The Chargers' complicated offense makes unusual demands on the quarterback, and Coach Don Coryell is convinced that Fouts is the only man to run it. "We're only doing what we do because of Dan," Coryell says. "He has such a flexible mind. He doesn't have all the qualities you'd want in an ideal quarterback. He's not a runner. He's a fine athlete, but he doesn't have the speed. But he is very, very intelligent, and he is extremely competitive and tough mentally. A pro quarterback has to be one of the most courageous persons in sports. He has no chance to prepare himself for a hit the way a running back does. And he's not as big and sturdy. We have an awful time getting Dan to throw the ball away. He wants to take his chances in there, and because of that, he's susceptible to sacks."
Fouts pays a heavy price for his courage. He aggravates a groin pull in every game, and the "hits" he absorbs leave him too battered to practice actively until late in the week. The Chargers are content to let him recover in his own good time. "We've come to the conclusion that he doesn't really need a lot of work," says Coryell.
San Diego uses the pass the way many teams use the run, although each pass play, even a screen, has a "big play" built into it. The quarterback is instructed to look first for the deep receiver, then work his way back through the branches of the "passing tree"—at the other wide receiver cutting beneath the deep man, at the tight end bursting up the middle, at the backs flaring to the sidelines. It is an attack that demands quick recognition from the quarterback, and Receiver Jefferson feels that Fouts has a basketball point guard's gift for spotting "the open man." In the Chargers' Oct. 14 game with Seattle, Fouts' various talents were on display in a single play, according to offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs. With the Chargers leading 14-10, Fouts dropped back quickly against the blitz, looked for Jefferson deep and saw that he and Charlie Joiner were both possible receivers. He chose Jefferson and hit him for 49 yards and the clinching touchdown. At the same time, a congregation of monstrous Seattle linemen hit him, one of them clipping him neatly on the chin.
"A team reacts to a quarterback in a situation like that," says Gibbs. "They'll see him take a hit like that and say, 'Hey.' " "In his toughness and his approach to the game, I relate Dan to Joe Kapp," says Guard Ed White, who has played in front of both men. "And unlike some quarterbacks, Dan's ego is under control. When we score, no matter how, he's the first to congratulate the linemen. It makes up for some of the fan and media attention that goes elsewhere."
Coryell's principal concern these days is for his quarterback's continued good health. Physically, the loosely built 6'3", 205-pound Fouts is no Bradshaw. and he takes a worse beating. Coryell would prefer that Fouts live the year round in San Diego so that he might utilize the team's weight equipment and have someone to play catch with besides his wife, Julianne. But Fouts and Julianne, who met in college, became enamored of the lush Oregon countryside and are building a house on 20 acres near the small town of Sisters.
Fouts does not consider his home in the boondocks a retreat, but rather a means of acquiring another living experience. During the season he keeps busy doing commercials for an automobile agency and a water-bed company, and he appears several times a week on a radio sports show. In the off-season, the city boy gravitates to the country. He was reared, he reminds you, at a tumultuous time—the '60s—in a tumultuous city.
" San Francisco was a great place to learn," Fouts says. "The bus stop near school was five doors from the Black Panther headquarters. Hookers approached me—a little sucker in a letter sweater—while I waited for the bus. I found myself drinking Coke out of a paper sack, like the winos. S.I. [St. Ignatius] was just a few blocks up the hill from The Haight [the then hippie Haight-Ashbury district]. I'd sit next to a guy on a bus who was reading a whole newspaper in Chinese. I think it's important to have both experiences—the city and the country."
Last week Fouts was relaxing over a post-practice beer in the bar of San Diego's Islandia Hyatt House. The television set was turned to the Seattle- Atlanta Monday night football game, but Fouts watched it only intermittently. The game finally won him over when he saw out of the corner of an eye a perfectly executed quarterback draw play by Seattle's Jim Zorn. "Beautiful," he said, exulting in the achievement of another member of the fraternity. "Some people would call that a broken play." A waitress, recognizing him, took his order, then said, "Hey, you'd think you'd get enough of football." Fouts took mock umbrage. "Why, lady," he said, his blue eyes brightening, "football's my life." Then he smiled and corrected himself. "No, that's not quite true."