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Dan Fouts : Hall of Fame Quarterback for The San Diego Chargers & U of O Alumnus

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The following interview occurred in two sessions at UCSD, the Charger Training Camp in September 1981. Beforehand, I had read in press clippings that Dan Fouts was cautious when approached by the press during the football season. What I found, though, was not caution but focus, an intense preoccupation with winning football games.

One thing I learned in this, my first professional interview, was that the most difficult time to interview a champion is when they are focused on winning the next game.

Dan, it is a matter of record that you are a winner on the football field, but how do you perceive yourself off the field?

I really don’t discuss myself in public. I don’t talk about myself and I don’t want to talk about myself. I’m not interested.

I’m sorry if I offended you.

No, you haven’t. It’s just that I read about other players saying about themselves, “I’m the greatest. I do this and I work hard. I do all this — I, I, I, I, I,” – and I get tired of it. I don’t ever want to hear myself saying that. I don’t think it serves my purpose very well and it is boring.

Football is a team game. The satisfaction comes in winning and that is not an individual thing. If you are in this game for personal records, you will not go very far.

Nevertheless, you hold a great many records

It doesn’t matter. The records are extra. Those statistics don’t mean anything. They are nice only in that they are a tribute to the people around me.

The only thing that really matters is that you win. That’s the only reason you are sitting here now talking to me.

It’s because we won. Not because I’ve set records.

As far as winning goes, I heard that you have the attitude that no matter how far behind you are, you can win. Is that true?

I think so. I just want a chance at something. If I can get that chance I am going to give it a good shot. I think that if I have the ability, the background, the knowledge, and the right guidance, I can do the job. I need help. I am not a one-man gang.

But in the right circumstances, I believe that I can do the job in just about anything I try.

Would it bother you to fail at something?

Oh yeah.

Have you ever failed at anything?

I fail every Sunday.

That’s a matter of opinion.

It is very real. Football is a profession you know exactly where you stand. Whether you are a failure or whether you are a success. Each game is made up of failures and successes. The seasons depend on how well you deal with each game and, hopefully, your successes outweigh your failures and you’re successful.

Do you take your losses pretty hard?

At times. But if I have another shot at it, I can put the loss aside and say I’ll get it next time.

As long as you get another chance, the losing is not that important?

Right.

What is worse – to lose a close game where you’ve played well, didn’t get the breaks, and could have won, or to lose a game where the team in general screws up, fumbles, gives a really bad performance?

You want to perform well, do your best. So, if you do that and you lose at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your all. But if you go out and play poorly, you does everything wrong, then something is wrong, anyway.

However, anybody that can say one way of losing is better than another is missing the point: losing is losing. Winning is the only thing that counts. The final score at the end of the day.

You’ve had experience in dealing with losing, but what about someone who hasn’t? What will you say to your son, Dominic, or your daughter, Suzanne, when the time comes in their lives that they have to deal with a loss that seems devastating to them?

Well, first of all, I hope that if I raise them right I shouldn’t have to pull them aside and tell them, “Hey, listen, look – this is the way life is.” You can’t just all of a sudden pull your child aside and say this. You’ve got to teach it all along, as you’re raising children. Hopefully, my wife and I will have done that.

We all get discouraged, though

Sure, but they have to learn to handle it themselves. Let them follow my example if it is a good one. Kids are great mimickers.

What if you were in the last game of your career and you bombed? There wouldn’t be another shot. Would losing like that be difficult to deal with?

No, because I can look at the overall picture and say this is what I did. This last game would be just one failure and I would have to say that if my career were over tomorrow, I would say that I have had a good one and that I am a success.

Someday in the future you will have to retire. You are very great at what you do. It may be the greatest accomplishment of your life, the high point, though of course, it doesn’t have to be. But when you have done something as well as you have, when it has become this much a part of you, it seems the act of retiring would be a difficult, sad moment for you. You must have thought about this.

Sure I have.

Well, how does it feel to you now, to contemplate that moment?

It is distasteful. But it is an experience I haven’t experienced, so who knows how I’ll react to it. I think it would be very obvious to me when the time comes to retire. And, if it is so obvious, it will, therefore, be easy to deal with because it is something where I’ll have no choice in the matter.

If I had to retire before I had a career like some of these kids who are being cut from the team – I think that must be just devastating.

