Rod Laver not only is one of the greatest tennis players of all time; he might be THE best ever. The top- ranked pro for seven years in the 1960s, he won a record 200 singles titles, including not one but two Grand Slams.
So what? So nobody has won it once since.
But Laver is more than a tennis legend. He’s also a passionate Chargers’ fan … or, at least, was. Then the club moved to Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego and left Laver and other season-ticket holders behind — with some so angry they burned Chargers’ jerseys outside the team’s former Murphy Canyon headquarters.
Needless to say, Laver wasn’t one of them. But he wasn’t … and isn’t … happy.
“It’s terribly disappointing,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “not just for me because, yes, I did have season tickets for nine or ten years and loved every minute of it. We didn’t have these sort of things in Australia but to be able to see the games … be in the parking lot with all the guys who were there … it was a great thrill for me to take my family down and enjoy a Sunday with the Chargers.
“It is disappointing that the Chargers are gone. I think most of the Chargers’ fans here are pretty much … they’re just mad that (Dean) Spanos let them down. I don’t know how much I’ll follow them up in L.A., but I have a sneaking hunch that Spanos may decide that selling the team from up there … in 10 years … you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe we’ll get another team.”
Maybe not. But one thing the Chargers couldn’t take with them were the memories Laver shared with his friends and family before, during and after games … like the time he invited former Chiefs’ owner Lamar Hunt to his pre-game tailgate party to play a game of “Chuckers,” a.k.a. bean-bag toss.
“Lamar always came to the events when Kansas City was here,” Laver said, “and it was interesting because he and I … with the WCT (World Championship Tennis) … we knew each other well enough. (Both) he and (Hunt’s wife) Norma. So I went up to his car and said, ‘Why don’t you come down to play some ‘Chuckers’ with us? He had a walking stick at this stage, and he said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’
“So we had a good game, and a lot of people there said, ‘How did you talk him into coming down here?’ And I said, ‘I think we’re pretty good friends. He’s just a normal person that loves sports. So this may be a new sport for him.’ And that was how it happened. It was nice that Lamar did come down, and it was a thrill to be part of the WCT and working with he and all the people that were involved in making WCT work.”
Laver is part of something new in tennis that could … and should work. And that’s the Laver Cup, tennis’ version of the Ryder Cup which will debut later this month in Prague and will pit six of the best tennis players in Europe — including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — against the world. John McEnroe will captain the world team, while Bjorn Borg will captain Team Europe.
“Having it be the name the Laver Cup is really pretty amazing,” Laver said. “How it happened is … Roger Federer is a historian to many things, and open tennis has been here for 50 years now. And he feels amateur tennis has been lost and (that) no one will know who Don Budge and (Bill) Tilden and (Jerry) Kramer and (Tony) Trabert and all those people (were) … it’s going to be lost. And he said,’Why don’t we put your name on the Laver Cup and that will be a throwback to all the amateur world?’
“I’m sort of thrilled he picked myself because there are a lot of great players around who could’ve taken it over … I think its got a nice twist to it. I think the matches will be well played. They’re the 12 top players in the world, and it will be a three-day competition. So, for me, I’m thrilled to be part of it.”