The Los Angeles Rams experienced a period of unprecedented success during the mid to late 1970s.
For much of the franchise’s early existence, the team suffered through losing seasons and watched at home while other organizations played for championships.
Then, from 1974 to 1979, the Rams played in five of six NFC Championship games and appeared in Super Bowl XIV.
One of the players responsible for LA’s success was defensive end, Fred Dryer.
— So Cal Rams Booster Club (@SoCalRamsBC) April 13, 2018
Dryer was a native Californian who thrived in the sun and excitement of Los Angeles.
During his pro football career, Dryer set a unique NFL record and partnered with Jack Youngblood to oppress quarterbacks.
After his career, Dryer worked in movies and television. This included a memorable lead role in the television crime drama, Hunter.
This is the story of Fred Dryer.
California Through and Through
John Frederick Dryer was born on July 6, 1946, in Hawthorne, California.
• Only player in NFL history to record two safeties in a game (1973)
• 1x NFC Champ
• 1x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro
• NYG 1st Rd pick in 1969
• Was a CBS NFL color analyst before starring in the NBC crime drama "Hunter" https://t.co/H3McQl4KV6 pic.twitter.com/5Pc5USxgEy
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) July 6, 2020
Dryer was born to be a Southern Cal resident as he wore golden locks and spent copious time in the sun and sand.
Dryer took to sports easily and was a standout athlete for Lawndale High School in Lawndale, California.
After graduating, he matriculated to El Camino Junior College where Dryer thrived on the gridiron.
He was a Junior College All-American in 1966 and was inducted as a charter member into the El Camino Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988.
Once he completed his JuCo studies, Dryer stayed in the state and transferred to San Diego State University.
Dryer Becomes an Aztec
The coach for the Aztecs at the time was Don Coryell who was renowned for his offensive passing attack.
Even with his love of offense, Coryell’s Aztec defense was just as good. It was led by defensive coordinator John Madden who recruited Dryer (although Madden left the program before Dryer arrived).
In 1966, SDSU (competing at the I-AA level) went 11-0 and won the Camellia Bowl.
When Dryer joined the squad as a defensive end in 1967, the Aztecs went 10-1 and repeated as Camellia Bowl champs.
Fred Dryer with the San Diego State Aztecs pic.twitter.com/YJCxTs5hjR
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) October 10, 2018
The SDSU defense allowed only 12.9 points per game that year, still good for ninth-best in program history.
By then, Dryer stood 6’6” and “weighed” close to 235 pounds, although Madden once joked that Dryer never weighed more than 225.
“Well, when he was with the Rams, they listed him at 230, 235,” laughed Madden. “But Fred still weighed 225. So, whenever they were gonna weigh him, he’d tuck a little five-pound weight under each armpit, and then wear a T-shirt, and the scale would read 235! He was never over 225 in the pros, and when I saw him the other night, he was still as skinny as he was at State!”
Regardless of weight, Dryer was cat-quick and plowed through blockers before finding the quarterback.
In 1968, former Long Beach City College linebacker Carl Weathers joined SDSU.
San Diego State, Linebacker 1968-1969 pic.twitter.com/CZhMzIvL0S
— Random College Athletes (@RandomAthletess) August 28, 2021
Dryer and Weathers helped the Aztecs hold opponents to 100 rushing yards per game, which stands as the fifth-best total in team history.
Weathers eventually became an actor and played the character Apollo Creed in the Rocky movie franchise.
SDSU ended the ’68 season 9-0-1, and Dryer was selected to the Little All-American team. He also played in the college all-star game.
The exposure from those games helped Dryer get noticed by several NFL scouts.
Years later, SDSU added Dryer to the Aztec Hall of Fame. The voters also named him to the College Football Hall of Fame.
First Round Pick
San Diego State’s impressive 19-1-1 record in two years, along with Dryer’s stellar play, led the New York Giants to select him with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft.
For the first time in his life, Dryer would be living outside the confines of The Golden State.
Fred Dryer made his name with the Rams but was originally a 1st-round pick of the Giants. pic.twitter.com/iQsRmwiyFk
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) November 12, 2016
As he adjusted to the Big Apple, Dryer also had to adjust to constant losing.
New York has had a lot of success in franchise history, winning many NFL Championships and Super Bowls.
However, 1964–1980 had been a bad stretch of football for the G-Men, and the organization never made the postseason during that period.
In Dryer’s rookie year of 1969, he started all 14 games for the Giants.
Tackles and sacks weren’t kept as stats by the NFL then, but New York kept their own team stats.
