Published January 13, 2015
The San Diego Chargers don't know where or when they'll play their next game.
While they spent Monday taking care of their families and trying to find out if their homes survived the wildfires sweeping Southern California, the Chargers were busy Tuesday preparing to fly to Phoenix to practice at the Arizona Cardinals' suburban headquarters.
That means three days of hotels and bus rides and an unfamiliar workplace while wondering what's going on back home.
"How we handle that will have an impact on how it turns out on Sunday," quarterback Philip Rivers said.
It's a drill familiar to some Chargers.
Four years ago to the week, the Chargers were forced to move a Monday night game to Tempe, Ariz., on short notice because of deadly wildfires.
The Chargers are scheduled to host the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium. But, as it was four years ago, the stadium is being used as an evacuation center. On Tuesday morning, there were about 10,000 evacuees at Qualcomm, and smoke hovered over the stadium in early afternoon.
Qualcomm is in Mission Valley, northeast of downtown and out of harm's way. The league, which is holding owners meetings in Philadelphia, is debating what to do. In 2003, the NFL was sensitive to the fact that the stadium served as an evacuation center.
The Cardinals have a bye Sunday, and their stadium, located in Glendale, is scheduled to host a motorcycle show Friday through Sunday afternoon.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been meeting with Chargers president Dean Spanos and others. Goodell said the options include playing the game in Los Angeles, at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium — the Cardinals' former home — at Texas Stadium in Dallas or Reliant Stadium, the Texans' home field.
The precedent for playing at Reliant Stadium would be the New Orleans Saints playing a "home" game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands after Hurricane Katrina. That move was later criticized.
"They'll figure out a time for us to play the football game," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "You're concerned for those people in California in those fires. I've been through that in Denver and that's a horrible thing, so you just keep them in your prayers and we'll figure out what to do with the football game."
Rivers and reigning NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson were among the 40 players, coaches and staff members who were forced out of their homes by fires that started on Sunday.
"It was scary," Rivers said. "A lot of us haven't experienced it. A lot of us were not here in 2003. It's such an unknown, too. You don't know what it's doing."
Rivers said his wife talked him into leaving their suburban home before the evacuation orders came in.
"It was crazy," he said. "It was so windy and so ashy and so smelly about midnight that we went ahead and got out of there then," said Rivers, the father of three young girls. He said he heard from Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates at about 4:30 a.m. Monday that they were leaving their homes.
The Chargers canceled practice on Monday so players and coaches could take care of the families and find a place to stay if they'd been forced out of their homes, and because the smoky air was unhealthy.
The team planned to leave for Phoenix late Tuesday afternoon, and practice at the Cardinals' headquarters on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"The truth of the matter is we do have a game Sunday, who knows where, and we've got to get ready for that," Rivers said.
The Chargers are coming off their bye. After a stunning three-game losing streak, they righted many of their early season wrongs by routing the Broncos 41-3 in Denver and then beating the Oakland Raiders 28-14 at home behind Tomlinson's 198 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Chargers long snapper David Binn said the first concern is to make sure everyone is safe. "Whatever happens after that, you go with the flow," he said. "At some point you have to get back to football. Obviously the NFL is not going to stop for a fire. It'll be a distraction for sure, but not something we can't overcome."