Simply put, Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts was before his time. In the 1970s, the NFL was much more run heavy than it is now. When the San Diego Chargers unleashed the Air Coryell offense, a vertical passing system based on timing and big plays in the late 1970s, it was truly a marvel to see. The record-setting offense featured two Hall of Fame pass catchers: TE Kellen Winslow and WR Charlie Joiner. With a wide open offensive system and big time weapons, Fouts aired defenses out. In fact, the Chargers had a stretch where they led the league in passing and total offense for six consecutive years.
Dan Fouts Extends 4,000 Yard Season Streak
In 1981, Fouts was coming off back to back 4,000 yard seasons, the first NFL QB to do so. He had the Chargers’ offense setting passing records year after year and looked to keep it going. In Week One of the 1981 NFL season, Fouts and the Chargers started off with a bang, crushing the Cleveland Browns 44-14. Fouts threw for 330 yards, 3 TDs and no INTs. The following week, Fouts had another 300 yard game (316) on 18-25 passing, 1 TD and 1 INT in a 28-23 win over the visiting Detroit Lions. The Chargers suffered their first loss of the season in Week 4 against the rival Denver Broncos. Although Fouts passed for 298 yards and 2 TDs, he threw 3 INTs in the 42-24 defeat on the road.
Week 12 was a historic game for Dan Fouts. Against AFC West rival Oakland Raiders, the gunslinger couldn’t be stopped. The Raiders had taken a 21-14 lead in the 2nd quarter after a 12-yard TD run. Fouts, at the time only had 1 TD pass. From that point on the Chargers scored 41 straight points. The Chargers’ QB, who threw for 296 yards, also had TD passes of 12, 15, 29, 4, 5 and 6 in a 55-21 annihilation of the Raiders. His six TD passes set a franchise record and was one short of tying the NFL mark.
Going into a Week 14 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, Fouts had 3,886 yards passing. With three games to go it was with certainty he would get his 3rd consecutive 4,000 yard season. He didn’t need the last two games as he threw for 343 yards to cross the 4,000 yard mark in a 28-27 loss. With two games left he had a chance to set a new NFL record for most passing yards in a season, set by him a year earlier.
Fouts Sets New NFL Record
With 351 yards and 222 yards in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, Fouts set a new mark with 4,802 yards. He also set career highs in completions (360), attempts (609) and TDs (33). His historic play helped the Chargers reach the playoffs with a 10-6 record. They would win their Divisional playoff game on the road against the Miami Dolphins 41-38 in one of the greatest games in NFL history. The prize for winning the playoff game in warm south Florida was to play in sub freezing temperatures for the right to go to Super Bowl XVI. In one of the coldest games in NFL history, the Chargers fell short of their mission, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 27-7. It was a record-setting sensation season for Fouts, one of the pioneers who brought the passing game to the forefront of NFL offenses.