Some of this information might be repetitious... we visited Qualcomm in April of 2001 when
we took in a game of the MLB San Diego Padres. But experiencing this venue for football is
quite a bit different from baseball, and we will try to explain...
Getting to the venue
What was formerly named "The Murph", Jack Murphy Stadium, Qualcomm Stadium opened
in 1967 as the new home of the San Diego Chargers, and also a new home to the expansion
San Diego Padres. It is located about 10 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, and is
easily accessible via several freeways which crisscross the area, notably interstates 15 or
805 if traveling north and south, or I-8 traveling east-west. Traveling to the area is pretty
simple, as there are several road alternatives to get to the venue. Don't want to drive? The
San Diego Trolley, the area's regional light rail system, has a stop literally a few steps from
the front door of the stadium. Just grab a park and ride lot - fares run $2-$5 one way
depending on distance, and you can avoid the driving hassles.
Outside the venue
The stadium is surrounded by massively large parking lots and that is about it. Nestled in a
hilly terrain, one can see homes and office buildings built onto the hills overlooking the
stadium, and shopping malls and office parks are closeby, but there is really no
neighborhood ambience to speak of.
Tailgating here is pretty impressive...not surprising when we remembered the great scene
that we witnessed for our Padres visit. Lots of campers, RV's. Companies rent out space in
the parking lots and erect hospitality tents... we even saw one with a full blown pig roast!
Just about every radio outlet in San Diego has a remote broadcast going somewhere in the
parking lot. One of the coolest places to hang out is the Budweiser Chargers Party Zone - a
tented area in the east parking lot with full bar service and food selections, and HDTV
monitors showing each of the early NFL games. Of course we made it to the area where the
Bills/Texans game was playing and immediately made friends with several transplanted
Buffalonians who were watching our game. Parking here costs $10, and satellite lots here
are pretty few and far between.
The stadium itself pretty much exemplifies the architecture of venue construction in the
60s and 70s... this is a "cookie cutter" stadium built for football and baseball, and the
outside is gray and sterile. There are sets of escalator towers in each corner to take you to
the upper levels, as well as circular ramps. Very little color, save for the canvas banners of
each of the 32 NFL team logos which hang up top in the frames of the stadium structure and
can be seen inside the bowl and from the outside.
Again exemplifying the design of that era, concourses here at Qualcomm are very narrow
and congested, and pretty dark to boot. The only area with ample room is the ground floor
plaza area. Here the exterior fences of the stadium are far back enough to open up a lot of
outdoor space for public gathering areas. And that works nicely here... several stages
offering pre game musical entertainment, specialty food stands, beer gardens, souvenir
stands and seating areas with tables and chairs, which makes for a pleasant area to just sit
and people watch.
The seating bowl
Since our first visit here, we noticed that upper deck seats were replaced and almost all
seats are colored Charger blue, save for the press level where seats are yellow. Mind you,
the Padres will move to their new ballpark in downtown San Diego in 2004. The lowest level
are field/terrace seats, club on the second level, then a small press level (with public
seating) and the upper deck is the view level. Because the venue serves both sports,
seats on the lowest level are far away from the field, and the first few rows are "obstructed
view seats" because sideline personnel and players impede one's view of the action. (They
sell these seats for $29, their cheapest price). From our impression, the best seats in the
building are in the upper deck view level. The main scoreboard is in the east end - a Sony
jumbotron, flanked by three separate one color dot matrix boards. High above the west end
zone is a second jumbotron.
At first glance, the fare here looks pretty ordinary... nothing more than your standard
ballpark dreck throughout the concourses. But head down to the plaza level and you will
find an abundance of food choices... former Padre Randy Jones barbecue stand, turkey
legs, Papa Johns pizza, sausages and ice cream. But the best food item and one unique to
Qualcomm is the fish tacos. That's right, fish tacos at the mexican stand which might even
give Mighty Taco a run for the money! Also on the plaza level is a restaurant called
Murphy's, offering a food buffet and full bar service. The main team store can also be found
on the plaza level. Like we said, this is the place to be at Qualcomm.
They do have "premium seating" here, which spans the sidelines of the second level
seating bowl, and use of the concourse is restricted. Suites ring the building on the third
level. The premium seating amenities here seem to be sparse, although we did find out that
club seats here range from $145-$250.
28 names are enshrined on a "ring of honor" which spans the upper deck along one
sideline... most of the names come from the Chargers' 60s era in the AFL, and the second
wave of honorees are dominated by the Air Coryell days in the 80s. The last name to be
enshrined is that of Wes Chandler, who hung up his cleats in 1987. Disappointingly, the
Chargers 1963 AFL Championship banner and their 1994 AFC Championship banner are
nowhere to be found.
The search for hallowed grounds...
We made the trek to find Balboa Stadium, the home of the San Diego Chargers from 1961
until 1967. It was a unique venue in that it was built into a horseshoe shaped canyon which
was almost ideally designed by nature for a football configuration. We found the site, but
the stadium has been demolished, and a small high school field stands in its place. For
Buffalo fans this will always be a special place...this is where the underdog Bills led by Jack
Kemp stomped the Chargers 23-0 to win their second consecutive AFL title back in 1965 .
Touchdowns, extra points, fumbles
Touchdown - to quarterback Drew Brees and the Chargers, who trailed all afternoon long
but managed to engineer a last minute drive to pull out a 35-34 victory with a last second
touchdown, setting off a wild celebration among the Chargers faithful, which brings us to...
Fumble - and speaking of the Chargers faithful, where the heck are the fans here??? The
Chargers are having one of their best seasons in years, optimism is running high, and the
game featured a matchup against a division rival with much at stake in a tough AFC West
division. Yet 15,000 tickets were still available a day before the game. Nice weather and a
good walk up crowd at least made the stadium crowd look respectable.
Extra point - The San Diego Sports Hall of Fame and Museum can be found among the
historic buildings of beautiful Balboa Park. The displays of the Chargers and the long and
storied history of baseball in San Diego are really cool.
Fumble... nary a mention in this same museum of San Diego's two separate runs as an NBA
city (and an ABA stint as well)... first the expansion San Diego Rockets, and then when our
beloved Buffalo Braves relocated here in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers.
Braves/Clippers stalwart Randy Smith deserves a little more respect than this!
Touchdown - to the San Diego Chargers for their nice tailgating setup. The Chargers Party
Zone really works nicely as a cool place to hang out if you don't have your own tailgate
going and want something to do.
By now we have become partial to the newer facilities and all the bells and whistles which
come with them. Qualcomm Stadium is a functional, yet very ordinary facility. The
architecture is bland and uninspiring, and concourses here are narrow and congested. The
seating bowl is very pretty, but being a two sport venue most fans are far away from the
action and seating for football is, for the most part, unobstructed but not optimal. Positives
here are the great tailgating and odds are when you visit here the weather will be superb.
Make sure to visit the Gaslamp Quarter when coming to San Diego, a twelve block party,
shopping and entertainment district downtown. The Padres new ballpark is going up right
adjacent to the Quarter and will open in 2004. Of course, the Ultimate Sports Road Trip will
Food and team store 7
Scoreboard and electronics 4.5
Fan support 4
Location and neighborhood 8
Banners and history 6
In game entertainment 5
Concourses/fan comfort 5
Bonus: Tailgate scene 3, Fish Tacos 1, Cannons on field 1, Plaza level 1