San Diego has been home to some of the most memorable sports history moments, but its teams aren’t always the stars. Don’t let that stop you from showing off your pride with our San Diego city collection.
Keep reading to discover some of the best and worst events for San Diego teams — even the ones who left for Los Angeles.
Let’s start with the highlight reel.
This one still brings tears to our eyes. In 1984, the Padres finally stepped onto the field of a postseason series. It was the franchise’s first since debuting in 1969. The five-game series looked like it belonged to the Cubs after the Padres lost the first two games. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. The Padres rallied and rode that momentum to win the next three games, advancing to the World Series. Cubs fans had a new feather for their “Curse of the Billy Goat” hat, and San Diego achieved its first postseason win in historic style.
The Chargers now reside in Los Angeles, but in 1995, they were San Diego’s own. After a spectacular win against the Dolphins, the Chargers faced the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
With low odds and expectations, no one was surprised that the Chargers were trailing Pittsburgh for most of the game. By the fourth quarter, it was 13-10 with five minutes left to play. Stan Humphries said it’s not over until we say it’s over. He threw a 43-yard touchdown to take the lead and then just had to wait and watch to see if the Steelers would respond. With one minute left and just three yards to go, Neil O’Donnell tossed the ball over the endzone for an incomplete pass. San Diego went ballistic. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the team was headed for the Super Bowl.
It’s not every day that a golf tournament becomes the most gripping sport on television, but that’s exactly what happened in 2008 when Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate went hole for hole at San Diego’s Torrey Pines.
Fresh off knee surgery, Woods would have to fight hard to maintain his winning streak when leading going into the final round. After the fourth round of play, the two leaders were tied, forcing an 18-hole playoff. Incredibly, that playoff resulted in yet another tie, meaning the two players were headed to sudden death. Woods would win the tournament on an even par and give us one of his best fist pumps ever.
Going into the 1995-1996 season, the San Diego Sockers had four straight indoor soccer titles to their name. This season was their chance to get their fifth, and in a bizarre choice that led to an “only in the ’90s video,” the team recorded a rap song called “One for the Thumb.”
It may have gone down as a cringey reminder of days past had the team not won the next season, but the Sockers of the ’90s were too good to beat. In a seven-game championship against the Minnesota Strikers, San Diego fought back from a 3-1 game deficit and achieved their thumb-turning win to a sold-out crowd at the Sports Arena.
Whether you’re from San Diego or not, you’ve probably seen the Chicken before. The famed mascot for the San Diego Padres was not actually commissioned by the team — but appeared on the scene after performer Ted Giannoulas realized he could probably get into a few games for free with the get-up.
After a legal battle with the radio station that did commission the chicken, Giannoulas made a return to the Padres for the history books. Ahead of a 1979 game — the game was actually delayed to make time for this — the Chicken was “re-hatched” on the field, with Giannoulas emerging from a giant egg. Ridiculous? Definitely. A classic San Diego moment? Instantly.
Remember these moments? You’re a real San Diego fan that deserves our 619 tee.
Not even the Chicken could cheer us up over these moments. Let’s look back at some of the worst days as a San Diegan sports fan.
You always know a play is worth watching if the NFL changes the rules of the game after it’s done. That’s exactly what happened when the Raiders beat the Chargers with an intentional fumble in the game’s final seconds. Oakland’s tight end Dave Casper kicked the ball into the endzone and hopped on top, giving the team the position for the extra point victory.
Shortly after, the NFL ruled you cannot play an intentional fumble with less than two minutes left in the game. Chargers fans would have preferred if that call were made before this particular game.
A no-hitter is rare. A no-hitter, while you’re on LSD, is unheard of. Or at least it was before Dock Ellis took the mound in 1970. Many know the story, but few remember that the San Diego Padres were on the receiving end of that wild pitching ride. On June 12, Ellis threw a no-hitter, cementing his spot in that year’s sports almanac.
Twelve years later, he revealed that he had taken acid that day, unable at one point to distinguish the catcher from President Richard Nixon. We’ll never quite know if Ellis actually was on LSD, but the unbelievable story is a part of Padres lore.
By 2020, San Diegans knew the SDCCU stadium would be coming down. The arena had fallen into disrepair years before. But that knowledge didn’t soften the blow of seeing the beloved Murph get demolished, especially in the context of a global pandemic. Robbed of the chance to see one last game there, the Chicken performer Ted Giannoulas said, “We didn’t even have one last house party for the place.”
Some of the incredible moments on this list included the Murph as their backdrop. After the Chargers beat the Steelers, fans packed the Murph to capacity in a celebration the city will never forget. Now demolished, the arena lives on only in our memories.
In 1985, Pete Rose was on a roll, eyeing Ty Cobb's all-time hit record with contagious energy. It was a matter of when not if. Sadly for Padres fans, that “when” came on September 11, 1985.
Pitcher Eric Show had been having a tough week, and it showed when he threw Rose a meatball slider with all the opportunity in the world for Rose to achieve his record-breaking hit. He did, of course, and Show shook his hand, turned back to the mound, and took his now historic seat to watch the celebration ensue. With a heartbreaking look that said, “I don’t want to be here,” it was just the beginning of a tough night for Show that included a dugout squabble with his teammate, Carmelo Martinez.
This one still stings. In 2007, the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres came up dead even for a wild card spot in the postseason, forcing a game at Coors Field. The tense game came to an end when Rockies’ Jamey Carroll hit a line drive and sent Matt Holliday home from third, who was called safe after Padres catcher Michael Barrett fumbled the catch.
That’s all fine and good, except that Matt Holliday never actually touched home. Immediately a controversial call, the Padres missed the playoffs that year, and the Rockies rolled all the way into their first World Series.
Teams have come and gone from San Diego, but that doesn’t stop this eccentric and passionate town from showing up day in and day out for its love of sports.
Check out our full California collection to honor the best and brightest from up and down the Golden State.
Greatest Moments in San Diego History | Sports Illustrated
5 Greatest moments in Los Angeles Chargers history, ranked | ClutchPoints
The 52: Sockers lived up to ‘One for Thumb’ hype | The San Diego Union-Tribune
50 Moments — The San Diego Chicken was “Re-hatched” on June 29, 1979 Before a Padres Game | FriarWire
Today is the 47th anniversary of Dock Ellis' acid-fueled no-hitter | Sports Illustrated
San Diegans left feeling sad as ‘The Murph’ comes down | AP News
The tortured life of Eric Show | ESPN