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While Chargers stumble, 25,000 fans stage high-energy party

The Chargers, in another fourth quarter meltdown, fumbled the team’s first season opener in Los Angeles in 57 years. But their fans — cheering in the stands or tailgating in the parking lot — gave a command performance at Carson’s StubHub Center on Sunday.
Supporters filled nearly every seat in a venue often described as “intimate” because of its small size by NFL standards. It was a tight match against the Miami Dolphins, which dissolved into a 19-17 loss on a missed field goal in the final seconds.
Rudy Flores aka “El Cargador,” of Chicago, Illinois, high-fives a young fan while tailgating before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Trenton Newman, 2, of Lancaster, rides a scooter while his parents David and Megan tailgate nearby before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) A Patriots fan is boo’d while walking through “Thunder Ally” before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Guillermo Sandoval, of Long Beach poses for a photo before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Fans tailgate in the parking lot photo before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Phyllis Williams, of Columbus, Ohio, and Steven Krikorian, 34, show off their Chargers pride before the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Miami Dolphins at Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA on Sunday, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Show Caption of Expand
Undaunted, passionate fans like Rudy “El Cardador” Flores cheered like champs.
He traveled from Chicago and dressed in a costume that was part Chargers uniform, part Lucha Libre wrestler. Accustomed to heartbreaking losses from his favorite team, Flores was excited just to have the chance to experience the game in a smaller venue.
He joined fan groups that gathered first thing Sunday morning for tailgate parties in the parking lot.
There, Dolphins fans pre-partied peacefully next to Chargers fans. “I call the Chargers the Airbnb of the NFL,” said Dolphins fan David Newman. “They’re coming here (from San Diego) for 2 or 3 years. Then they’re going to Inglewood.
“But I still think this is the best place to watch an NFL game.”
The Chargers only plan to play at StubHub Center until their permanent shared home with the Los Angeles Rams opens in 2020.
In the meantime, here are six things to know about Chargers’ games in Carson:

TAILGATING TIME
First, it’s expensive.
Tickets in tailgating lots start at $100, compared to $40 for general-admission parking.
But fans make the most of the space.
Games of flip-cup and beer pong were set up on folding tables under tents, where friends and family members gathered.
Letty DeAnda and her husband hired a heavy metal band, Neblina, to bring extra oomph to the pre-parties in the “Thunder Alley” section of the tailgating lot on Sunday.
“We wanted to do a big celebration because it’s their first game in Los Angeles,” DeAnda said. “We wanted a big tailgating party. We must win!”
NO SPANOS LOVE
A Facebook group of longtime supporters called Los Angeles Chargers Fans grilled meats while they drank. Overhead, an airplane carried a banner that many sympathized with: “Worst owner in sports? Dean Spanos: Pay your rent!”
A favorite topic of conversation was whether Spanos is doing right by players, coaches and fans.
Some complained that the move from San Diego was poorly conceived and that Spanos isn’t investing well — leading to the Chargers’ poor performance in recent history.
“I hate Dean Spanos,” said Chris Hofmann. “The one thing I’m looking forward to is whether Chargers can get a fan base here. When I go to a home game, I want to feel like I’m at a home game.”
THE YUM FACTOR
Beyond concession stands doling out hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries and nachos, popular local eateries serve barbecue, po’boy sandwiches and other items.
George Valiente and his friend Andrew Adu shared a heaping plate of steak fries from CJs Wings.
“They’re $15 and we only had $10 each so we decided to split them,” Valiente said. “It’s a huge plate, really good.”
Craft beer vendors were also plentiful, and lines for all of it moved quickly.
“The food is much, much better than at Qualcomm Stadium (in San Diego),” said Mike Whitmore, a longtime season-ticket holder who drove from Valencia for the game.
Whitmore praised more than the food: “The bathrooms are better, cleaner. The giant TVs on the field are better — at Qualcomm I had to get on my phone to watch plays.”
TEAM SPIRIT
In a stadium that seats roughly 27,000, attendance was 25,381.
Social media wags sneered that the Rams (55,000-plus at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum on Sunday) and Chargers combined couldn’t top USC’s 84,000 turnout for its Saturday night win over Texas.
Nonetheless, the fans cheered loudly in Carson — for both teams.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, speaking minutes after the Chargers’ loss, said the team felt welcomed despite notably loud Dolphins fans.
“I thought there was great energy in the stadium,” Rivers said. “Our fans were good. They cheered at all the right times,” Rivers said. “And the Dolphins fans weren’t loud to where in third downs we had a hard time operating. It wasn’t by any means a disappointment to a player coming out there.”
The bottom line, Rivers said, is: “We gotta find a way to win the game. That’s what we’re most concerned about.”
Whitmore, the longtime fan from Valencia, was one of many supporters who have seen the team through its troubled recent history.
As far as losing, he said: “We’re used to that.”
SILVER LININGS
Even as they left the stadium with bowed heads, fans still had much to celebrate.
Seemingly ageless veteran Antonio Gates scored his record 112th touchdown — the most ever for an NFL tight end.
“I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it,” he said of the record-breaking touchdown. “It happened so fast.”
As far as the team’s loss, Gates offered a dose of perspective.
“It’s going to be peaks and valleys in the season, and you just have to keep focused on the task at hand,” he said after the game. “We just got a slow start so hopefully we can turn it around.”
IMPACT ON REGION
Local political leaders who worked to cajole the Chargers back to Los Angeles attended the game. They said they hoped to see southwest Los Angeles County benefit from the NFL’s ability to draw fans — even if new supporters may be hard to gain without wins.
“I’m ecstatic this is here in Carson,” said Carson Mayor Al Robles. “We were fighting to get the Chargers and Raiders, and we got the Chargers. It’s incredible branding to establish Carson as a major destination. And we’re hoping to keep them as a permanent training facility.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also attended the game, saying he expects the franchise to bring needed economic development.
“Sports franchises improve the local economy,” Ridley-Thomas said. “If you take Inglewood as an example — just the amount of investment (in the new $3 billion NFL stadium) is going to have a huge impact on jobs, amenities, schools. That kind of infusion will help the whole South Bay.”
As far as the loss to Carson when the Chargers leave, he said: “This is an experiment. I suspect (StubHub Center) is going to catch the eye of NFL owners dealing with too many open seats.”

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