Dryer was credited with 58 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, six passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) August 18, 2020
That same year, New York went 6-8 under new head coach Alex Webster.
A year later, the league named Webster its Coach of the Year when the Giants went 9-5 but missed the playoffs.
Dryer, meanwhile, tallied 59 total tackles, 12 sacks, four passes defended, and two fumble recoveries in 1970.
He was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate but did not play in the contest due to an injury.
Going Back to Cali
In 1971, the Giants won only four games.
Dryer started every week, led the team in sacks with 8.5, and also had 52 total tackles, two passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.
After winning often in college, Dryer was sick of losing as a pro and tired of New York itself.
“Everything is vertical in New York. I’m a horizontal person,” Dryer once said.
He refused to sign an extension with the Giants for the ’71 season. This allowed Dryer to be a free agent in 1972, and team management was tired of trying to negotiate with him.
On Monday, the Giants traded defensive end Fred Dryer to the Patriots for three draft picks. pic.twitter.com/el3moX4nL1
— The NFL in 1972 (@NFL50YearsAgo) February 2, 2022
Eventually, New York traded Dryer before the 1972 season to the New England Patriots.
“He said he didn’t want to play here,” said Webster. “It was all over the papers, and he said it to someone in our organization, although not to me. And that dissatisfaction rubs off on others, especially coming from a good player. But we didn’t go looking to trade him.”
When he found out that he was headed to the Patriots, Dryer was a little stunned.
“I’m surprised they didn’t trade me to a contender for established players.”
Terms of the deal for Dryer could not be reached and the Los Angeles Rams swooped in, signing Dryer and giving New England its first-round pick in 1973.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) January 18, 2018
Of course, Dryer was thrilled to be returning home to California and the local press announced that “The Rams Hire a Hippie.”
Years later, former Pats general manager Upton Bell still agonized that he couldn’t bring Dryer to New England.
“There was no way we could have drafted better than Dryer, as the first two picks that year proved,’’ Bell explained. “They were Walt Patulski and Sherman White, both defensive linemen. Neither did much in the NFL. Dryer did a lot. Just not for us.”
Dryer arrived in LA and started five games in the 1972 season, posting 4.5 sacks, 40 tackles, and two fumble recoveries as LA won just six games.
Dryer Sets an NFL Record
For most of the 1972 season, Dryer backed up second-year defensive end Jack Youngblood.
In 1973, new Rams head coach Chuck Knox realized this was a terrible mistake and started both men on opposite sides of the defensive line.
The results paid off quickly.
Fred Dryer Jack Youngblood Los Angeles Rams pic.twitter.com/5z3I75FSYp
— LA RAMS FOOTBALL McVAYIsBack🍸 (@MattStaffordQB1) January 7, 2022
With Youngblood and Dryer chewing up opposing offenses, the Rams’ defense became one of the best in the NFL.
Dryer had 39 total tackles and 10.5 sacks and then had one of the most memorable games in league history during a Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers.
Late in the contest, the Packers were backed up near their own end zone when Dryer slipped past his man and dropped Green Bay quarterback Scott Hunter for a safety.
On their next possession, the Packers were once again backed up to their own end zone.
Dryer blitzed and took down backup quarterback Jim Del Gaizo for another safety.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 6, 2020
By scoring the final four points of the game, Dryer became the only player in NFL history to record two safeties in the same game.
LA continued to win games, finished the regular season with a 12-2 record, then lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round.
Dryer and Youngblood Lead the NFL
In 1974, the LA defense was the best in the NFL, and both Dryer and Youngblood had 15 sacks, tying the teammates for the most in the league.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) December 25, 2022
Additionally, Dryer had 49 total tackles and was named the Rams’ Outstanding Defensive Lineman and a second-team All-Pro.
LA reached their first-ever NFC Championship game after a 10-4 regular season and eliminated Washington in the Divisional round.
The Minnesota Vikings then ended the Rams’ season, 14-10.
In 1975, Dryer went to his first Pro Bowl after collecting 12 sacks and 61 total tackles. He also notched his only career interception against the Eagles in Week 7, which he returned 20 yards for his only career touchdown.
Youngblood was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The duo helped the Rams repeat as the league’s top defensive unit and return to the NFC Championship game.
Unfortunately, this time, Dallas ended LA’s season, 37-7.
The Rams Finally Get to the Promised Land
For the next three years, Dryer continued to start every game, though his sack totals dropped considerably.
Between 1976 and 1978, he had 17 sacks total, but he was still considered the heart and soul of the Rams’ defense.
