hells Bells" in the large stadium on Friars Road.
The San Diego Chicken's poultry humor was hatched there in the 1970s.
Generations of fans have been baffled that due to the coronavirus pandemic, they couldn't properly say goodbye to the place they had left with excitement in the huge parking lot before cheering on the chargers, padres and Aztecs or countless other watched events and concerts.
It's also melancholy for those who performed there.
"We didn't even have one last house party for this place," said Ted Giannoulas, 67, who retired as San Diego Chicken after making fans laugh by talking about referees, opposing players and his favorites poked fun at Folie, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
"To see The Murph being taken apart like this is a disappointment to be polite," said Giannoulas. "I saw it as the heart of the city, the spirit of San Diego."
San Diego State University is demolishing the 53-year-old stadium and building a 35,000-seat stadium next door as the first phase of a campus expansion.
The SDCCU stadium was in disrepair and fans knew it would eventually fall. The chargers pushed for a new stadium to be built for almost 15 years. After a 2016 election failed, they raced for Los Angeles. The state of San Diego prevailed at the ballot box in 2018 and won the right to purchase 132 of the site's 166 acres.
SDSU planned to continue playing at the SDCCU stadium during the construction of its new stadium, due to open in 2022. However, when it became clear that fans were banned from playing games due to the pandemic, the Aztecs decided to play at an MLS stadium in suburban Los Angeles and started demolishing the SDCCU stadium.
The last game there was Iowa's 49:24 win over Southern California in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.
Known as San Diego Stadium when it opened in 1967, it was renamed Jack Murphy Stadium in 1981 for the late sports editor of The San Diego Union. Murphy helped convince hotelier Barron Hilton to move his chargers from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961 and then campaigned for the stadium to be built to replace Balboa Stadium. It was expanded in 1997 and renamed Qualcomm Stadium.
But for many it will always be known as The Murph.
"Whenever you want to bond with a San Diegan, whether here or anywhere in the country, just say the words 'The Murph, what about The Murph,'" said Giannoulas. "The smile would automatically appear on her face and the happiness, the memories, the joy were simply remarkable."
Giannoulas estimated that he has appeared 780 times in the stadium since April 9, 1974, mostly during the Padres Games and on the climate scene in "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!"
The chicken debuted the same night when new Padres owner Ray Kroc of McDonald's fame approached the crowd between innings, saying in part, "I've never seen ball game so stupid in my life." Kroc's remarks were interrupted by a streaker.
Air Coryell started under coach Don Coryell in the late 1970s. While there were many great moments, Fouts prefers to remember “just one special team with a group of special people and a special coach” and the fans.
He mentions teammates such as the Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow, as well as Wes Chandler, John Jefferson and Chuck Muncie. "The list goes on and on," said Fouts. “We knew that if we had to make it to win at the end of the game, we could dig deep and then feel the energy of the stadium sometimes just carrying us across the field. It was really a lot of fun. In addition, the weather was always good. I was very lucky. "
Fouts will never forget the Holy Roller, the controversial game played by Ken Stabler and the Oakland Raiders on September 10, 1978.
"How incredible it was that officials allowed an incomplete passport to be classified as a fumble," said Fouts. "They know it was a bad game because they had to change the rule over the next year to correct it."
Hours after the Chargers stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game on January 15, 1995 to reach their only Super Bowl, they were greeted at home by fans who crowded The Murph.
The chargers were owned by San Diego. The stadium has been shaken many times when LaDainian Tomlinson set the 2006 NFL touchdown record for one season and Darren Sproles scored a goal in extra time to upset Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the 2009 playoffs.
Doug Williams was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl when he played at The Murph in 1988. John Elway eventually won his first Super Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in 1998.
Steve Garvey's homer at The Murph in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs in 1984 remains one of the Padres' greatest moments. The Padres won their first pennant the next day. They also reached the World Series in 1998.
Hoffman will never forget that fans turned up the volume in October 1998.
"The whole month of playoff baseball was just loud," said Hoffman, who was inducted into the 2018 Hall of Fame. "The energy started in there an hour before the game. In the parking lot a few hours earlier. The energy I felt in 1998 playoff baseball alone was pretty spectacular."
On July 25, 1998, Hoffman jogged out of the bullpen for the first time to AC / DC's "Hells Bells," which became one of the Majors' most memorable opening songs for the next 12 seasons.
"I kind of remember how it surprised the crowd," he said. "It wasn't that opening songs were overly popular at the time. ... It certainly was really cool over time, just the expectation of when I would finish my warm-up throws and turn around to run out onto the field."
When the Padres moved downtown to Petco Park in 2004, owner John Moore gave Hoffman the pitching rubber from the bullpen.
Roseanne Barr screeched through the national anthem before a padres game in 1990. SDSU's Marshall Faulk ran wild for three seasons. Jim McMahon and BYU made the 1980 Holiday Bowl a big deal with a miraculous comeback.
Fans could purchase stadium seats for $ 299 per pair and bid on other memorabilia.
Years ago when the old multi-colored seats were replaced with blue seats, Fouts bought six brown and four orange seats. He's strategically located on his 40-acre ridgetop in Oregon and “with views of mountains and forests. That means a lot to me. "
Does he have any other memorabilia from the stadium?
"Just scars," Fouts faltered.
They'll never go away. The Murph will be gone soon.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson
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