Advertisement

 SAN DIEGO (AP) - Thousands of tailgaters packed into Qualcomm Stadium's parking lot Sunday, replacing the cars and camping tents that housed wildfire evacuees all week with a field of blue-and-yellow Chargers sunshades.
Smoke from blazes still burning to the east stained the sky, but the rich meat-scented haze rising from hundreds of charcoal-briquet barbecues erased any lingering wildfire smell.
``Someone was probably living in this stall all week in a tent,'' said Jarred Pellegrini, 20, as he unloaded an Igloo cooler from the back of his dad's sport utility vehicle.
Nothing was left of those tents, which were carted away on Friday along with hundreds of cots and blankets used by more than 10,000 people who called the stadium home after fleeing their neighborhoods.
People who were still under evacuation orders or whose homes were destroyed were sent Friday to the Del Mar Fairgrounds 20 miles away after city officials decided to close relief operations at Qualcomm. About 130 remained at Del Mar on Sunday, according to Red Cross officials.
``I guess a football game is more important,'' evacuee Tami Swartz, 41, had said Friday as she made plans to return to her home in hard-hit Ramona even though at the time water had not been restored there.
But other evacuees said Sunday they welcomed any semblance of normalcy. Janis Dolan, 43, decided to leave her two sons with friends and head to the game with her husband Paul, even though they were still living in a hotel, waiting for power to be restored to their otherwise unscathed street in Poway a week after they fled.
``We needed a break, a diversion,'' said Dolan, a Chargers season-ticket holder. ``It was a battle - we still weren't sure last night when we went to bed whether we'd come.''
Regular fans also worried about the lingering smoke, including Diana Morris, who said she almost didn't make the hourlong trip to Qualcomm from her home in Orange County because she has asthma.
``We didn't know what the air quality would be like, but it's OK,'' said her husband, Dick, a retired teacher, as they shared a picnic lunch with friends outside a stadium gate.
The disaster wasn't forgotten by the team or its corporate sponsors, which arranged to have volunteers collect cash donations at each stadium entrance. Other workers wove between the elaborate tailgate parties.
Inside the stadium, state and local fire department logos were painted on the grass by both benches. ``Can't burn our spirit,'' said a sign waved by one fan.
Four San Diego firefighters led the Chargers onto the field for pregame introductions. Linebacker Shawne Merriman held up a red fireman's helmet with his left hand, then set it on the ground.
In a brief pregame ceremony, 23 firefighters, law enforcement personnel and National Guard members and their bosses lined up on the field. They received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 60,000 fans and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later thanked firefighters, law enforcement and volunteers for their work before yelling, ``Go, Chargers, go!''
---
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson contributed to this story.

NFL Top Stories

Thumbnail Steelers vs. Saints Preseason Pick The line has jumped two full points in tonight's preseason matchup between the Steelers and Saints at 8:00PM ET. Will tonight be...
Thumbnail Patriots vs. Panthers Preseason Pick Will the Panthers cover as home favorites tonight at 7:30PM ET when they host the Patriots in the teams' "dress rehearsal?"
Thumbnail Packers vs. 49ers Preseason Pick With Aaron Rodgers stepping on the field, can he lead the Green Bay Packers to a road win over the San Francisco 49ers tonight at...
Thumbnail Bills look to win in Washington The Buffalo Bills look to have another strong defensive showing when they face the Washington Redskins at 7:30PM...
Thumbnail Falcons vs. Dolphins Pick Will the Falcons stay undefeated this preseason when they visit the Dolphins tonight at 8:00PM ET?
More inNFL Articles  
Advertisement

NFL Team Pages