Chargers practice in Arizona; await decision on game

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The San Diego Chargers worked out, waited and wondered Thursday where and when they will play their next game.

With their home stadium being used as an evacuation center for people fleeing wildfires in the San Diego area, the Chargers went through what coach Norv Turner called "one of our best practices of the year."

The Chargers are scheduled to play at home against the Houston Texans on Sunday, and a decision from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on the availability of the stadium had been expected Thursday. However, no word came.

"No decision has been made at this time," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "When a decision is made, we will certainly let you know."

The team shifted its practices to the Arizona Cardinals' training facility Wednesday. Daily workouts are scheduled through Friday. Where the Chargers go after that remained a mystery.

Among the possibilities were keeping the game in San Diego but moving it to Monday night.

If that happened, Turner said, "I hope it would help" the community.

"I don't want to say a football game is going to minimize what's happened there," he said. "We have a lot of players that have friends, neighbors, relatives that have lost everything they have. I can't imagine being in that position. I can't imagine what those people are going through."

Sanders said he believes Qualcomm Stadium can be ready for a game Sunday.

"It depends on what the NFL wants," Sanders said. "We believe it could be played, but I think the NFL and Chargers have concerns. They're talking them out, about air quality and about taking public safety personnel off the street if this continues in the backcountry.

"They're going through a process that we appreciate. They're thinking about public safety and what's best for the community."

Qualcomm is scheduled to close as an evacuation center at noon Friday.

"All options are still being discussed," stadium general manager Erik Stover said.

At best, the game would serve as a diversion from the grim task at hand, Turner said.

"If we could provide a little bit of relief, a 3 1/2-hour relief and a little bit of excitement and drama, hopefully that would help," he said.

Dallas and Houston also were mentioned earlier as potential sites for the game. The Cardinals' stadium in Glendale is booked for a motorcycle show through Sunday.

The Chargers issued a statement Thursday night saying they "are working with the mayor's office and the NFL to ensure that all aspects of this situation are carefully evaluated and that the best possible decision for the people of San Diego ultimately is reached."

Chargers officials Dean Spanos and Jim Steeg didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Four years ago almost to the day, wildfires led to a decision on short notice to move a Monday night game against Miami from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego to Sun Devil Stadium on the Arizona State campus.

As is the case now, the stadium was being used to help evacuees and the air was fouled by smoke.

Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal said the situation at home dwarfs any concern about where a football game would be played.

"It's just that four years later you're in the same situation," Neal said after Thursday's practice. "You work so hard to build your dream home and your life and everything is gone in a matter of hours - memories that you can't replace, pictures and different things that can't be replaced even if you do have insurance."

Some 46 players, coaches and staff members had to evacuate their suburban homes starting early Monday morning. Among them were Turner, quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, linebacker Shawne Merriman, and general manager A.J. Smith.

As far as anyone knew, none of those homes had burned.

"It is home, and obviously we care about our community," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "A lot of people are going through a tough time. Hopefully we can get back there as soon as we can, but right now we're focusing on getting a win."

The team canceled practice Monday, then flew to Phoenix on Tuesday night. They were staying in a north Phoenix hotel and taking buses across the city to the Cardinals' facility.

Turner was pleased that the team had such a good workout after a poor practice on Wednesday. The Chargers had the facility to themselves Thursday because the Cardinals have a bye week.

"I thought our guys had great energy," Turner said. "I thought they did a good job of focusing in on Houston and focusing on the things we have to do."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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