Dan Fouts isn’t just the best quarterback in San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers franchise history. Some fans and pundits even consider him the best player who ever wore Chargers’ Powder Blue and Gold.
While Fouts struggled in the early goings of his pro football career, he turned things around when Don Coryell took over the reins from Tommy Prothro in 1978.
The Chargers, the NFL’s laughingstock, became a force under the famous “Air Coryell” offense.
Fouts, who also benefited from the wisdom of John Robinson, Johnny Unitas, and Bill Walsh, enjoyed the finest stretch of his pro football career from 1979 to 1983.
He led the league in passing yards for four straight years and earned five straight Pro Bowl berths.
Fouts passed for more than 43,000 yards and set eight Chargers franchise records after he retired from the NFL in 1987. He earned a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 1993.
Truly, Dan Fouts is in the Mount Rushmore of Chargers quarterbacks that also includes Stan Humphries, Philip Rivers, and John Hadl.
Daniel Francis Fouts was born to parents Bob and Julie in San Francisco, CA on June 10, 1951. He has four siblings.
Fouts’ father Bob was the San Francisco 49ers’ play-by-play announcer in the 1950s and 1960s.
The younger Fouts told UOAlumni.com in the spring of 2022 that he organized game stats for his dad in the broadcast booth.
When Dan Fouts was a youngster growing up in the Bay Area, he became a 49ers ball boy who rubbed elbows with San Francisco players John Brodie and Billy Kilmer on the Kezar Stadium sidelines, per Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite.
Not only that, but Fouts regularly welcomed quarterbacks Brodie and Y.A. Tittle for dinner in his San Francisco residence. His father developed close relationships with some of the 49ers players during his legendary sports broadcasting career.
Fouts’ future head football coach with the St. Ignatius Wildcats, Vince Tringali, remembered seeing him throwing the football to the official during his days as a San Francisco 49ers ball boy.
“I noticed this kid on the sidelines throwing the ball back to the referee,” Tringali told Fimrite in the fall of 1979. “I didn’t know who he was, but I could see he had a heck of an arm.”
Dan Fouts is the only player in history to lead the NFL in passing yards for 4 consecutive seasons (1979-82). #MFIC
He was named 1982 NFL MVP by the PFWA and the Newspaper Enterprise Assoc.
Son of late SF broadcasting legend, Bob Fouts, Dan was a 49er ball boy and stat keeper. pic.twitter.com/1svpozJPhb
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) June 11, 2022
For his part, Dan Fouts never envisioned himself becoming a football player during his days as a San Francisco 49ers ball boy. He was having too much fun watching the game from the sidelines to have that kind of long-term vision at the time.
Fouts attended Marin Catholic High School in Kenfield, CA, and St. Ignatius High School (now known as St. Ignatius College Preparatory) in his hometown of San Francisco.
Vince Tringali’s coaching instincts were on point – the same man who witnessed Dan Fouts throw footballs to NFL game officials saw him blossom as his high school quarterback.
With Fouts under center, the Wildcats won the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Championship in his junior year in 1967.
Fouts had 1,310 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and just two interceptions that year. To nobody’s surprise, he earned WCAL All-Star First Team honors as a junior.
Fouts took a backseat to Tringali’s Southern Cal offense which revolved around the running game in his senior year. He had 961 passing yards and six touchdown passes in 1968.
The Oregon Ducks became the only Pac-8 (now known as the Pac-12) team that offered him a scholarship as his high school football career wound down.
Fouts accepted and became one of the best quarterbacks who ever donned Oregon Ducks Green and Gold.
College Days With The Oregon Ducks
Dan Fouts attended the University of Oregon from 1969 to 1972. He was the Ducks’ quarterback during the Jerry Frei era.
Fouts was a relative unknown who made an indelible impression in his first game in Ducks Green and Gold. He replaced injured Oregon quarterback Tom Blanchard in the second half of the Ducks’ 31-24 win over the California Golden Bears in 1970.
When Oregon QB Tom Blanchard was hurt in the 2nd half of the 1970 game, the Ducks turned to an untested QB. The new QB hit 12 of 19 passes for 166 yds & 2 TDs. The 2nd TD pass was a 32 yd TD to beat Cal 31-24. That backup went on to have a decent career. His name – Dan Fouts. pic.twitter.com/oGivB4SqcQ
— California Gridiron (@calgridiron) December 2, 2020
Several weeks later, Fouts’ 15-yard touchdown pass with just 30 seconds remaining helped seal an exciting 41-40 road win against the 15th-ranked UCLA Bruins on October 10, 1970.
To this day, Oregon Ducks supporters consider it one of the most exciting wins in their football program’s history.
As Fouts gained more experience in the college football ranks, he benefited from the wisdom of Ducks offensive coordinator John Robinson.
