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San Diego Chargers Legend Spotlight: Dan Fouts

Relive the story of Dan Fouts' up-and-down career, both in college and in the NFL, and find out how he became the greatest QB in San Diego Chargers history once he met Don Coryell.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Fouts was never supposed to be great. Barely known out of high school, he took the only scholarship that he was offered and went to the University of Oregon to play quarterback. During his career at the U of O, Fouts amassed 35 touchdowns and 54 interceptions; showing a great arm, but erratic accuracy. There were doubts if Fouts could have the accuracy to adjust to the NFL game and whether the speed of the game would be too fast for him to be successful. These doubts caused him to drop to the 3rd round, where the San Diego Chargers selected him in the 1973 NFL Draft.

Dan Fouts became the starter of the Chargers during his rookie season after veterans Johnny Unitas and Wayne Clark struggled. Thrown into the lion’s den, Fouts had to work with his best back rushing for 607 yards and one touchdown, his best receiver notching 537 yards and three scores, and an offensive line that gave up 37 sacks. His lack of an offensive line caused him to take a beating each game and his career to got off to a rocky start. Averaging under 2,000 yards and a 0.59/1 TD to INT ratio in his first six seasons, few would have thought his career would be Hall of Fame worthy. Though he struggled, Fouts earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for having a bull mentality. Then assistant coach, Bill Walsh, said of Fouts, "Dan Fouts had a cool, steel-like nerve and courage. He took a lot of beatings, a lot of pounding, but continued to play, hurt or otherwise." Fouts basically had to work as a one-man band, struggling to make plays with defenders engulfing him snap after snap.

In 1978, the Chargers brought in legendary coach Don Coryell and many people expected coach Coryell to bring in a new quarterback through the draft. But Coryell saw the potential that Fouts possessed and began creating a team around his skill set. With Charlie Joiner already in the arsenal, the Chargers drafted John Jefferson in the first round to compliment Joiner in the wide receiver corps. To top it all off, the Chargers signed then three-time Pro Bowl offensive guard, Ed White, to go along with Russ Washington, Doug Wilkerson, Billy Shields, and Don Macek. The compilation of talent, along with the newly installed "Air Coryell" offense, allowed Dan Fouts to show the world the talent of his arm. In his first season under the Air Coryell offense, he posted 2,999 yards and had his first positive TD to INT ratio season with 24 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. Coryell added more weapons during the span of 1979-1984 seasons where they drafted HOF tight end Kellen Winslow (1979), signed wide receiver Wes Chandler (1981), and drafted running back Lionel James (1984). Finally surrounded by an array of talent, Fouts became the first quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards three consecutive seasons in a row (1979-1981) and subsequently broke the single season passing mark each year. Through the Air Coryell offense, Dan Fouts became one of the most dominant quarterbacks of the 70s and 80s and cemented the Chargers as a contender in the AFC.

With Fouts under center, the Chargers were now seen as a dangerous team in the AFC. The Chargers became a regular attendee to the playoffs, making the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, and reached the AFC title game during the 1980 and 81 seasons. The most memorable of the Charger playoff games is the back-to-back weather catastrophe games during the 1982 playoffs. The Chargers had to face the David Woodley and Don Strock led Dolphins in Miami. Dubbed the Epic in Miami, the two offenses battled it out in the 88-degree Miami heat as the game went to overtime. Both teams missed their field goals of 27 yards and 34 yards, but the Chargers marched down the field to make a 29-yard chip shot to win the game. After that game, the Chargers went to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in what will be known as the Freezer Bowl. The game was played in -9 degree weather, with wind chills as low as -37 degrees. This time the game did not bode well for the Chargers as they lost 27-7 at Riverfront Stadium. The Chargers played a game temperature difference from Miami (88 Degrees) to Cincinnati (-37 Degrees) of 125 degrees in one week.

Following the 1987 season, Fouts decided to retire from playing football after 15 seasons in the NFL, all with the Chargers. At the time of his retirement, Fouts was only the third quarterback to surpass 40,000 career yards and held the NFL record for passing for 320 yards per game in 1982. (It was a lockout season and only 9 games were played. Drew Brees broke the record in 2011.)

Before the days of Favre, were the days of Fouts. A gunslinger, Fouts was never shy of gunning a pass 50 yards downfield while praying to the heavens. He was a mad-dog type player, giving everything he had on the field, and refused to leave until he had to be carted off. Dan Fouts is the definition of the Chargers. He was gritty, unrelenting, unbelievably exciting, yet leaves you wanting some more. Many doubted whether Fouts would amount to anything in the NFL. He was just the kid that had a brilliant arm, but threw it away because of his tendency to take risks and the beatings that he received. But when he finally got a supporting cast, when he finally got the coach that could work with him, Dan Fouts showed that not only could he survive in the NFL, but also could dominate. He gave the Chargers a kind of swagger never associated with the franchise before and was truly the motherfucker in charge.