"Air Coryell"

History Published on : 1/1/2005

The San Diego Chargers of the late 1970s and early ‘80s featured one of the most explosive and exciting offenses that ever set foot on an NFL field. The unit became known as “Air Coryell” because of the passing attack devised by head coach Don Coryell.


Dan Fouts

Led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, the Chargers’ record-setting offense led the NFL in passing yardage six straight seasons from 1978 to 1983 and again in 1985. San Diego, which led the league in scoring in 1981 and 1982, averaged an astonishing 28 points per game during a span of 57 games from 1979 through 1982.

In 1979, Fouts joined Joe Namath as the only players ever to pass for 4,000 yards in a single season. But that was just the beginning for Fouts who followed up with two more 4,000-yard seasons highlighted by a then-record 4,802 yards in 1981. 

Fouts was surrounded by a great supporting cast which included Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow. Helping to make the passing attack so potent was an effective running game that kept defenses off balance. Running back Chuck Muncie carried the load during the pinnacle of the “Air Coryell” years. He had a knack for finding the end zone as he scored 39 rushing touchdowns from 1981 to 1983.

Here is quick rundown on the receiving corps that helped the Chargers amass more than 24,000 yards through the air from 1978 to 1983.

John_Jefferson John Jefferson WR “J.J.” recorded three straight 1,000-yard seasons and scored 36 touchdowns from 1978 to 1980 before a contract dispute forced his trade to the Green Bay Packers. He led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 13 in both 1978 and 1980, and was also the league’s leader in receiving yards in 1980.
Wes_Chandler Wes Chandler WR Picked up from the New Orleans Saints part way into the 1981 season to fill the void of John Jefferson. He led the NFL with an amazing 1,032 yards and 9 TDs in the strike shortened 1982 season. In his career in San Diego, he had 100-yard receiving games 22 times and had the two biggest receiving days in Charger history (260 yards vs. Bengals in 1982, and 243 yards vs. Seahawks in 1985).
Charlie_Joiner Charlie Joiner WR This Hall of Famer was the consummate receiver who retired as the game’s all-time leading pass catcher. He joined the Chargers in 1976 and in his 11 years in San Diego, he had 50 or more pass receptions seven times and had 70 or more three times. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Kellen_Winslow Kellen Winslow TE A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Winslow changed the way the tight end position was played. During a four year span from 1980 to 1983, he caught 319 passes that included a career high 89 receptions for 1,290 yards in 1980. He finished his career with 541 catches and was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1995.