By Noel Masiclat
SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - It has been a few years since San Diego football fans have been back inside Qualco ... err ... SDCCU Stadium. The San Diego Fleet's home debut against the Atlanta Legends afforded a few thousand diehards the opportunity to step foot onto the aging structure's premises once again, to check out the new Alliance of American Football League. Here's a first-person account from one of them of what it was like to watch a pro-football team play again at the Mission Valley stadium.
It was a cold, windy and rainy Sunday night, just before the 5pm (non)kickoff* when I arrived at the parking lot. Maybe it was the late arrival or the weather, but I didn't see any tailgaters or many people cooking up burgers or carne asada tacos on the grill. The parking lot seemed packed with cars but manageable though, considering the $20 parking fee (my ticket was valued at $30 for Plaza Level seating). I know, pricing has always been the running gripe about stadium parking since the dawn of time. Inevitably, some things felt quite the same. Some things looked different.
Walking up to the gate entrance, I could feel the anticipation from the fans. There was a buzz and elation from the line of people waiting and attempting to purchase tickets at the last minute. These people could have easily just stayed home to watch the game on TV but, nope, they came out in the pouring rain. My thought was that some, if not most of them, were probably excited to feel the collective energy of a rabid San Diego football fan-base pumped up again - people longing to see a professional football team play in Mission Valley after a two year absence.
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Past the standard security check, I was in the stadium's corridors - the crowds holding their beverages looking for their seats, people at the concession stands making a pre-game food purchase, and a faint roaring noise from inside. Once I got to my seat and upon seeing both teams on the field, my first reaction was "which team was San Diego's?" Maybe it was the lighting, but the Fleet and the Legend players looked like they were wearing the same purple colored uniforms. After a few minutes watching the "jumbo"-tron through my rain-glazed glasses and a couple of PA announcements, I was able to figure out the Fleet was the team with the yellow colored sleeves.
....how?— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 18, 2019
This may be the craziest completion ever. pic.twitter.com/6Ilyd9Sysz
There was a family of five with three kids to my right. To my left, I presumed an elderly man and his 30-something son watching. It was great to see a family-oriented crowd at a football game in this stadium again. But a few minutes later, the "bro" contingent arrived, sat behind the family of five and proceeded to yell out obscenities towards the opposing team. Yup, football was back in Mission Valley. No matter, our entire section was rooting for the home team.
There was plenty of Plaza Level seating and Field Level wasn't at all filled up. The attendance at the game was announced at 20,019. Ninety-nine percent of the crowd was definitely San Diego Fleet fans and most were fired up throughout the game. The new chant among San Diego football fans? "Fleet, Fleet, Fleet, Fleet..." It's a catchy, one-syllable word you can whoop along to. I was "all hands on deck" for it! After a Fleet interception or defensive stop, a collective "Fleet, Fleet, Fleet, Fleet..." would reverberate. Then the foghorn. Yes, foghorn! Gone is the sound of the canon blast, but the boom of the foghorn on the antiquated stadium sound system was ... interesting. I eventually got used to it as the Pavlovian call to cheer for our team.
As expected, players on both side of the ball put it all out on the field. It was hard-hitting football and, at times, standard up-the-gut power running (due to weather and the wet ball) but the crowd never waned from cheering for the Fleet or even against the opposing team when it was a third down play. I didn't have a clue what the players' names were on the Fleet team. I was just half-heartedly wishing to see a different type of dynamic play-calling during the game. Like long-ago Air-Coryell-esque bombs on every other play, a halfback option pass here or there, or heck, at least two or three "Philly Specials" on fourth downs. I admit, it was an arena-football-like expectation in a big stadium I was hoping for but, nonetheless, the atmosphere was still energetic and fun. If the game had been played at 1pm on a bright, sunny San Diego day, it would easily have been a sold out 30,000 plus crowd (the AAF made only that amount of tickets available for purchase for the game).
When the final foghorn sounded and the victory fireworks streamed into the wet, drizzly night sky, OUR San Diego team was on top. It was a great feeling to be part of the pumped up crowd watching a San Diego football team pull out a 24 to 12 victory. Yes, it's only two games into the AAF's fledgling season but it's hard not to jump on the band-wagon and start rooting for the gray and yellow, especially when it has "San Diego" in its name. Indeed, some things felt quite the same and some things looked different - in a good way.
*In the AAF, there are no kickoffs in the game, to make it safer for the players.
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