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Dan Fouts Biography

Dan Fouts Biography

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

Dan Fouts was one of a kind. As the pilot of the vaunted “Air Coryell,” he really redefined what an offense was capable of doing. The 6-time All Pro set records and made the Chargers must-see viewing in the 70’s and 80’s. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, the dogged field general had one heck of a career.

Let’s get this out of the way quickly--he never made it to the Super Bowl. Some would like to use this as fodder to sling mud on his legacy. It’s worth noting that it wasn’t because of the San Diego offense, which was certainly Super Bowl caliber. If Fouts had played every week against the secondary the Chargers had back then, he would have likely put passing records out of reach. The two times Fouts and the Chargers made it to the AFC title game went badly, first in the Freezer Bowl and then a bad showing against the Dolphins the following season.

Fouts went to the University of Oregon with little fanfare, before setting numerous marks with his passing prowess. Selected in the third round by the Chargers in the 1973 NFL Draft, Fouts went to a team that had seen limited NFL success. It would continue that way during Fouts’ early years in San Diego. The system and tools Fouts would rely upon were not yet in place. From 1973 to 1977, his record as a starter was 12-30-1 and he threw 34 touchdowns, but 57 picks.

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That all changed with the arrival of offensive guru Don Coryell in 1978. Coach Coryell instituted a pass-happy offense and Fouts was the perfect general to carry out his attack. In ’78, Fouts got acquainted with the new system and the Chargers finally got to above .500. Fouts had a good season, but it was about to get crazy.

From 1979 to 1982, Air Coryell was in full-flight. The courageous and immobile Fouts would take fearsome hits, as he threaded needles and aired out the biggest bombs ever seen on the gridiron. He led the league in passing for 4 straight seasons, with a mind-boggling 3 consecutive 4000-yard seasons, including a single-season record 4715 yards in 1980, which he broke with 4802 in 1981. In the strike-shortened 9-game season of 1982, he still threw for 2883 yards, a 320 yards per game average--a record that stood for over a quarter-century.

Fouts wasn’t the first guy to throw gigantic passes. But what made Fouts unique was how he would steely stand in the pocket and throw missiles that would routinely land right in the palms of receivers. For most quarterbacks, completing huge passes was a low-percentage proposition and Fouts made it look routine. It was absolutely thrilling to watch. If a receiver could outrun the secondary, Fouts would put passes right where they needed to be.

The Chargers never had the full package to win the whole thing, but Fouts made everyone around him better. Veterans who came to San Diego always had their best seasons under the stewardship of Fouts, while newcomers who left in search of greener pastures never quite got to the level they were at while in San Diego. The most underrated aspect of Fouts’ repertoire was his toughness. Not blessed with the greatest legs, he would usually manage to almost-instinctively slip and slide defenders, but he took a ton of damage and always seemed to bounce right up unperturbed. At times, you would see a defender barreling in on Fouts and he would calmly sling a 60-yard pass and put it on a dime an instant before being clobbered. He was one of the more courageous quarterbacks to ever play the game.

From 1983 to 1987, Fouts continued as a top NFL quarterback, as the rest of the team seemed to fall back a step or two. The defense became increasingly erratic and a once-great receiving corps was no longer what it had once been. Still, Fouts made a pair of Pro Bowls during this period and in 1986, became only the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse the 40000-yard mark. San Diego is not a city with a lot of sports glory. In fact, the city is one of the few major metropolises that has never won a championship in a major sport. For those old enough to remember the heyday of Fouts, his performances fill that void to some degree. We may have never won a championship, but we had Dan Fouts.

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