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COMMENTARY: Remembering the good and bad of what was once “The Murph” and “The Q”

1982 jack murphy stadium

A JUNE 2, 1982 PHOTO taken shortly before the start of the San Diego Sockers North American Soccer League game against the Toronto Blizzard. At the time, it was known as Jack Murphy Stadium, in honor of San Diego’s longtime sportswriter who was instrumental in building support in the late 1960s for the building of the stadium. The Sockers would call San Diego home from 1978-1984. Notice to the right of the scoreboard is an advertisement for the defunct Pacific Southwest Airlines, which was headquartered in San Diego. Photo by Loren Kopff.

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

November 27, 2020

 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series remembering the days of the San Diego’s multipurpose stadium, which is being torn down.

 

It should have been torn down years ago, but I guess better late than never. The bulldozers have already made their way to 9449 Friars Road in the Mission Valley area of San Diego, beginning the demolition stages of the city’s stadium that once hosted multiple professional sports franchises.

Almost half of the parking lot has already been dug up and the smaller concrete ramps outside the stadium have been taken down. In fact, excavators have begun tearing out the stadium seats while some will go on sale beginning next month. In the first few months of 2021, the stadium will be torn down little by little. There won’t be a big implosion, which sealed the fate of previous “cookie-cutter” stadiums in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, this will be a slow death of a stadium that I once knew every inch of and probably walked thousands of steps both inside and outside over the course of the past 40 years.

 

JUST OFF FRIARS ROAD in the Mission Valley area of San Diego sits the current San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, which is being torn down. The stadium has been a fixture of San Diego’s history since 1967 and was home to several professional sports teams as well as collegiate events. Portions of the parking lot have already been dug up. PHOTO BY DONNA SMITH.

 

Just in time for the opening of the San Diego State University football season in 2022, Aztec Stadium will be up and running, replacing what was once San Diego Stadium, then Jack Murphy Stadium, Qualcomm Stadium and finally San Diego County Credit Union Stadium. Believe it or not, it was even called Snapdragon Stadium for a week in a half in 2011. The aging stadium, which was built in November, 1965 and opened for the San Diego Chargers for the 1967 season, has been falling apart over the past decade or so to the point where it would have been more expensive to renovate the facility than it would to build a new stadium on the same site at the intersection of Interstates 8 and 15. Krylon couldn’t even help the eliminate the rust that has accumulated on the once shiny handrails throughout SDCCU Stadium and the strongest power washes won’t put a dent into the grime that has piled up on the numerous walkways inside and outside the facility.

Aztec Stadium will be part of the 166-acre expansion parcel on the northwest corner of what will be called the new SDSU Mission Valley campus. Not only will it seat roughly 35,000 to start, and can be the home of a future National Football League team should that ever happen, but the surrounding area around the new digs will also  be home to housing, offices, retail space and hotels. The $3.5 billion project will also include 80 acres of park and open space and feature a 34-acre river park.

I moved to America’s Finest City 12 years after San Diego Stadium was built and it didn’t take long before my family and I began to make frequent visits to it. In fact, it was one of the first structures I remembered seeing when I moved to San Diego in the wee hours of the morning of Friday, November 24, 1978, driving west on Interstate 8 before turning on Interstate 15.

Even though I have always been an avid baseball fan, going back to my pre-San Diego days, it’s hard to believe that my early years of canvassing “The Murph” were spent watching the San Diego Sockers of the defunct North American Soccer League. In fact, my family and I had season tickets to the Sockers from 1979-1982.

For those who remember the NASL and are doing the math at home, that’s over 60 home games over four years, plus the 1982 Soccer Bowl between the New York Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders, won by the Cosmos on the strength of a Giorgio Chinaglia goal in the 30th minute, the lone tally of the match. As the league became less popular, we would see more San Diego Sockers’ games sprinkled throughout the next few years until the league ceased operations in 1984. The Sockers averaged less than 6,000 fans for their 12 home games in 1984 and during the four years my family and I had season tickets, the Sockers never averaged 15,000 spectators in any season.

Yes, my brother and I must have walked every inch of the stadium in 1979 and the early 1980s, from the bowels where the Servomation Refreshments offices were located, to the circular ramps where we would race each other to see who could get to the plaza level first. Our seats were located on the Plaza Level, the second of five levels, facing north and at the time, the stadium was still open on the east side, where the scoreboard was located. For those lucky enough to sit in the upper level, you could see the cars moving along Interstate 15. Throughout the existence of the Sockers in the NASL, the field would be configured both north to south, and east to west.

Our trips to the soccer games were pretty much routine and included stops at the Mira Mesa Arby’s or Pioneer Chicken to pick up dinner to consume at the games. Of course, we always brought bags of peanuts and other snacks, but nothing could replace the taste of the delicious nachos that were put in small paper bowls, long before the days of the current plastic, rectangular dishes that has a small corner set aside for the cheese.

My brother and I would always buy the latest KICK Magazine upon entry through the gates, catching up on the latest news of the NASL and doing a mini scouting report of the opponent. Then we would head down to the field level to get autographs of the star players and fan favorites, like forwards Hugo Sanchez and Jean Willrich, midfielders Leonardo Cuellar, Kaz Deyna, Ty Keough and Julie Veee, defender Martin Donnelly and goalkeepers Volkmar Gross and Alan Mayer. We would even be entertained by Robin, one of the many vendors walking up and down the steps of the Plaza Level, selling hot dogs and singing.

But it wasn’t all about the food at the soccer games. It was about being part of a professional sports team in San Diego, an organization that could join the Aztecs, Chargers and Padres as being called tenants of the stadium.

Being season-ticket holders of the Sockers had its privileges as we were part of the team’s booster club and would frequently go to what was once called Flannigan’s Bar, at the corner of Rancho Mission Road and San Diego Mission Road, a mile or so east of the stadium, for post-game gatherings. Occasionally, we would make the short trip up Interstate 5 to see home games of the Los Angeles Aztecs and California Surf.

I guess playing youth soccer at a young age made me a San Diego Sockers fan in the early 80s. But I also enjoyed going to the stadium as many times as I could, any day of the week. The irony to this is that in the final months and days of the existence of the stadium, there has been little to no mention of the Sockers playing there from 1978-1984. But I will have many memories of going to their games and watching professional soccer.

 

 

 

 

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