Bob and Dan Fouts: A Lifetime of Football
Any 49ers fan who tuned into the game on the radio in the 1950's looked forward to listening to that region's power-duo, Bob Fouts and Lon Simmons. Every Sunday, they listened as Fouts and Simmons described the plays of the day from Tittle to Owens to the various exploits of the Million Dollar Backfield. However, the duo's biggest listener may have been Fouts' son, Dan. While absorbing all that his father spoke of the game, Dan Fouts developed a passion for the sport; a passion that would lead to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. Father and son both left a lasting legacy in the game of football. This is their story.
Bob Fouts was born on December 19, 1921 in Sacramento, California. His enthusiasm for sports took root at Christian Brothers High School where he played on the school's baseball team. He also showed a natural aptitude for journalism and was rewarded with a scholarship in journalism to Saint Mary's College. While there, he starred on the baseball diamond as the Gael's third baseman and even found the time to start the school's student radio station.
However, World War II interrupted his academic and athletic endeavors and by the time America had entered the conflict, Fouts had enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He stayed on through the duration of the war and eventually switched to the reserves where he rose to the rank of Colonel. He remained as a reservist until his retirement in 1973, more than 30 years after his enlistment.
After the war, Bob Fouts got a job as a radio announcer for KROY in Sacramento but soon was whisked away to San Francisco where he would serve as the sports broadcaster for KYA. It was here where great fortune awaited Fouts as the 49ers were just starting as a franchise. He cut his teeth as a journalist with the 49ers and soon earned the nickname "Red Dog" for his propensity of describing all out blitzes against the quarterback.
Just as his star was rising in the local radio network, Bob Fouts became a father. His son Dan was born on June 10, 1951 and soon was listening with intent as his father brought the game to life for thousands of listeners. The father wasn't just limited to the 49ers, or even football. Over the course of his 30 year broadcasting career, Bob Fouts covered the historic USF Dons football and basketball teams, the San Francisco Seals baseball team, the US Open and the British Open for golf, and numerous Olympic events. Including KYA, Fouts' broadcasting career also included other Bay Area radio stations such as KSFO and KCBS as well as television channels KPIX and KGO. All the while, his son Dan was absorbing all that he brought to the microphone day after day.
Due to his father's broadcasting career, Dan Fouts developed an affinity for sports and soon gravitated toward football. In his early years, he was a ball boy for the 49ers and kept statistics for his father in the broadcast booth. He became the starting quarterback at Marin Catholic High School as a sophomore but transferred after that year to nearby Saint Ignatius High School. In his first year as a Wildcat, Fouts led the team to the WCAL title. However, the following year was a different story as the Serra Padres overtook Saint Ignatius for the league championship. Still, Dan Fouts had hopes that he would get a scholarship offer. Oregon gave him that chance and was the only school from the Pac-8 conference to do so.
Freshman weren't allowed to play on varsity in those days but by his sophomore year, Dan Fouts was starting for the Ducks. Early in the 1970 season, the Ducks got a glimpse of what was in store for them. The Ducks were loosing to UCLA 40-19 late in the game when Fouts went in to take over for incumbent starter Tom Blanchard. Fouts then proceeded to toss three touchdown passes to Bobby Moore (later changed to Ahmad Rashad) as Oregon completed the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in school history, winning 41-40. In his first year as their starter, Fouts passed for 2,390 yards, 16 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. The Ducks finished fourth in the Pac-8 with a 6-4-1 record.
As a junior in 1971, Fouts passed for 1,564 yards, 9 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Due to his less than stellar performance, the Ducks finished sixth in the conference standings with a 5-6 record. Fouts improved little as a senior in 1972, throwing for 2,041 yards and 12 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. Unfortunately, Oregon fell further into mediocrity that year, finishing seventh in their conference with a 4-7 record. Still, Dan Fouts was drafted in the third round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers where his star would shine brighter than anything that either he nor his father realized was possible.
As a rookie, Dan Fouts split time with legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas. He struggled as the Charger's quarterback, tossing just six touchdown passes and coughing up 13 interceptions. Much was the same the next two years when Fouts threw 10 touchdowns and 23 interceptions between those two seasons.
His fortunes changed the following year when the Chargers hired Bill Walsh as an offensive assistant. Under Walsh's guidance, Dan Fouts learned the finer points of his position and soon his numbers improved. After throwing for 2,535 yards and 14 touchdowns in his lone season with Walsh, Dan Fouts decided that his current was beneath hiim and demanded a raise from owner Gene Klein. Foreshadowing future contract skirmishes to come, Klein balked at the notion and thus began the first great contract dispute in the Gene Klein era. As a result, Fouts sat out 10 games in 1977 but he returned to the field the following year with a vengeance.
The Chargers started the 1978 season a dismal 1-4, which caused coach Tommy Prothro to be fired. Don Coryell was soon hired to take his place. With him, Coryell brought an offensive system which would soon revolutionize the NFL. It started out as a very aggressive approach to passing and would evolve into something much more. The team had recently drafted receiver John Jefferson and already featured Charlie Joiner. After passing for just a yard short of 3,000 and tossing more touchdowns to interceptions for the first time in his career, Dan Fouts was sold on the new offensive philosophy in San Diego.
The team drafted tight end Kellen Winslow in 1979 and soon realized that they could utilize him in many more ways than what had ever been thought possible of the position. By the end of 1979, they were moving him all over the field, from off-tackle to the slot to out wide and even in the backfield. This made many a defensive coordinator completely overwhelmed with how best to defend against this new offense.
Armed with this new approach to the game, Dan Fouts passed for 4,082 yards in Winslow's rookie season. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, this was just a warm up. He set a league record for passing yards in both 1980 and 1981 topping out at 4,802 yards. In both 1980 and 1981, the Chargers reached the AFC championship game but failed to produce a Super Bowl appearance in either year, losing to the Raiders and the Bengals.
Remarkably, despite the NFL players strike shortening the 1982 to just nine games, Dan Fouts passed for 2,883 yards and guided the team to the playoffs. Late in the year, his Chargers visited San Francisco. It became a family affair as his father was in attendance. In an interview, Bob was asked whom he was rooting for, his team or his son. In typical fashion, he stated "I'm rooting for the only native-born San Franciscan playing on the field!". The Chargers won 41-37, an appropriate homecoming for Dan Fouts.
A 34-13 defeat to the Dolphins in the second round of the playoffs that year was the last post-season appearance of Dan Fouts' career. Despite his greatness, he could overcome a porous defense and a penny-pinching owner for long. By 1984, Klein had sold his interest in the Chargers to Alex Spanos and the writing was on the wall for the end of the Air Coryell era in San Diego.
After a 1-7 start in 1986, Don Coryell was fired and Dan Fouts was left to pick up the pieces of a once great offense. The Chargers started with an 8-1 record the following year but it proved to be a mirage as age caught up to their biggest stars. The team plummeted to 8-7 and out of the playoffs, ending both Dan Fouts' and Kellen Winslow's careers.
Shortly after his playing career ended, Dan Fouts entered the broadcasting world that his father had once dominated. He worked for CBS from 1988 until he left for radio after six years with the network. He returned to television in 1997, working with Brent Musburger at ABC covering college football. Beginning in 2000, Fouts moved to Monday Night Football where he shared broadcasting duties with Al Michaels and Dennis Miller. He moved back to CBS in 2008 where he remained until 2020.
Dan Fouts was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Bob Fouts was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2008, presented by his son. He died on July 7, 2019 at the age of 97.
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"Dan Fouts". Oregon Encyclopedia. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/fouts_dan/#.Ycy9MojMLrc