Dan Fouts is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Fouts played 15 NFL seasons, all with the San Diego [now Los Angeles] Chargers. At the time of his retirement in 1988, Fouts held 42 team and seven league records. A tough and intelligent quarterback with a strong arm, Fouts was the third signal-caller in NFL history – behind John Unitas and Fran Tarkenton – to throw for over 40,000 career yards.
He led the league in passing four straight seasons from 1979 to 1982 and was passing touchdowns leader in two of those years. Fouts made throwing for 300 yards in a game commonplace. Prior to his arrival in the NFL in 1973, no quarterback had passed for over 300 yards more than 26 times. Fouts nearly doubled that total, throwing for over 300 yards in 51 NFL games. A six-time Pro Bowler and 1981 MVP, Dan Fouts transformed the Chargers from also-rans to three-time AFC West champions. In 1993, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Daniel Francis Fouts was born in San Francisco June 10, 1951. His father, Bob, was a long-time broadcaster for the San Francisco 49ers and was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2008. His son, Dan, presented him. Fouts attended Marin Catholic High School, alma mater of quarterback Jarred Goff, first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.
After earning the starting quarterback job as a sophomore, he transferred the following year to St. Ignatius College Prep, a co-ed Jesuit high school located five minutes south of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Fouts led St. Ignatius to the 1967 WCAL title in his junior season – the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. One year later, he accepted a scholarship to the University of Oregon.
Fouts was an unknown when he arrived in Eugene in the fall of 1969. He became the Ducks’ starting quarterback as a sophomore, where shared the backfield with halfback Bobby Moore — who later changed his name to Ahmad Rashad. Other Oregon teammates included Norv Turner, who served as Fouts’ backup before going on to win two Super Bowls as offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, and tight end Russ Francis, whom Howard Cosell later described as “All-World” while playing for the New England Patriots. A three-year starter, Fouts set 19 school records, including most career passing yards, and was named to the 1972 All Pac-8 Team. Two decades later, he was inducted into the University of Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame.
The San Diego Chargers were a charter member of the American Football League and played in five of the league’s first six title games, winning the AFL Championship in 1964. Following the 1965 campaign, the Bolts never finished higher than third in the four-team AFL [later AFC] West Division.
In 1973, the Chargers selected Dan Fouts in the third round of the NFL draft. The 64th overall pick, Fouts was the sixth quarterback taken, behind Bert Jones, Gary Huff, Ron Jaworski, Gary Keithley and Joe Ferguson. His first few years in the league were inauspicious, but Chargers’ fortunes turned with the arrival of Don Coryell in 1978.
Running a high-octane offense known as Air Coryell, San Diego featured a deep passing game and became one of the first teams to involve the tight end as a key receiver. In 1979, Fouts threw for 4,082 yards, surpassing Joe Namath for most yards in a season while leading the Chargers to their first playoff appearance in 14 years. The following year, Fouts distributed the football to Kellen Winslow, John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner so effectively that they became the first trio from the same team to each post 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the same year.
In 1981, Fouts was named NFL MVP by the Pro Football Writers Association while leading San Diego to the AFC title game for the second straight year. After winning the AFC West, the Chargers faced the Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs on a hot and humid day in Miami. Dubbed the “Epic in Miami,” the Chargers won in overtime, 41-38, in one of the greatest games ever played. Fouts was 33-of-53 for a franchise-record 433 yards and three touchdowns.
One week later, the Chargers traveled to Cincinnati, where game-time temperatures [with windchill] reached 59-below zero — a 144-degree drop in temperature. A 27-7 loss in the “Freezer Bowl” marked the end of San Diego’s season and championship run, as Fouts would not win another divisional title. Midway through the 1986 season, Coryell was replaced after three straight losing campaigns. It marked the end of an era for the Bolts.
At 6’3” and 205 pounds, Dan Fouts was not a mobile quarterback and the deep passing game led to many hits. He rarely threw from the shotgun, and he stood in the pocket and took a pounding. Hall-of-fame coach Bill Walsh, Chargers offensive coordinator in 1976, said “Dan Fouts had a cool, steel-like nerve and courage. He played more physical football than anybody on this team, including the linebackers.” Fouts threw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and would likely have accomplished the feat four times but for the strike-shortened 1982 season, a year in which he averaged an NFL-record 320 yards per game.
One of the great downfield passers of all time, Fouts was a throwback to the early days of the AFL. Leading the Powder Blue aerial circus down the field in the bright sunshine of Jack Murphy Stadium, Fouts’ Chargers teams were exciting to watch. His corps of receivers was stellar. Tight end Kellen Winslow twice led the league in receptions. Jefferson and Wes Chandler each led the NFL in receiving yards and Lionel James twice caught more passes than any back in the league. Winslow and Joiner – who at the time of his retirement was the NFL’s all-time leading receptions leader – are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“After 15 years, this body has taken about as many hits as it can,” said Dan Fouts upon his retirement following the 1987 season. “It’s time for me to move on to another phase of my life.” After his playing days were over, Fouts followed in his father’s footsteps and became a broadcaster. He has called NFL on CBS, Monday Night Football for ABC, and covered college football alongside Brent Musburger and Keith Jackson. Mr. Fouts is a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame and was named to the franchise’s 40th and 50th Anniversary Team.
He was also selected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. Daniel Francis Fouts threw for 254 touchdowns and 43,040 yards in his career. He eclipsed the 20 touchdown mark in six seasons, including a career-best 33 in 1981. His 4,802 passing yards in 1981 was an NFL record at the time of his retirement. In 2009, fans in San Diego picked Dan Fouts as the “Greatest Charger of All Time” for the team’s 50th anniversary year. Shockingly, the great Lance Alworth finished seventh in the voting. Fouts is the first Charger to have his number retired, which took place in 1988. Alworth joined him in the rafters in 2005, followed by Junior Seau and Ladainian Tomlinson.