The San Diego Chargers are a blessed franchise as they have had two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. Dan Fouts is already a Hall-Of-Fame quarterback, and most suspect that one day Philip Rivers will too be enshrined in the most prestigious of clubs.
Comparing the two can be very difficult as each played in completely different eras. Fouts’ era in the late 70’s and 80’s was one of power football and controlling the clock. His aggressive aerial attacks were surely ahead of their time. The offense that Fouts ran was absolutely high-powered for the time. Rivers, playing in the modern era where quarterbacks have an advantage, has been very consistent. The two men are surely the best two QB’s in franchise history, bar none.
Dan Fouts was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 3rd round (64th overall) of the 1973 draft. He was taken out of the University of Oregon, where Fouts was a three-year starter. He threw for nearly 6,000 yards and 37 touchdowns in his collegiate career. Fouts set 19 school records in his time at Oregon and was inducted into their ring of fame in 1992.
His professional career didn’t start out as well for the big quarterback out of Northern California. His first five seasons, Fouts played sparingly, only starting about half of the Chargers games. He threw 57 interceptions in his first five seasons while only throwing 34 touchdowns. Still, even though he was picked quite often, he showed a lot of toughness to the Chargers coaching staff. Both mental and physical toughness is necessary for success in the NFL, and Fouts definitely had both.
A Chargers assistant coach in 1976 named Bill Walsh spoke about Fouts and this is what he said: “Dan Fouts has a cool, steel-like nerve and courage… He took a lot of beatings, a lot of pounding, but continued to play, hurt or otherwise. He played more physical football than anybody on his team, including the linebackers”. Wow, what high praise from one of the best coaches in the history of the game, a true assessment of Fouts as he was constantly taking a beating.
The Chargers offense rarely took snaps out of the shotgun, so Fouts constantly had to drop back and pass and would take considerable beatings by defensive players. The era of football was different and the running game was constantly featured by other teams. The Chargers were not other teams, and with the arrival of Don Coryell in 1978, the franchise was about to take its game into a whole new level.
Upon Coryell’s hiring as head coach, the Chargers transformed into a pass-heavy team. This offensive strategy was truly ahead of its time, as the Chargers would aggressively throw the ball and feature the tight end as a receiver. Under Coryell, the Chargers were known as Air Coyell, and the NFL would never be the same. To run this offense you needed a gunslinging QB that was tough and smart. Fouts easily fit that bill. In fact, Dan Fouts says that if Don Coryell didn’t become the Chargers coach, his football career would have ended.
Coryell embraced Fouts and his strong arm. The Chargers stocked up the receiving core with the likes of Wes Chandler, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow. That foursome would create havoc for opponents’ defense, and the Chargers turned into the highest scoring team in the NFL. In 1980 Winslow, Jefferson, and Joiner became the first teammates to have 1,000 yard seasons in the same year.
In 1982 Wes Chandler had an average of 129 yards per game receiving, still an NFL record. When Charlie Joiner retired from the NFL, he owned the career receptions lead with 750 total. That has since been eclipsed, but the Chargers offense was who gave birth to modern offenses.
Despite going to the playoffs for four straight seasons, the Chargers failed to make it to the Super Bowl. The team was close twice, losing in the AFC Championship game. Those four seasons were the only time the team made it to the playoffs, with Fouts under center. In the end, poor defenses and the unwillingness to run the ball hurt the Chargers. Fouts career playoff record was 3-4. Although he never won the big game for the Chargers, Fouts was elected to the Pro Football Hall-Of-Fame in 1993. Fouts finished his career with six pro-bowls and a 1982 NFL MVP award. He was also first team All-Pro in 1979 and 1982.
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