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View from the top with Dean Spanos
You’re 4-1 after a win in Denver and you’ve already beaten the defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs. If the Chargers win in New York, you’ll be off to a better start than the 2006 team that finished 14-2. Give us your impressions of the team so far this season?
I wish we were 5-0, but 4-1 is a good start and obviously where we are and it’s much better than where we’ve been in recent years. The focus has been to get off to a good start. After five games, we’re right where we want to be.
What do you think about the job A.J. and Norv did coming off the lockout and getting your team ready to play?
There was a lot of conversation predicting teams that had continuity (on the field) would have an advantage. I didn’t necessarily agree with that. There are so many factors that lead to success on the field. Our focus has been to get off to a fast start and stay healthy. We’ve had some key injuries, but I think we’ve overcome some of them and we’re going to have to continue to work through them. I’m proud of the way AJ, Norv, Ed McGuire and our entire staff handled the very abnormal circumstances during the offseason. I’m not sure we could have handled it any better.
Ryan Mathews is on pace to eclipse 2,000 total yards of offense. What have you thought of his development and the team’s improved rushing attack?
I think the offensive line deserves a lot of credit in helping Ryan and the running game. I also think it’s maturity on Ryan’s part in his second year. He’s maturing into a good running back, which takes time. I think the improvement of the offensive line and Ryan having more practice time and playing time than he did last year has allowed him to get into the rhythm of the games. We’re all seeing now what we all expected from him, and I think we’re going to see even bigger and better things from him later this year and beyond.
You have a new kicker, Nick Novak, a relatively new long-snapper, Mike Windt, and a host of new players on special teams playing for your new coach, Rich Bisaccia, and your special teams seem to be much improved. You have to be pleased with that, right?
Obviously special teams play last year was a huge disappointment. I think from last year to this year we’ve really had a significant improvement. It was sad to see Nate Kaeding get hurt in the opening game on the first play, but I think Nick Novak has come in and done a tremendous job so far this season. He’s perfect, so you can’t ask for more than that. I think Rich Bisaccia has just done an incredible job working with special teams. That’s why we brought him in, because we think he’s one of the best in the league.
There’s been a record-setting amount of pass offense through six weeks of the regular season. Do you think that’s good for the game, and do you feel well-positioned knowing you have an established Pro Bowl quarterback and a coach that’s always been considered great at moving the football?
I think Norv tries to run a balanced offense with a certain amount of running and passing, but it doesn’t always work out that way depending on the opponent and the circumstances of each game.
I do think that the rules to protect receivers and quarterbacks have had a significant impact on how the game is played now. It favors the offense. I think you’re going to see this type of production relative to the passing game going forward. I think we’re just starting to see what Philip can do under Norv’s guidance. They’re a perfect match together.
Rivers’ numbers are down a bit this season, yet he’s 4-1. Only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford and Alex Smith have more wins, and each of them have played six games. How do you feel about your starting quarterback and his season thus far?
I think he’s done a tremendous job for our team and he’s going to continue to do a good job. He’s made enough plays to get us to 4-1 and I think he’s going to get on a run right now and you’re going to see the typical Philip Rivers.
This weekend will be the first time the Chargers will face the Jets since the AFC Divisional Playoff loss Jan. 17, 2010. Does this game feel more significant to you for the team and for Chargers fans?
No, not really. You focus one week at a time. They’re next up. You have to get prepared this week. You can’t get too emotional about who you’re playing. This is a regular-season game and we’re approaching it as such, like we would any other game.
The Oct. 2 game against Miami unfortunately was blacked out in the local TV market. What is your reaction when a game doesn’t sell out and are you concerned it could continue to be an issue in the future?
I’m optimistic that we’re going to sell out the rest of the games this season. I think that our economy here in the state of California as well as Southern California is still reeling from the last recession. This is just a little bit of the hangover of that and I think it’s going to go away eventually. It’s disappointing when you have a blackout, but I think as long as we continue to be successful, there will be minimal blackouts if not none at all.
You have a very interesting and challenging remaining schedule at Qualcomm Stadium: hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, two AFC West rivals, the surprise 4-2 Buffalo Bills and the division-leading Baltimore Ravens. Do you feel like you and your fans are looking forward to those games?
I look forward to every game. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Those are exciting opponents, though. The Green Bay Packers are the defending world champions, so that’s going to be an exciting game in itself. But every game, every week is exciting.
You’re inducting one of the all-time greatest Chargers into the team’s Hall of Fame on Nov. 27 when San Diego plays Denver during alumni weekend in Junior Seau. What went into the decision to induct Junior and what do you like most about the team’s Hall of Fame and Alumni Weekend?
It’s really great to have Junior be part of the Hall of Fame here. He deserves it. The 13 years he played here, he was really the heart and soul of our team. Twelve Pro Bowls. We went to the Super Bowl with him. So there are a lot of great memories of Junior playing here for the Chargers that make him worthy of being inducted into the Chargers’ Hall of Fame.
It’s also great because all of the players that played here over the years get to come back. It’s a chance for the fans to see some of their favorites from the past and a chance for us to show our appreciation for all that they did for the Chargers when they were here.
Oakland owner Al Davis recently passed away. Davis was an assistant coach for the Chargers early in franchise history and also was influential in getting your father into the NFL. Can you talk a little about Al Davis and your family’s history with him?
He was a very close friend of my father from the late ’60s all the way until he passed away Oct. 8. Our family has a great deal of respect for Al in a sense that he mentored my dad to a certain degree in helping him get into the National Football League. Al was a friend throughout the years that our family has been in the league. We really respected his opinion a lot, and his friendship.
It seems there has been a lot of stadium/convention center talk in San Diego. What are you and Special Counsel Mark Fabiani currently doing to pursue the potential downtown site?
Right now our focus is obviously in downtown San Diego. We’ve been working on that particular site for almost two years now. There is a lot of talk to a certain degree because of the fact that Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Hall are engaged and they see there’s a possibility that something could get done. Right now we’re working on how this project would be financed. There’s a lot of work in progress right now. Hopefully in a very short period of time we’re going to know if we can put something on the ballot in November of 2012.