Fires force Chargers to head for Illinois early

Updated: October 28, 2003, 8:49 PM ET

SAN DIEGO -- With major wildfires blanketing the area with acrid smoke, the San Diego Chargers will fly to Champaign, Ill., on Wednesday to prepare for this weekend's game at Chicago.

"We don't want to deal with the health risks," coach Marty Schottenheimer said Tuesday.

It'll be the second time in three days the Chargers have been forced out of town by the deadly wildfires.

Their game Monday night against the Miami Dolphins was moved to Tempe, Ariz., after the city of San Diego told the NFL on Sunday that the game couldn't be held at Qualcomm Stadium. The stadium's parking lot had become an evacuation center for people forced out of their homes by the deadly wildfires.

The Chargers were flat Monday night and lost 26-10 to the Dolphins.

Visibility in many parts of San Diego County, including at the Chargers' headquarters, was down to about a quarter-mile on Tuesday afternoon.

"It's surreal," Schottenheimer said as he glanced at the yellowish-brown sky after his weekly news conference.

The Chargers (1-6) will practice indoors at UC San Diego on Wednesday, then fly to Champaign. They'll practice at the University of Illinois the rest of the week for their game against the Bears on Sunday.

John Hinek, the Chargers' director of business and stadium operations, lost his home in Scripps Ranch, one of the hardest-hit areas. Hinek coordinated the logistics of getting the Chargers to Tempe on short notice, and will coordinate the trip to Champaign.

"To accomplish what he did in getting all that put together, in and of itself, without the issues that he faced, was a well-done job," Schottenheimer said of Hinek. "Then it becomes remarkable when you factor in the rest of it."

Also Tuesday, San Diego State said its football team, which has a bye Saturday, is tentatively scheduled to practice Wednesday and Thursday at San Clemente High in Orange County.

Having to move Monday night's game on short notice didn't affect the Chargers' focus, Schottenheimer said.

"We had a considerable amount of our plan ready and in place because of the extra day last week. Certainly when the events transpired it was a concern. It was an issue personally, as well as collectively.

"On the other hand, when you get to the game and are involved in the game, I don't think it's a factor. I think it can have a greater impact on you in preparation than in the game itself."

Still, the Chargers played their worst game of the season on offense. Drew Brees threw three interceptions -- two of them in the first five minutes to help the Dolphins take a 10-0 lead -- and was sacked six times.

In September, with Hurricane Isabel bearing down on the East Coast, the Baltimore Ravens flew to San Diego two days earlier than scheduled. They beat the Chargers 24-10.

In January 1995, unrelenting rain waterlogged the Chargers' practice fields, forcing them to work out in a hotel ballroom the week before the AFC title game. The Chargers upset the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-13.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index