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San Diego sends off stadium

SAN DIEGO — The biggest piece of San Diego’s sports history is slowly being knocked down and ground to bits.

They’re tearing down the stadium once affectionately known as “The Murph.”

Every day, heavy equipment obliterates more and more of 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley, where Hall of Fame careers were born and most of the city’s biggest sports moments occurred.

Dan Fouts guided Air Coryell to takeoff there and Junior Seau stopped ball carriers with bone-rattling tackles.

Tony Gwynn wore out the “5.5 hole” between third base and shortstop and Trevor Hoffman first trotted out of the bullpen to the ominous gongs of “Hells Bells” at the big stadium on Friars Road.

The San Diego Chicken’s brand of fowl humor was hatched there during the rowdy ’70s.

Generations of fans are bummed that, due to the pandemic, they didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to the place where they tailgated with gusto in the massive parking lot before cheering on the Chargers, Padres and Aztecs, or watched myriad other events and concerts.

It’s also melancholy for those who performed there.

“We didn’t even have one last house party for the place,” said Ted Giannoulas, 67, who is semi-retired as the San Diego Chicken after a career of making fans laugh by poking fun at umpires, opposing players and his favorite foil, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

“To see The Murph being taken apart like that is a letdown, to be polite,” Giannoulas said. “I saw it as the heart of the town, the spirit of San Diego.”

San Diego State University is demolishing the 53-year-old stadium while building a 35,000-seat stadium next door as the first phase of a campus expansion.

SDCCU Stadium had fallen into disrepair and fans knew it eventually would come down. The Chargers pushed for nearly 15 years to get a new stadium built. After a 2016 ballot measure failed, they bolted for Los Angeles.

San Diego State prevailed at the ballot box in 2018 to win the right to buy 132 of the site’s 166 acres.

The last game there was Iowa’s 49-24 victory over Southern California in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.

Known as San Diego Stadium when it opened in 1967, it was renamed Jack Murphy Stadium in 1981 for the late sports editor of The San Diego Union. Murphy helped persuade hotelier Barron Hilton to move his Chargers from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961, and then championed the stadium’s construction to replace Balboa Stadium. It was expanded in 1997 and renamed Qualcomm Stadium.

But to many, it will always be known as The Murph.

“Anytime you want to bond with a San Diegan, whether it’s here or anywhere across the country, just say the words, ‘The Murph, what about The Murph,'” Giannoulas said. “The smiles would automatically cross their face, and the happiness, the memories, the joy were just remarkable.”

The Chargers owned San Diego.

Fouts mentions teammates like fellow Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, Wes Chandler, John Jefferson and Chuck Muncie.

“Just how unbelievable it was that the officials would allow an incomplete pass to be ruled a fumble,” Fouts said.

Hours after the Chargers stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game in 1995, to reach their only Super Bowl, they were welcomed home by fans who packed The Murph beyond capacity.

Steve Garvey’s walk-off homer at The Murph in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs in 1984 remains one of the Padres’ biggest moments. The Padres won their first pennant the next day. They also reached the World Series in 1998.

Fans have been able to buy stadium seats for $299 a pair and bid on other memorabilia.

Years ago, when the old multicolored seats were replaced by blue seats, Fouts bought six brown and four orange seats. He has them strategically located on his 40-acre, ridgetop spread in Oregon, “looking out over mountains and forests. It means a great deal to me.”

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