Remember the Titans? Oilers? A look back


I’ll be doing a little history of the Chargers opponents each week. Hope you enjoy!!

First up this preseason…the Tennessee Titans.

The Bolts had great success against the Titans (much to the chagrin of my cousins in Clarksville) during the short-lived Schottenheimer era, but before that it was ugly. The Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers in the 1960 and 1961 AFL championship games. Those great Oiler teams were led by George Blanda and Billy Cannon. In those days, it was pretty much the Chargers, Oilers, Bills, sometimes the Patriots, and a few years later the Raiders, Jets and Chiefs fighting it out in the old AFL. All the stadiums were like Balboa, and all the teams were wide open and offense ruled. But when the “D” did step up, the team was almost unbeatable.

But it’s not those days I want to discuss. It’s something a little more recent, but not too recent.

Hmmm…perhaps a short history lesson first. In the late ’70’s, the Oilers were one of the best teams in the NFL. Unfortunately, they played in the same division as maybe the greatest team of all time…the Steelers. The Oilers fought their way through the wild card to the AFC championship game in ’79 and ’80 only to lose to the their northern neighbors. In 1997, the Oilers would move to Tennessee to become the Titans and, as with many teams that relocated, it was those Titans that got to the Super Bowl.

dan fouts
dan fouts /

During the Dan Fouts regime, the Chargers had their best record (12-4) in 1979 during Don Coryell’s first full season. That was more fun than you could imagine! Two of the Chargers’ biggest wins were at L.A. (Rams, of course), 40-16, and at home against the Steelers, 35-7. What’s strange??? Both of those teams ended up in the Super Bowl. Woody Lowe returned an interception for a touchdown as part of a spectacular defensive effort against Pittsburgh, while Wilbur Young (playing for an injured Louie Kelcher) and Fred Dean made mincemeat of Pat Haden in the Coliseum. And of course, Fouts was Fouts. The Bolts went into the playoffs with the highest hopes imaginable.

Now, the game…The Oilers came in very banged up having won a costly wild-card game against the Broncos. In San Diego, Oilers starting QB Dan Pastorini didn’t play, all-world RB Earl Campbell didn’t play and No. 1 WR Ken Burroughs came in in the second half as a decoy only. How could the Bolts lose??? The Oilers had an edge the Chargers couldn’t possibly have anticipated, inside info.

In those days, Coryell would call the plays on the sideline, and rather than shuffle players back and forth, three assistants of some kind would line up and send in hand signals. Fouts would read from the actual signaler, while the other two acted as decoys. No voices in the helmets, no electronic devices. The problem? Defensive coordinator Ed Biles of the Oilers had deciphered the Chargers’ codes! Someone with binoculars watched the Chargers sideline and signaled Briles. Supposedly, they didn’t have time to transfer too much info to Briles before the play was called, but it was enough time to determine run or pass and which side of the field or which receiver was the prime target.

Also, they could only get the information to a couple of players, probably linebacker Robert Brazille and safety Vernon Perry. Want proof?? Perry had four of the five interceptions of Fouts. It was like he knew where the ball was going before it was thrown. One of the most disappointing losses in Bolts history.

That team was almost unbeatable and strong at every position. I still look back at that year as being as much fun as any season ever. It was just sad it ended that way. One of the Chargers’ secretaries was overheard talking to someone in the Rams organization saying, “This is so unfair. We beat both your team and the Steelers!”

My sentiments exactly. Hopefully, we’ll see a little different result against the Titans on Saturday.