1977 Rams/Raiders game. Snake gets a pass off despite getting pressure from Fred Dryer. pic.twitter.com/Kwtlzaa5Qs
— Ken Stabler (@TheKenStabler) May 3, 2019
During that same stretch, LA appeared in two more NFC title games in 1976 and 1978 but was eliminated both times by the Vikings and Cowboys respectively.
Finally, in 1979, the stars aligned and everything clicked for the Rams.
Dryer got back on track and collected 10 sacks to go with 49 total tackles and three forced fumbles.
Initially, the Rams’ 9-7 record in ’79 did not portend to anything special.
However, the team defeated Dallas in the Divisional round. Then they blanked the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-0, in the NFC Championship game.
For the first time in franchise history, the Rams were playing in a Super Bowl.
LA faced the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. (Pittsburgh was playing in its fourth world title game that decade.)
#Steelers icon Chuck Noll, at the doorstep of his fourth Super Bowl title.
Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl
OTD in 1980 pic.twitter.com/gR4WYrzi1O
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 21, 2022
Through the first three quarters of the contest, the Rams were holding their own against the defending champs and led the Steelers 19-17.
Unfortunately, the usually reliable LA defense couldn’t stop 14 unanswered points by Pittsburgh in the final quarter. The Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl 31-19.
In 1980, the Rams returned to the playoffs after an 11-5 regular season but lost to the Cowboys, 34-13, in the Wild Card round.
Dryer had 5.5 sacks and 31 total tackles that season.
Fred Dryer Los Angeles Rams pic.twitter.com/Bdl5R5bOgh
— LA RAMS FOOTBALL McVAYIsBack🍸 (@MattStaffordQB1) January 7, 2022
One year later, it was clear that Dryer’s playing days were numbered and he appeared in only two games as LA won six games.
After the 1981 season, Fred Dryer retired.
During his career, Dryer had 103 total sacks, although that number is not official since the NFL did not begin keeping track of stats until 1982.
Dryer also had one interception for a score, two safeties (his NFL record), and 20 fumble recoveries.
His tackle total is also not officially recognized since the league did not keep track of that stat until well after Dryer retired.
Dryer was a one-time Pro Bowler, NFL sack co-leader, a second-team All-Pro once, and played in one Super Bowl.
During his playing career, Dryer displayed an affable demeanor that kept his teammates and opponents in stitches, when he wasn’t delivering hits requiring stitches.
Once during a game, a teammate tried to inspire everyone by imploring them to win the contest because there was no tomorrow.
That statement caused Dryer to leave the field immediately.
The coaching staff asked him what was wrong, and Dryer responded with his typical wit.
“Nothing, but if there’s no tomorrow, I’m not going to waste my last day playing football.”
Dryer’s charm carried over to his post-football life and helped him launch his next career.
He had already done some writing as a player while covering Super Bowl IX for Sport magazine. He was also an analyst for CBS in 1981 and 1982.
Dryer found that he enjoyed performing in front of an audience and tried out for the role of Sam Malone for the new sitcom Cheers in 1980.
Fred Dryer won an Emmy for Best Supporting Jacket on Cheers. pic.twitter.com/T5uZzqYjqL
— Joe Blevins (@Joe_A_Blevins) February 19, 2018
He nearly got the role but lost out when actor Ted Danson got the part.
“As originally conceived by the Charles Brothers, Sam Malone was a former football player for the Patriots. Fred Dryer was more who they had in mind,” explained Cheers writer Ken Levine. “And he was a finalist for the role (along with William Devane). Ted, however, was so charming and there was such chemistry with Shelley Long that they decided to cast him instead. But Ted as a football bruiser is only slightly more believable than me as an NFL lineman, so they made Sam a baseball player instead.”
Although he didn’t get the part he wanted, Dryer did appear in a few episodes of Cheers as Sam Malone’s former teammate.
Dryer found work in guest appearances on several 1980s television shows including Remington Steele, Moonlighting, and ChiPs.
He then caught a huge break when he was cast in the lead role of Detective Rick Hunter in the crime drama, Hunter.
DID YOU KNOW? Rick Hunter's badge number is 089, which was Fred Dryer's jersey number when he played football for the Los Angeles Rams.
The action on crime drama Hunter starts at 10p ET on getTV! pic.twitter.com/U9mqsgz0jj
— getTV (@gettv) January 5, 2023
Dryer’s character was a no-nonsense tough guy who would often bend the rules to get what he wanted.
“Nobody could throw a guy off a building like me,” Dryer joked in 2013.
Hunter ran for seven years before being canceled.
In the decades since the show ended, Dryer has appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and NCIS.
Dryer is currently 76 years old, lives in the LA area, and runs Fred Dryer Productions.