SAN DIEGO — The Chargers tugged at your heart while the NFL was reaching for your wallet.
So goes the feelings which ricocheted around Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.
The Chargers snapped a five-game home losing streak by disposing of the Miami Dolphins. But the game, and the score, 30-14, mattered little.
Instead this was a lovefest between a team and a city, between players and fans.
Do those same fans loath Chargers boss Dean Spanos for flirting with Los Angeles?
No doubt about it.
Just like there’s little debate Chargers boosters separate Spanos from those in uniform. While they hate one, they absolutely adore the other.
Of the surreal scenes which often dot the San Diego sports landscape, the hours in the fading light at the “Q” on Sunday will long be recalled.
Whether the Chargers channel LaDainian Tomlinson and stiff-arm the city, we’ll see.
Whether the Chargers circle back and try to make nice with a region which has supported them for 55 years, we’ll see.
But what was as plain as the hair on Eric Weddle’s chinny-chin-chin was the affection being exchanged from those in pads with those patrons refusing to leave.
Long after the game was over, Weddle was doing the equivalent of a snow angel at midfield.
Philip Rivers, the aw-shucks quarterback with Southern charm, was sleeveless and working the rail holding back the masses. That he was in his stocking feet reveals his appreciation. He took off each cleat, slapped his signature on them, and delivered them to boosters.
Antonio Gates, the tight end making some — almost — forget Kellen Winslow, exited the locker room to absorb the adulation. He returned it with a beaming smile which rivaled the remaining lights still flickering.
Malcom Floyd, an undrafted wide receiver who made good in the league for 12 years, was crying. Not tears of despair, but those which come in knowing a strong bond is being broken.
Or is it?
The NFL can take the team, but not the snapshots of fall Sundays in Mission Valley.
The NFL can prove it can be more profitable in Los Angeles, but at what cost?
The NFL is all about the bottom line, but from the bottom of its heart, San Diego showed why it really is America’s Finest City.
Despite being given the short straw from the Chargers for a year, none of that mattered. It was as if the fans decided, the hell with Spanos, they were going to have a good time and good luck stopping them.
Next up for the Chargers are trips to Oakland and Denver as they finish this weary season. Then all eyes turn to Houston, where the NFL will likely declare San Diego has a stadium problem.
An NFL relocation committee could point the locals 100 miles north and just maybe this grand move all goes south.
L.A. is the City of the Angels, but the devil is in the details as the NFL tries to make its game relevant there — again.
Will the Chargers be successful in the crowded sports market of the nation’s second-largest city?
You know what — probably.
But will it ever be embraced by generations of fans, like what we saw at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday?
We know what — no way.
Sunday’s post-game scene nudged its way into my favorite San Diego sports recollections. Should the Chargers stay or should they go, those memories won’t vanish.
If Sunday really was last call, at least the barkeep made a strong one for the road.
We’re not driving, of course. But when spinning our wheels on what makes the Chargers special, Sunday is the straw that stirs the drink.
+ Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.