“I’ve learned quite a bit from Robbie,” Fouts told the Eugene Register-Guard in the fall of 1970. “He’s got the passing game down to a science.
Under Robinson’s watchful eye, Dan Fouts set 19 school records as Oregon Ducks quarterback. Those records include 5,995 career passing yards and 5,871 yards of total offense. The latter record was the best in school history for 14 years.
Fouts ended his tenure with the Ducks in style by earning All Pac-8 honors in the 1972 NCAA season.
Although Dan Fouts had more interceptions (54) than touchdown passes (37) in his three years as the Ducks’ signal caller, he still managed to become a Hall of Fame quarterback after a memorable 15-year career in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The San Diego Chargers made Dan Fouts the 64th overall selection of the 1973 NFL Draft.
Fouts’ pro football career with the Chargers began awkwardly.
Fouts was about to take the practice field for his first scrimmage session with San Diego prior to the 1973 NFL campaign. For some reason, Chargers equipment manager Sid “Doc” Brooks handed him a helmet without a face mask.
Fouts considered Brooks, who also began working for the Chargers in 1973, much more than the team’s equipment manager and dominoes opponent – the two men developed a lifelong friendship that has lasted more than three decades.
Fouts made a remarkable impression on Chargers fans when he filled in for aging quarterback Johnny Unitas in 1973. It was a throwback to the Oregon Ducks’ game when he replaced an injured Tom Blanchard in 1969.
A struggling 40-year-old Unitas completed just two of nine passes in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers – his hometown team that released him in 1955. The Steelers cruised through the first two quarters against the Chargers, 38-0.
Fouts took over from Unitas in the second half and had 174 passing yards and one touchdown in San Diego’s 38-21 loss to Pittsburgh.
Despite the loss, the changing of the guard in Southern California was complete. Unitas’ legendary pro football career was over.
On the other hand, Dan Fouts’ remarkable 15-year NFL career had just begun.
Unitas, arguably the NFL’s greatest quarterback at that point in time, passed on his football knowledge to Fouts over some beers at a local bar in 1973, per The Athletic’s Daniel Popper.
When Popper asked Fouts in the summer of 2020 what he and Unitas talked about, Fouts said they discussed some of the basics of playing quarterback in the NFL.
To sum things up, Fouts learned about how information from hours of film study, scouting reports, and first-hand observation go into his decision-making on the gridiron.
Fouts, the student, soaked in the information from Unitas, the mentor, like a sponge.
“I had to buy a lot of beer,” Fouts told Popper some forty-seven years after his bar chat with Unitas. “But it was fun. I learned a lot.”
HOF San Diego QB Dan Fouts gave Legendary Baltimore QB Johnny Unitas some credit for taking him under his wing and teaching him the game from a Pro QB standpoint while in San Diego. B-more respect👍🏈#GMFB pic.twitter.com/YoRtBcwZkV
— The Mack 365 (@Dr2deep365) August 3, 2018
Unfortunately, Fouts got off to a rough start as a professional football player – he had a combined 16 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions in his first three seasons from 1973 to 1975.
Long story short, Fouts hardly resembled the Hall of Fame quarterback he’d become some two decades later.
Since joining the National Football League in 1970, the Chargers averaged four wins per year through Fouts’ third pro football season in 1975.
Consequently, they extended their postseason drought to six years.
Before Bill Walsh guided the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl trophies in the 1980s, he became the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator in 1976.
He intervened in Dan Fouts’ pro football career at the perfect time.
When Walsh sized up Fouts’ upsides, he noticed the latter needed to develop the technical aspects of his game before his other intangibles – leadership, intelligence, and assertiveness – emerged.
Walsh, like Fouts’ other coaches in the National Football League, thought the Chargers quarterback’s courage stood out the most. In fact, Walsh put Fouts in the elite category in terms of that character trait.
“He is naturally courageous,” Walsh told Sports Illustrated in 1979. “If somebody asked me who the best clutch players were, I’d put Fouts in a category with (Terry) Bradshaw and (Roger) Staubach.”
For his part, Fouts praised Walsh for being one of the best teachers of the game. He lauded Walsh for sharpening his quarterbacking fundamentals. Once that happened, Fouts became a more well-rounded signal caller.
On occasion I stumble across a non-baseball image too good not to post
Aug 13, 1976 – San Diego Chargers running back Rickey Young and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts take direction from Offensive Coordinator Bill Walsh pic.twitter.com/r48aDVuUAk
— OldTimeHardball (@OleTimeHardball) May 30, 2021
After converting no better than 54.4 percent of his passes during his first three seasons in the NFL, Fouts completed 57.9 percent of his throws in that pivotal 1976 NFL season. The Chargers also won six games that year – their best showing in five seasons.
