The Talk of Fame Network
The Denver Broncos produced a zillion yards, touchdowns and records last season, but they couldn’t overcome two obstacles — the Seattle Seahawks and you.
Despite averaging a whopping 37.9 points per game and having quarterback Peyton Manning throw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes, the Broncos weren’t your favorite NFL offense. In fact, they weren’t even close, finishing last in our four-team poll of all-time greatest offenses — well behind the winner, the 1981 San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers pulled down 40.6 percent of the vote, nosing out the 1999 St. Louis Rams (38.3 percent), and they were strong wire-to-wire — holding the lead for most of the past week. That San Diego offense was known as “Air Coryell,” and for good reason: It buried opponents with a relentless air attack that more closely resembled a blitzkrieg, with Dan Fouts & Co. leading the league in passing yards an NFL-record five straight times and seven times in eight seasons.
Coach Don Coryell’s offense was based on rhythm and timing, with receivers in motion and passes thrown to spots rather than targets. Fouts was the trigger man, and he was good at what he did — so good, in fact, that at a 1984 practice prior to a Monday Night game, an ABC crew filmed him throwing a sideline pass to one of his favorite receivers, Hall-of-Famer Charlie Joiner. It was a simple seven-yard route … except for one catch.
Fouts was blindfolded.
No problem. He took the snap, retreated several steps, turned to his right and threw the ball to a spot he had thrown to hundreds of times before … with the pass landing in Joiner’s hands just before he stepped out of bounds. It was an extraordinary demonstration of an offense that confounded defenses and put Fouts, Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow in the Hall of Fame. More than that, it was that precision that convinced our readers Air Coryell was the most potent offense in NFL history.
It did not, however, convince all three hosts of the Talk of Fame Network, with each favoring a different candidate. Rick Gosselin went for the 1999 Rams over the Chargers, Broncos and 1950 Los Angeles Rams because, as he put it, “only one of those four closed the deal on a championship — the 1999 Rams. And they did it in electrifying fashion — a game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass with 1:54 left in the Super Bowl. I’ll go with the offense wearing the ring.”
Ron Borges favored the 1950 Rams because “if you averaged more than the 2013 Denver Broncos you were the game’s greatest force to be reckoned with, and I reckon no one did that very successfully.”
Only Clark Judge, who covered the Chargers in the 1980s, chose the Bolts, and he admits to a bias after watching years of San Diego’s offense toying with opponents. But it was more than that. It was the success the 1999 Rams had that convinced him, too, and we know what you’re thinking: Huh? It was San Diego’s Mike Martz who called the Rams’ plays, and it was San Diego’s Mike Martz who was an Air Coryell disciple, applying the concepts he learned studying under Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner to produce “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
“Without Air Coryell, there is no ‘Greatest Show’ in St. Louis,” Judge said. “So what we have are two of our four candidates for the Greatest Offense Ever rooted in Don Coryell’s playbook, with one imitating the other and winning the only Super Bowl of the four. I think that makes this mystery easy to solve.”
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers.