San Diego, with its perfect year-round weather, is always a prime destination for top quarterbacks and offensive geniuses to ply their respective trades. San Diego, of course, emerged as the founding home to the Air Coryell attack, where multiple receivers would run deep go routes to stretch defenses for big plays. The three following all-time San Diego Charger quarterback greats, in taking to the Air Coryell system, each played a major role in revolutionizing offensive football.
3. Drew Brees
In 2001, the San Diego Chargers took Drew Brees out of Purdue in the second round of the draft with the 32nd overall pick. In college, Brees racked up 11,792 yards and 90 touchdowns after three years as the starter in West Lafayette. Still, NFL scouts clearly remained concerned that 6-foot, 200-pound Drew Brees lacked the size, strength, and speed to succeed at the next level.
Brees, however, had won the starting job by his second year in the NFL and completed 61% of his passes for 3,284 yards and 17 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Two years later, Drew Brees was lighting up the competition for 66% passing, 3,159 yards, and 27 touchdowns, against only seven interceptions, while the 2004 Chargers raced out to a 12-4 record. Brees, then 25, made his first Pro Bowl and was quickly emerging as one of the most accurate passers in the game.
That performance set the stage for a quarterback controversy, as San Diego had already selected Philip Rivers with the fourth pick in the draft, prior to the 2004 season, as the apparent quarterback of the future. Ironically, a devastating 2005 shoulder injury ultimately helped all parties save face. In 2006, Drew Brees packed his bags for New Orleans, which cleared the way for Philip Rivers to take command in San Diego.
2. Phillip Rivers
Handed the keys to the franchise in 2006, after Drew Brees was felled by a torn labrum, Phillip Rivers completed 62% of his passes for 3,388 yards and 22 touchdowns against only nine interceptions in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback. That season, the San Diego Chargers finished a franchise-best 14-2, before losing out to the New England Patriots, in the Divisional Playoffs, at home.
In 2007, Philip Rivers endeared himself further to San Diego fans in leading the Chargers to an 11-5 record and postseason march to the AFC Championship Game, where the team met the unbeaten New England Patriots. In defeat, a visibly hobbled Philip Rivers went 19-for-37 for 211 yards, with LaDainian Tomlinson riding an exercise bike on the sideline. After the game, Rivers admitted that he had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery immediately prior to going on the road to Foxborough.
For years, Philip Rivers has thrown one of the better deep balls in the NFL. Rivers works best with big targets, like 6-foot-4 Antonio Gates and 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson. In 2010, Philip Rivers put up a league-high 4,710 passing yards after leading the NFL in yards-per-attempt for three consecutive seasons. Rivers, at 33, has already thrown for 36,655 yards and 252 passing touchdowns and will likely own all San Diego passing records when all is said and done.
1. Dan Fouts
Dan Fouts spent his entire career as the top lieutenant of the Air [Don] Coryell Attack in San Diego. Going vertical, Fouts hooked up with the likes of Kellen Winslow, Wes Chandler, John Jefferson, and Charlie Joiner, who each went over 1,000 yards single-season receiving through the 1970s and 1980s. The high-octane Chargers led the league in scoring, at 30 points per game, in back-to-back 1981 and 1982 seasons. This run came amid a stretch whenFouts himself, was the most prolific passer in the game through four consecutive years.
In 1980, Fouts put up 4,715 yards and 30 touchdowns. That postseason, he came up just short in the AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders in passing for 336 yards amid a feverish comeback. The next year, Dan Fouts torched defenses for 4,802 yards and 33 touchdowns before going on the road to take on the Dolphins in the Divisional Playoffs. Winning this overtime thriller, Fouts went for 433 yards and three touchdowns in a game best remembered for the Chargers carrying a spent Kellen Winslow off the Miami field after the spent tight end hauled in 13 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown.
The Chargers, with Fouts at the controls, did make it to two AFC Championship games. In doing so, Dan Fouts racked up 43,040 passing yards and 254 passing touchdowns over the course of 15 seasons in Southern California. Dan Fouts brought respectability to the San Diego Chargers.