Rachel Bayer is a diehard Chargers fan and it’s on display in ink on her body.
There is one tattoo on her ankle of a Chargers lightning bolt she got when she married in 1996.
There is a second tattoo on her foot with “Chargers” from 1998 when her son was born.
And there is a third on her lower back of another bolt, done about six years ago.
"A lot of lesbians love tattoos,” she said.
Bayer, a 46-year-old cook in Pasadena, Calif., loves the Chargers, winning or losing, and it’s been mostly the latter in the past 25 years. She stayed a fan even after their move this year to Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego.
She is representative of an informal group of lesbians in Southern California who plan their fall Sundays around following the team. They hold tailgates and private viewing parties and talk football at work and home and places in-between. Another participant said she has been to tailgates with as many as 20 lesbian fans.
“I know a lot of lesbians who aren't just Chargers fans, they're football fans,” said Bayer, who spars with a female coworker who loves the Broncos.
Kayce Brown, an LGBT activist in Venice, who told me about the Chargers’ lesbian fans, is herself a 49ers fan and who has her own theories about the football attraction.
“I think a lot of us are just fans of sports,” Brown said. “Some straight guys just love baseball, some love hockey. Some lesbians just like football. At the end of the day, it's all about inclusion no matter who you are.”
Brown’s love of football came at an early age.
“My earliest 'fandom' of football was definitely the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders Calendar,” she said. “I was pretty awestruck by it and so I became a Cowboys fan by default.
“I think I was 6 or 7 when I actually asked for a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader outfit for my birthday and I only ever wore the vest and cowboy hat. It was a pretty tell-tale sign I was a lesbian right there.”
For Bayer, her love of football came as a result of her love of playing sports.
She came of age when there were no organized women’s football leagues like there is now. A basketball all-star in high school in Los Angeles County, she played softball at San Diego State, where she became hooked on Chargers football, going to tailgates with friends and classmates. If she was a modern-day player, she said she would be Phillip Rivers, since they have the same passion and competitiveness.
“I myself am an athlete,” she said. “I was born in 1971. If they had a women's football league for me, I absolutely would have played. I love football. Sports has been a big part of my life growing up and then you don't get to play it anymore, so maybe that has something to do with it.”
The love of athletics is one reason Bayer thinks lesbians are drawn to football as a spectator sport. That and the social aspects.
“For the most part lesbians don't have children,” she said. “They can go and party and drink and eat and watch football all day and they love doing that. I think that has a lot to do with it. There are not a lot of responsibilities as far as having children.”
Drinking is not only a great social outlet — for Chargers fans it’s is often a necessity. In their 56-year history, the team has won one championship, the 1963 American Football League title. They won the AFC championship in 1994 and then got crushed by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Many of their playoff losses have been of the gruesome variety — a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing five interceptions against a team as the No. 1 seed when the other team figured out the Chargers’ hand signals (Houston Oilers, 1979); missed chip-shot field goals by a reliable kicker (New York Jets, most recently 2009); a defensive back sealing a win with an interception, only to fumble the ball back to the other team on the return (New England Patriots, 2006) … you get the picture.
“I guess I’m a glutton,” Bayer said. “I’m there no matter what.”
She was there on Jan. 8, 2005, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego for an overtime playoff loss to the Jets when reliable kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal that would have won the game. Even the weather conspired against the Chargers — it was 55 and raining.
Bayer had first row club seats on the 35-yard line, ready to celebrate a win. Then the Chargers did their Chargers thing and lost. “We were just pumped,” Bayer said. “Then Kaeding missed that freaking field goal and I just laid in the rain.”
Despite it all. Bayer said “that game was very memorable for me. It was a good time, even though we ended up losing. The Patriots game in the playoffs [two years later] was the same way.”
It’s that devotion, win or lose, that exemplifies being a fan and hoping this year is finally the year. She is most fond of the Chargers teams of the early 2000s, contenders most years under coach Marty Schottenheimer and with superstar players like Drew Brees and Rivers at quarterback, LaDanian Tomlinson running the ball and Junior Seau wreaking havoc on defense.
Bayer lived in San Diego then and a friend’s sister worked for the team. This got her access to their Chargers Christmas party and practices. She got a lot of her memorabilia signed. Tomlinson autographed her “IntoBolts” license plate and she treasures a helmet signed by Drew Brees, Antonio Gates and other players from the era.
This season, Bayer has stayed loyal to the Chargers even after they bolted their San Diego home of more than 50 years. It helps that they now play just miles from her home, but she understands San Diegans who feel betrayed. “I think it's stupid,” she said of the move. “L.A. is a really tough area to come into and we've grown accustomed to not having a team.”
She had made several appearances on the video screen at StubHub Center, the team’s 27,000-seat home until the 2020 season. She is shown wearing her black and yellow “Bolt55” California license plate on a shoelace worn around her neck.
Despite an 0-4 start, the Chargers are now 7-6 and tied for first place in the AFC West with the Chiefs. This Saturday night, the Chargers travel to Kansas City and the winner takes sole possession of the division lead.
“We're exactly where I said we should be” she said. “We have the talent. Phillip Rivers has 9 million receivers to throw to, we've stayed healthy — knock on wood — and the O-line is playing way better than the beginning of the year. The defense is ridiculous, Joey Bosa and [Melvin] Ingram. Good God.”
Yet, doubt still lingers, a natural feeling when rooting for a team that always seem to find the banana peel just when it seems to have found its footing.
“We have a really strong team right now,” Bayer said. “I just hope we don't have that bad luck we always get, missing by a field goal. That's the stuff that kills me.”