Updated: Jan 6
I had hoped a quiet saunter through the chill winter air would clear my crowded mind. It is Sunday afternoon in London, and anxiety about the implications of the upcoming game against Denver has made any simple task seem complex and undecipherable.
Where the entire week had been shadowed by the embarrassing loss the Chargers suffered to the Houston Texans, the weather illustrated this with gloomy, rolling clouds to start the day.
The cold afternoon atmosphere was rich with the scent of oak trees. Parking myself on a bench, I pulled up Friday’s press conference on my phone. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was at the podium, beset by beat writers keen for updates to the lengthy “reserve/COVID-19” list. So many key players on our beloved team found themselves bound to this list; their status for today’s game would be crucial.
Taking in a breath, I searched for reasons to be optimistic. Staley rattled off the names of players freed from the clutches of “the COVID list” by changes to the CDC isolation guidelines. Of the soundbites the Coach fed hungry reporters, two in particular made me take notice.
Sat alongside the powerful River Thames, I gazed across to Eel Pie Island. The Island, a slim stretch of land formerly home to the Eel Pie Island Hotel, was infamous for its Jazz Club and hippie squat, which came to be known as ‘the place where the 60’s began.’ The club was a popular gig destination for young bands of the time such as The Who, Pink Floyd and Genesis. It was here that The Rolling Stones first emerged.
Today the island is home to 26 artists and a Rowing Club, with a Yacht club further up the river. Accessible only by boat or footbridge, the whole island is usually off-limits to the public.
Like the Lombardi trophy, Eel Pie Island sits isolated year round. Accessible by only a narrow footbridge to passersby. As I peered across the river to the sleepy island, I couldn't help imagining how it could represent a goal for Chargers fans, staff and players. Can the Chargers navigate the narrow walkway--the tightrope--to reach the other side? Or will they plunge into the depths below, destined to be banished to the other side still longer?
Returning to the press conference, Staley mentioned a likely return of standout safety Derwin James, as well as the benefits of getting a full, intensive week of practice for Asante Samuel, Jr. The latter had appeared rusty and slow against the Houston Texans; shaking off those cobwebs after several perturbing weeks would surely help, I told myself.
Watching Staley speak, I noticed a change in him. It was just as a ship’s captain might notice a change of wind before it had begun. The beacons of support were lit.
By the end of the video, my anxiety for this upcoming game had changed. Sharp beams of sunlight began to break through the clouds and disperse them rapidly, refusing their reentry to the day’s climate. The worries I experienced had evaporated.
“Hope is kindled” as Gandalf once said.
At 9pm I took residence on the sofa in my family home, the scene of several heartbreaking losses for Chargers fans. Mimi, the Twickenham Charger cat stretched out on my armrest. My father Julian joined me, a Chargers fan ever since the nail-biting Chargers vs. Raiders game last year. Snapping the lid off a near-frozen Estrella Damm, I hoped--prayed--this game would not follow those others.
The opening drive was strong, culminating in an Austin Ekeler rushing Touchdown. Despite this early success, simple mistakes which have plagued this team for years surfaced, recondite to me.
After an unexpected, incomparable 4th down Sack by defensive end Jerry Tillery, the Chargers next offensive drive amounted to a hungry emptiness.