Is The Chargers' Future Varying Shades Of Blacked Out?

Michael Scarr@@scarrpmContributor IAugust 15, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 13:  Shawne Merriman #56 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after their 28-24 win against the Indianapolis Colts during their AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome on January 13, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

How exciting will the Chargers be this season?


Apparently not enough to attract a sellout crowd for Saturday's exhibition opener against the Seahawks. Without the appropriate allotment of tickets sold the stay-at-home folks will be blacked out in the home market.

The live telecast, at least.

Airing at 10:30 p.m. will be a replay of the Chargers game on local Channel 8. The NFL Network, which also has broadcast rights to the Chargers game, will honor the blackout and carry a rerun of Friday's Broncos/Niners contest a bit earlier in the evening at 7.

But come game time, it will be no-go on the small screen in San Diego.

In what could be a prelude to the upcoming season, the expense of attending a pro football game has fallen victim to a flat economy.

The club hasn't failed to sell out an exhibition game and subsequently shut out the local TV crowd since 2006. For a regular season home game, the last time local Chargers fans needed to scramble for alternate viewing was 2004.

Saturday is a wash and the exhibition finale at Qualcomm Stadium may also be as the Sept. 4 game with San Francisco still has seats available.

Exhibition games are one thing. Sure, the team can rationalize a less-than capacity crowd in August, especially in San Diego where alternatives abound and with a fan base that can easily be deterred.

But with the economy still in a down cycle, the prospect of dropping a minimum of $54 a ticket has become a tougher decision to make.

"I think we're just not immune to it," Chargers chief operating officer Jim Steeg told the AP. "We're sitting here in San Diego, with the U.S. economy, the California economy, the housing bubble, all that sort of stuff that we've got the eye of the storm here. That's really what it comes down to."

Looming ahead on the calendar is the Sept. 20 regular season home opener against the Ravens, which like the vast majority of the eight-game home schedule, is not sold out. Only for the Nov. 15 game, when the Chargers host the Eagles, are local TV fans guaranteed a live telecast.

That game, incidentally, sold out before the addition of Michael Vick.

But the AFC West divisional tilts against the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, as well as games against Cincinnati Miami and Washington may not be a part of San Diego County living rooms this fall.

The Chargers should be able to generate its own share of enthusiasm to elevate ticket sales and possibly lift future local TV bans, though fans have been left hanging the last few seasons so there are skeptics.

Which sets up an interesting experiment that could determine local viewing habits: Will the Chargers be able to outflank a flagging economy?

As for Vick, he won't be suiting up for the Chargers this season but one former teammate believes the three-time Pro Bowler will put up some numbers, specifically when the Eagles visit Atlanta on Dec. 6

"He's going to have some ESPN SportsCenter highlights if he plays in that game," Chargers guard Kynan Forney said. "He's going to show up and show out."

Of course, everyone is expecting for Vick to run some form of the Wildcat with the Eagles as Donovan McNabb's job does not appear to be in jeopardy.

And last year's boutique formation should have plenty of copy and paste versions this season with even the Chargers taking their turn with it during training camp.

Speculation has run from the team using it once or twice this season to a handful of times and possibly even as a wrinkle to get a first down.

While head coach Norv Turner is no conservative when it comes to offensive football, he apparently has less enthusiasm for the Wildcat than may be expected primarily because it reduces the role of two key players.

"It puts the guy who led the NFL in QB rating (Philip Rivers) about five yards from me on the sideline, and (star tight end Antonio) Gates goes in and plays tackle," Turner told CBS "That tells you how excited I am about it."

The Chargers have utilized LaDainian Tomlinson and Legedu Naanee as feature backs in the formation, but it has been as much for the benefit of the defense as the offense.

Coming to town on Sept. 27 are the Dolphins, which burned the league including the Chargers last season with the Wildcat.

Naanee appeared in all 16 games last season, making eight catches for 64 yards. The depth chart is crowded above him with Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers and Malcom Floyd figuring to handle the bulk of the wide receiver chores in 2009, but he's attracted attention from one key player.

"He looks really good," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "He's made some really good catches. He's a strong, physical guy."

The Wildcat wouldn't be much of a stretch for Naanee, who was a quarterback at Boise State.

LT raised the probability to 95 percent that he'd play Saturday, but Turner would offer no insight.

"There really isn't any (update)," Turner told the San Diego U-T on Friday morning. "We're going to talk about it (Saturday), get to the stadium and see where we're at."

Ruled out for Saturday's game are rookie linebacker Larry English (hamstring), linebacker Stephen Cooper (ankle), defensive end Ryon Bingham (arm) and right guard Louis Vasquez (foot). Doubtful is defensive end Jacques Cesaire with a calf injury.


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