Before I became a member of Raider Nation I was a lifelong fan of the San Diego Chargers and I was lucky to be living here when Don Coryell led a laughingstock of a football franchise to three straight AFC West division titles and a couple of shots at a Super Bowl appearance.
When Coryell returned to San Diego during the 1978 season after a successful run as head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chargers were emerging from a run of futility very few teams have endured. Only three years earlier the Chargers were two late season wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets away from becoming the first team in modern NFL history to complete the Imperfect Season, which back then was an 0-14 record. He finished the 1978 season with an 8-3 run and the passing game as we knew it was redefined by the offense known as Air Coryell.
They threw the long bomb on first down and often used the passing game to set up the running game for success. Up until that time it was unheard of for a tight end to sprint downfield and catch a fifty-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage, but that’s the kind of offense Air Coryell ran during its run as AFC West champions. Once Kellen Winslow arrived in the league, every football team wanted a pass catching tight end that could run like a wide receiver as well as block.
Wide receivers lucky enough to wear the blue and gold became stars in their own right in the Air Coryell offense. John Jefferson, Wes Chandler and Charlie Joiner had their best years in San Diego and running backs like Chuck Muncie, James Brooks and Lionel James also enjoyed career years after Coryell’s offense literally blew apart NFL defenses.
To this day I believe the Chargers should have won that Freezer Bowl game in Cincinnati against the Bengals as well as the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks later. They were the best team in the NFL in 1981 and if it weren’t for circumstances beyond their control they wouldn’t still be searching for their first Lombardi Trophy.
RIP Don. You will always be a legend here in San Diego.