APRIL 14, 2017
PLEDGING ALLEGIANCE TO A NEW TEAM
Scott Mortland has a compelling story to tell. It’s about a fan’s heartbreak after a beloved franchise is yanked from his hometown.
It’s about a bond between a father and a son.
And it’s about how a diehard San Diego Chargers fan from Carlsbad, California has now sworn his allegiance to a new football team in a far, far away city.
And that would be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“It’s a little random, this story, but I think it’s going to lead to something special, especially for my son,” began Mortland in a chat with bluebombers.com this week. “And I think the Bombers are going to be the next chapter. A great chapter.”
Mortland is 57 and retired now after being a part owner of a small software company. He and his wife are the proud parents of four adopted children, the youngest of whom is 21-year-old Gregory, who is intellectually disabled.
A diehard sports fan, Mortland has had season tickets to the San Diego Padres and Chargers and has been a loyal supporter of all sports teams related to the city, including the American Hockey League’s Gulls and even the El Paso Chihuahuas – the Padres Triple-A affiliate in west Texas.
He began to take Gregory to games about seven years ago and the impact on his son, who is non-verbal but very social, was instant.
“The rest is history,” Mortland said. “We love the Padres. He enjoyed going to the Chargers games. I’ll be honest, he doesn’t get sports at all, but he loves being out in the open air and he loves meeting people. He just enjoys the experience. He has had a blast at the hockey games, too.”
And then came the news on January 12th of this year that the Chargers – after 56 years in San Diego – were packing up and moving to Los Angeles. Mortland, like many other fans who grew up cheering for icons like Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and LaDainian Tomlinson, was crushed.
“It was devastating news,” Mortland conceded. “I consider myself a native San Diegan after I moved here from Arizona when I was nine years old. This became my home. I grew up here and all these teams are mine.
“The NFL is just a juggernaut. ‘Big business’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. In the last six months, three franchises have left their cities (St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland). What’s hard for fans in San Diego is, yeah, they’re moving up the freeway and you can still follow them, but L.A. already has a football team. The Rams originated there for almost 30 years before moving to St. Louis for 20 years and then coming back. They’ve got two baseball teams, two hockey teams, two basketball teams, two colleges (USC and UCLA) who are revered and are treated as if they were professional. All the press here says that this franchise (the L.A. Chargers) are going to get lost with all those other teams that have existing fan bases.
“Now, when you grew up here in the 70s and 80s you are definitely made to feel you are the stepbrother to the L.A. teams,” Mortland added. “So, the fact they moved there is problematic for me. If they had moved to Vegas or San Antonio or some other city in the States I probably would have maintained my fanship.
“But going to L.A. and the way it was done… it just broke my heart.”
The day the Chargers made their exit from San Diego, Mortland gathered up all his team’s gear – his son’s comforter, hats, T-shirts, etc – and neatly placed them on his driveway for donation to Goodwill. A Facebook post notified all his friends he was done with the Chargers.
And then he began searching for a new club.
That brings us to how he came to find the Blue Bombers…
“And when I went on the website and saw how involved the team was in the community with ‘Harris’ Heroes’ to ‘Medlocks Kicks for Kids’ to the connection with the indigenous community… I realize all teams do that, but it began with the bolt for me.”
“I looked at the roster and saw that Chris Randle went to Utah State – my niece went there on a basketball scholarship, and Tristan Okpalaugo went to Fresno State with Derek Carr and was nominated for the Bulsworth Trophy (awarded annually to the top player who began his career as a walk-on).
“As I was looking more and more into it I just thought, ‘This is my team.’”
Mortland reached out to Allan Hnatiuk in the Bomber Store and had his new gear shipped to him in California. And it wasn’t long after he spoke to Fan Services Manager Carol Barrott that Mortland decided he and his son Gregory absolutely had to get to Winnipeg for a game.
“We’ll be there for the July 27th game against Montreal,” he said. “We’re thinking of going up to a game in B.C., too, because it’s close and we may go to another in Hamilton because I have friends in Toronto. We were told about the zoo and that it’s a great city. We can’t wait.
“The only thing I want to make sure of is that Gregory gets a photo taken with Buzz and Boomer.”