Ironically, Fouts’ tenure with the Chargers almost ended after the 1976 NFL campaign.
First, Walsh left to become the head football coach of the NCAA’s Stanford Cardinals. Next, the Chargers acquired quarterback James Harris in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
A disgruntled Dan Fouts, who was also not satisfied with his contract, wanted the Chargers to trade him. When that didn’t materialize, he hung up his cleats at the age of 26.
Fouts eventually took legal action against the Chargers and challenged the NFL’s fundamental labor agreement.
Fouts told a federal judge the Chargers were a below-average football team. Consequently, the fans and local media turned their ire on him – the quarterback and team leader.
Alas, Fouts lost his case and incurred $62,500 in fines during his lengthy holdout. He suited up for the Chargers as the 1977 NFL season wound down. Fouts showed little rust from his hiatus – he had 199 passing yards in a 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11.
San Diego had a 7-7 win-loss record in 1977 and extended its NFL postseason drought to seven years.
When Fouts rejoined the Chargers, owner Gene Klein told Fimrite in November 1979 that he and the rest of the team didn’t harbor any grudge against their beleaguered quarterback. He signed Fouts to a long-term contract several weeks after he returned.
When the league ushered in the 1978 NFL campaign, it became a pivotal turning point in Dan Fouts’ pro football career.
After Chargers head coach Tommy Prothro resigned following a 1-3 start that year, Don Coryell took over and helped Fouts become a top-tier quarterback in the next five seasons.
Fouts had a combined 19,457 passing yards and 124 touchdown passes from 1979 to 1983 – an era when the Chargers became a high-octane unit that thrived in the “Air Coryell” passing offense.
Dan Fouts was the focal point of that offense. He racked up three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons from 1979 to 1981. He also led the league in passing yards from 1979 to 1982.
Fouts’ 62.6 completion percentage was the best among the league’s signal callers in the 1979 NFL season. His 50 combined touchdowns in 1981 and 1982 were the most among NFL quarterbacks during those two years.
Little wonder Fouts enjoyed the best stretch of his NFL career – he earned five consecutive Pro Bowl nodes from 1979 to 1983. He also became a two-time First-Team All-Pro and one-time Second-Team All-Pro selection during that time frame.
Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of Air Coryell and your pilot Dan Fouts welcome to San Diego #Chargers pic.twitter.com/9R0hm30lMP
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) June 11, 2022
The Chargers quickly changed their reputation from league laughingstock to serious contenders when Coryell took over the reins from Prothro in 1979.
After missing the postseason bus for nine straight seasons since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, San Diego made four consecutive appearances from 1979 to 1982.
The Chargers made it to the AFC Championship Game in 1980 and 1981, losing both times to the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.
The 1981 AFC title game against the Bengals went down in NFL annals as the “Freeze Bowl.” Weather experts measured the freezing weather conditions at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium at 59 degrees below zero on January 10, 1982.
Fouts, who finished the Chargers’ 27-7 loss with 185 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions had frostbite after the game.
“Frostbite, yeah, it’s permanent,” Fouts told The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Nick Canepa some thirty-two years later. “Fingers and toes. It’s more of a cold sensation. You just can’t get warm.”
Coryell, who was Fouts’ head coach during the pinnacle of his legendary career with the Chargers, remembered the times he and the other San Diego coaches had to pull Fouts out of the game because he was too banged up.
Fouts wasn’t one to sit out the remainder of the game, so he could receive the opening snap the following Sunday. His coaches had to yank him out when they felt he could no longer take a beating.
Coryell never liked seeing Fouts with ice packs on his elbows, shoulders, and ankles. The latter’s robotic movements were possible hints he might not take the field the following week.
Fouts’ temperament – particularly the scowl on his face – was a dead giveaway he’d play for the Chargers even if he was beaten up or hobbling. He never wanted anybody to ask him if he was all right.
As the game’s opening kickoff drew near, Fouts became feistier and more temperamental. Those manifestations put Coryell’s doubts to rest once and for all – Dan Fouts would take the field for the Chargers.
“He was so courageous and he was so tough and he was loyal to his teammates and his team and he would make any personal sacrifice to win,” Coryell said as Fouts’ presenter in the 1993 Pro Football of Fame induction ceremonies.
At the time, Fouts and his first wife Julianne resided near Sisters, OR which boasted of lush, green scenery. Fouts did commercials for two companies serving the automobile and water bed industries.
He also made several weekly appearances on a radio show – a prelude to a sports media career he thrived in for more than 30 years after he retired from the National Football League.
When Fouts played quarterback in the NFL, he loved fishing, skiing, and playing racquetball in his downtime.
