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NFL game will go on as regularly scheduled in San Diego

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chased from their homes and practice fields
by deadly wildfires, the San Diego Chargers headed home Friday
night and will play the Houston Texans at Qualcomm Stadium on
Sunday as scheduled.

"That's the best news I've heard since this happened," running
back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "I never thought I'd feel so good
just going home."

The team worked out for a final time at the Arizona Cardinals'
facility Friday afternoon, then boarded buses to the airport for
the flight to San Diego.

"It was like a relief," tight end Antonio Gates said, "to be
able to go home and play in front of our home crowd, considering
all the trials and tribulations that are going on in San Diego."

The game's date and time had been in doubt because Qualcomm was
used as a major evacuation center during the wildfires that swept
San Diego County. The stadium closed as an evacuation center at
noon Friday.

"Early Friday morning the Chargers informed me that the NFL has
decided to play Sunday's game as scheduled at Qualcomm Stadium,"
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said in a press release. "The City
will be able to provide sufficient public safety personnel to
manage a professional football game without impeding ongoing
wildfire recovery efforts."

Several players and coach Norv Turner said they expect an
emotional scene Sunday.

"Just thinking about it I get goosebumps," Tomlinson said. "I
think it's going to be very emotional, and I wouldn't be surprised
if there were a lot of tears in that stadium."

The Chargers, who had a bye last week, canceled practice Monday,
then flew to Phoenix for workouts at the Cardinals' facility
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

"We wanted to come over here and get three good days of
practice and not have where we were playing as a distraction,"
Turner said. "Obviously, we wanted to be at home, wanted to be in
our stadium in front of our fans. It's worked out for us."

Quarterback Philip Rivers said Turner never mentioned the
uncertainty surrounding the game during practices.

"From a fire and home and town perspective, it's been a rough
week for so many people in San Diego who had it a lot tougher than
we did," Rivers said. "From a football perspective, it's been
challenging, but at the same time it's been good. ... With the
right guys, you can make any place work, any situation be a good
one."

Though several blazes still burned Friday across San Diego County, thousands of evacuees have been trickling back to neighborhoods stripped bare.

"Hopefully, we can bring some excitement to a community that's going through a lot of turmoil," Rivers said.

The mayor's spokesman, Fred Sainz, said Qualcomm was never
intended to be a long-term shelter, because it doesn't have a roof
and showers weren't available.

"The mayor's concern has always been that evacuees be dealt
with correctly and appropriately," Sainz said.

He said the city's three main concerns were that the remaining
evacuees could be moved to other sites, that there would be enough
police to work a game as usual and that the stadium would be ready.

"When those three boxes were checked off and the mayor felt
comfortable, is when we told the Chargers that the stadium could be
ready," Sainz said.

Some 46 players, coaches and staff members had to evacuate their
suburban homes starting early Monday morning. Among them were
Tomlinson, Rivers, Turner, Shawne Merriman, and general manager
A.J. Smith. As far as anyone knew, none of them lost their homes.

Four years ago to the week, the Chargers had to move a home
Monday night game on short notice to Tempe because Qualcomm was
sheltering evacuees from deadly wildfires and the air was fouled by
smoke.

This time, the Chargers hope they can provide some relief to a
city that could use some.

"Sometimes when you cheer, you're able to let some steam off,
just to yell," Tomlinson said. "So hopefully we give them a lot
to cheer about on Sunday."