The one thing they’ve been missing is the one thing plastered across their helmets.
Since barging unwanted on to the Los Angeles sports landscape three years ago, the largely ignored Chargers have desperately needed a lightning bolt of celebrity and credibility.
Guess what? That bolt just became available, and their future in this town might depend on their ability to harness it.
In a series of social media posts Tuesday morning, legendary quarterback Tom Brady stunningly announced he’s leaving the New England Patriots.
The Chargers need to do everything within their power to ensure that, in the next stunning announcement, he’s signing with them.
Give him the money. Give him the playbook. Give him the personnel decisions. Even give him the dang bolt if he wants it, slap a “TB12” on those shoulder pads, whatever he wants, however he wants it.
The Chargers need Brady a lot more than he needs them — they know it, he knows it, and they can’t be afraid to act like it.
Granted, it’s not about football. The employment of a 42-year-old quarterback with clearly declining skills actually would be a setback for their football operation. If the Chargers thought their offense was best served by an immobile veteran quarterback, they would have kept Philip Rivers. If they truly want to plan for the future with a more mobile attack, they would ignore Brady and draft a quarterback such as Utah State’s Jordan Love with the sixth overall pick. Even with Brady’s record six Super Bowl rings, he is not a long-term fix, and he might not even be about right now.
This is about something more important to the Chargers than football. This is about business. Being represented by the greatest quarterback ever would be really, really good for their flagging business.
They need to sell tickets for SoFi Stadium. Brady would sell them. They need to grab potential sponsors’ attention from the dominant Rams. This would grab them.
More than anything, and this sounds basic, they need something that will stop people from still accidentally referring to them as the San Diego Chargers. Tom Brady is not just a game changer, he’s a name changer.
He looks like Hollywood. He reeks of Beverly Hills. He would be the first Chargers star to clearly stamp this team as a Los Angeles team, which alone would make him worth every penny of that $30-million salary.
Put it this way: Rivers spent his entire Los Angeles Chargers life commuting from a home in San Diego County, while Brady probably would be driving to work every day from some fancy mansion on the beach.
Considering Brady probably has but a couple of productive seasons left, would this be a huge football risk? Probably. Is there a chance he could spend two mediocre autumns losing AFC West conference battles with Patrick Mahomes and wind up leaving the roster worse off than when he arrived? Absolutely.
But in those two years, he could solidify the Chargers’ season-ticket base, stabilize their Los Angeles footprint, and even steal enough thunder from the Rams to turn the city into a legitimate two-team town.
For the Chargers, when it comes to signing Brady, any cost would be worth it.
Yet would it be worth it for Tom Brady? That’s a different question, with perhaps a different answer.
The Chargers’ biggest challenge doesn’t come from other perceived suitors like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Miami Dolphins, but from themselves.
After spending 20 years in a spotlight of one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports history, does Brady really want to end his career in the shadows? With the other team in town? Forced to be as much a soap-box salesman as drop-back quarterback?
His presence surely will increase the number of fans at Chargers home games, but can one man change the ratio that much, and that quick? Does he really want to play his final year in what could be potentially 16 road games a season? Does the greatest quarterback ever want to end his career feeling as if he’s not even the most cheered quarterback in his own city?
Before he signs here, Brady should talk to Chris Paul, a future Hall of Fame guard who played wonderfully for six years for the Clippers … and was still booed at Dodger Stadium. Not that the Rams are the Lakers, far from it, but it is a vastly different world when you play for this town’s “second” team.
If he’s truly chasing another Super Bowl ring, does he really want to pick the path that goes directly through the defending Super Bowl champion and conference rival Kansas City Chiefs and Mahomes?
Finally, there are other two names Brady should remember when choosing to leave his lifetime football home for a career-closing Southern California appearance with a five-win team — Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas. They finished their careers unceremoniously with the Rams and Chargers, respectively.
Brady needs to be realistic, and so should Chargers fans. Some foolishly will compare the possibility of Brady coming to town to the summer day LeBron James joined the Lakers, yet it’s not even close.
When James joined the Lakers in 2018, he was 10 years younger than Brady will be this season. James was also coming off an NBA Finals appearance during which he led the postseason in scoring.
Brady is coming off a season in which his team was upset in the first round of the playoffs and during which he threw for his fewest touchdown passes in 12 full seasons and equaled his worst completion percentage in 16 years.
James plays without a helmet, plays in a game that can be controlled by one superstar such as himself, and still clearly had much left in the tank. Brady cannot hope to match James’ star power here, and he will be at the mercy of a Chargers team that was football’s only group to go winless in its division last season.
The only similarity between James and Brady is their interest in using sports to capitalize on their Hollywood-based businesses. That’s the main reason James joined the Lakers and, who knows, the off-field possibilities could be enough to convince Brady to join the Chargers.
It is uncertain exactly why Brady would want to play here, but, in the end, does it really matter? It seems the Chargers have an opening and should chase him, chase him hard, chase as if the life of their franchise depends on it, cross their fingers and hope for the bolt.