After racking up 3,638 passing yards, 27 touchdown passes, and 20 interceptions in the 1985 NFL season, Fouts made his sixth Pro Bowl appearance and earned his second Second-Team All-Pro selection.
The Chargers regressed after losing to the Miami Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Divisional Round. They averaged barely seven wins per season from 1983 to 1987. They never made the postseason during those five years.
On this date in 1988, Dan Fouts retires. If you’re too young to remember the Air Coryell Chargers, let me help you. Better yet, let Howard Cosell help you:
— Honest☘️Larry (@HonestLarry1) March 24, 2022
Dan Fouts announced his retirement from the National Football League on March 25, 1988.
“After fifteen years, this body has taken about as many hits as it can,” Fouts told The Los Angeles Times‘ Brian Hewitt. “It’s just time for me to move on to another phase of my life.”
Fouts finished his 15-year pro football career – all with the Chargers – with 43,040 passing yards, 254 passing touchdowns, and 242 interceptions.
As of 2022, Dan Fouts’ four consecutive 300-yard postseason games and four consecutive seasons with the most passing yards still stand as NFL records.
Fouts also holds eight Chargers franchise records, including:
- Passing touchdowns in a single game (6)
- Passer rating in a single game (158.3)
- Passing touchdowns in a postseason game (3)
- Passing yards in a postseason game (433)
- Most completions in a postseason game (33)
Dan has been married to his second wife Jeri since 1994. They have a son Ryan and a daughter Shannon and currently reside in the Sisters, OR area.
Fouts has a daughter Suzanne and a son Dominic from his first marriage. He named his son after his former professor at the University of Oregon, Dominic LaRusso.
Sadly, Dominic Fouts passed away due to colon cancer at the age of 34 in 2012, per UOAlumni.com.
The Fouts family founded the Dominic Fouts Memorial Cancer Fund shortly afterward. Dominic’s sister Suzanne Krueger is the organization’s director. Her father Dan currently serves as an advisor.
Inspired by his father’s success in the broadcasting booth, Fouts became a sports anchor for San Francisco’s KPIX-TV. He became so good at his craft that he eventually won two Emmy Awards.
He became a football analyst for ABC Sports and CBS Sports in subsequent years.
He earned approximately $750,000 per year with CBS Sports, which cut ties with him in the spring of 2020.
The San Diego Chargers retired Dan Fouts’ No. 14 jersey during the 1988 NFL season. He became a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team two years later.
The Oregon Ducks Hall of Fame and State of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inducted Dan Fouts in 1992.
Happy Birthday to HOF QB Dan Fouts! Hall of Fame Enshrinement Class of 1993. RT to wish this @Chargers legend a Happy Birthday! pic.twitter.com/VVtXdQPVsm
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 10, 2018
Fouts became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1993. Don Coryell, Fouts’ head coach with the San Diego Chargers from 1978 to 1986, was his presenter.
In Fouts’ Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, he made special mention of Coryell and his Chargers teammates.
Fouts was grateful that he was part of a Chargers offense that became known as “Air Coryell” in his later years in San Diego. He mentioned that the Chargers led the league in passing offense in seven of eight years with Coryell calling the shots.
Fouts gave credit to four-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ed White who helped protect him from the oncoming pass rush during their time together with the Chargers from 1978 to 1985.
Fouts also mentioned his receivers Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, Wes Chandler, and John Jefferson in his enshrinement speech.
“I am biased – these are my coaches, these are my teammates, they’re my friends but they are more than anything most deserving,” Fouts said in the summer of 1993.
Fouts became a member of the then-San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame several months later. He’s also a member of the Los Angeles Chargers’ 50th Anniversary Team.
Fouts wanted to pass on his football knowledge to current Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert when he turned pro in 2020.
It could have been similar to Fouts’ bar session with the great Johny Unitas in 1973 – the year when he picked the latter’s brain about the nuances of playing quarterback in the National Football League.
Regrettably, Fouts’ sessions with Herbert didn’t materialize because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, per Popper.
2 QBs that went from Ducks 🦆 to Bolts ⚡!! Justin Herbert and Dan Fouts. 💙⚡ pic.twitter.com/TBWYbIEZzX
— HERBIE'S MOMMA! ⚡️💙🙏 Don't disrespect my child! (@RiversGirl17_) July 10, 2021
They eventually played golf together in the summer of 2021.
Fouts and Herbert share common ground – both played for the Oregon Ducks in college and broke into the professional ranks when they were 22 years old.
According to Popper, Fouts was also close friends with Herbert’s grandfather Rich Schwab, a former Oregon wide receiver. Sadly, Schwab passed away in January 2018.
Dan Fouts appeared in the 1998 Adam Sandler movie, The Waterboy.
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