'San Diego is somewhat noted for contributing greatly to offensive theory," says author and historian Todd Tobias. "In the 1960s, [Chargers coach] Sid Gillman started throwing the ball more than anybody -- most folks were running the ball back then." On Saturday, October 7, Tobias will discuss his new book Bombs Away! Air Coryell and the San Diego Chargers at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla. The book highlights the "Air Coryell" years (1978 to 1986), during which Don Coryell was the head coach of the Chargers.
Tobias writes, "Like the Sid Gillman-led Chargers of the 1960s, Coryell and his men thumbed their noses at popular offensive theory and put the ball in the air at a rate never before seen on professional football fields." Earlier in his career, Coryell helped implement the "I" formation, which, according to Tobias, "quickly became one of football's most widely used offensive alignments."
In the "I" formation, the quarterback, running back, and fullback are positioned in a straight line, making it difficult for the opposing team's defensive players to see them, limiting the defense's ability to anticipate moves in a play. "One of the main things with football is that you're trying to give away as little information about what you're going to do prior to the play starting as possible," says Tobias.
Tobias grew up in La Mesa and became a Chargers fan as a child during the Coryell era. "I've got friends who can tell you every statistic for the past 60 years, down to how many yards were thrown by [a player] in a game in 1964," says Tobias. "Other guys who love the idea of theory can sit down in a game and -- before each play is run, based on the previous play -- they say, 'Okay, if I was the coach, this is what I would do next,' and most of the time they get it right on. I have another friend who can tell you about the evolution of the football helmet, starting in the 1880s -- all the way back to leather helmets and rubber nose guards."
Tobias refers to fans who appear only when a team is winning as "bandwagoners." "Some people would say that I'm not a great fan because I don't hold season tickets, but I prefer to watch the game at home with friends. Everybody has their own different definition of being a fan."
Tobias is equally interested in events that occurred off the field. He devotes several pages to a controversy surrounding Dr. Arnold Mandell, who was retained in 1972 as the Chargers' "psychiatrist-in-residence." Upon discovering that some players were taking stimulants prior to games, Mandell ran tests on the drugs -- many of which were obtained in Mexico -- and found "impurities." In order to monitor the quality and amount of substances being consumed, Mandell began to prescribe amphetamines to certain players.
"This is the same question, like, 'Should high school parents buy kegs for their kids' parties if they're going to collect keys at the door?'" Tobias says. "Are you going to stop it? Or allow it to happen but try to control it so it doesn't get out of hand? And can you control it? It's debatable. I don't know to what degree guys are doing stuff these days, but drugs were going on in professional football a long time after Dr. Mandell."
In 1982, defensive lineman Don Reese shared his personal battle with cocaine with Sports Illustrated. In the article, Reese mentions partying with fellow player Chuck Muncie, whom a fed-up Coryell eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins. As a result of a failed drug test, Muncie never got to play with the Dolphins.
Fifteen years ago, Muncie started the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation to mentor at-risk youth. "After all my troubles, it is one thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow," Muncie shares in Tobias's book. "I am able to help kids and people not make the same mistakes that I made."
Tobias acquired firsthand accounts from 50 people -- most of them players involved with the team during the Coryell years -- in a section called "In Their Own Words." Quarterback Dan Fouts relates, "The beauty of the pass offense is that you are geared to adjust on the fly...the receiver adjusts as he is running down the field, and I am adjusting as I am going back."
Fouts remembers Coryell's encouragement: "There were times when I would start a game off and miss maybe eight of my first ten throws. I would come over on the sidelines all pissed off...Coryell would come over and say something like, 'You okay?' and I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm okay. But, shit, I can't hit a barn.' Then he'd say, 'Well, you've got 30 more throws. Let's go.'"
According to Fouts, this kind of support was rare. "A lot of coaches would be looking over your shoulder to see if the other kid is ready to go in." -- Barbarella
Bombs Away! Air Coryell and the San Diego Chargers
Discussion and booksigning with author Todd Tobias
Saturday, October 7
D.G. Wills Books
7461 Girard Avenue
Info: 858-456-1800 or www.dgwillsbooks.com