I don’t know how I’ll look at it, but I hope I’ll look at it realistically, as I do most other things and say, “Listen, it has been good and it is over.”

I’m not going to like it, but I won’t have any choice.

That is the way I will look at it when the time comes because I have reached a point now where I have achieved a certain amount of success – although, if I don’t make it to the Super Bowl, if we don’t win the Super Bowl, I will feel something is missing.

One of the points you made in ’76, when you sat our most of the season as part of a personal protest based on your principles, was that you didn’t want to play for the Chargers because they were a mediocre team coming off their seventy straight losing season. You stated you didn’t want to play for any team that didn’t have a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

Is winning the Super Bowl that important to you?

I don’t understand any other reason for playing.

When your career ends, as it someday must, in the hopefully unlikely event you do not realize your Super Bowl goal, will this failure take away from you satisfaction with an otherwise successful career?

I don’t think so. Because I gave it a try. The effort was there. If it’s not in the cards, then it’s not in the cards.

But I don’t take that attitude until it is over. Until it is over, I am going to think about it the way I do.

How good are your chances this year?

I don’t talk chances. Odds, chances. It is a game with people in it.

I believe we can win the Super Bowl. That is the only way I’ve always approached this game. That’s the only way you can. You’ve got to have confidence. You’ve got to think you’re the best out there, that you can’t be stopped.

When you came back to the team in ’77, after your self-imposed lay-off, you and the team turned around and the winning began. What was the immediate catalyst?

I had a good year the year before. That is when I turned myself around, in ’76.

What did it for you?

We had good coaching. Bill Walsh. It was a combination of things, but getting the proper direction is what it is all about. I feel that most of the players in this league are of equal caliber and the teams that win get good coaching.

Good coaches win every year. It is as simple as that. Just take a look at the statistics and see which teams are winning, then look at their coach’s track records. You will find winning to be the common denominator.

In ’77 you stayed out for three-fourths of the season protesting you would rather retire than play another season without the right to choose which team you would play for. You fought the case in court, lost, and returned to the Chargers. In essence, you fought over your principles rather than over money or any other issue.

Did you compromise those principles when you returned to the Chargers even though you had lost your battle?

I had gone as far as I could legally. I lost my court case and if I wanted to play football, it had to be in San Diego. There was no other choice. So I don’t think I compromised any of my principles. I was standing on those principles and it was an expensive thing to do. I lost three-fourths of a year’s salary and was broke by the time it was over.

But I don’t think a man can compromise his principles and, yes, I would do it again under the same circumstances.

It seems that what you went through three years ago precedes what the baseball players just went through – the same issues -”I’ve go a right to decide where I’m going to work.”

Am I right that it is the same issue?

Yes.

Do you feel that such a strike could happen in football?

Not with the present leadership of the Professional Football Players Association. They are after something completely off the wall, off target.

They are talking about sharing in the gross revenue of the T sales. But I am talking Free Agency. That’s the only way the players are ever going to make any money. It is a proven fact.

The baseball players are asking for free agency and that is why their salaries are so much higher than ours are. Because they have it.

How important is making more money to you?

Money for my family is important. Being able to provide for them in the future is important. Right now I can take care of them. It may not always be the case. I’m lucky now.

What makes you think it may not always be the case? You’ve invested well; you’re financially secure, aren’t you?

Who is ever financially secure now? You never know. Who ever thought we would see 20% interest? That can make a lot of people financially insecure in a hurry.

But understand that money does not occupy the number one spot in my life. My family does. Money is nothing more than a means to an end.

Have you ever sat down and set a goal, how much you want to be worth before you feel you have enough?

Well, I kinda like what the billionaire said: “If you know how much you’re worth, you’re not worth much.”

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4 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Alex – the Editor said:

    Michael –

    the interview occurred in two parts but there is only one article, this interview that you read. However, I did do a follow-up with Dan’s father, Bob Fouts. Search for his name in the about box and read that as a follow-up.

  • Michael – California said:

    I read this article on Dan Fouts from Sept of 1981, I believe is was a two-part interview and I only saw this first part. I am a avid NFL fan and I did learn a little more about Mr. Fouts from your interview that I did not know about. It was an interesting interview that made me wanting more for the second part.

  • Virginia -- Kentucky said:

    I enjoyed the article. I felt like I could hear his voice as he answered the questions. I liked the response to the question about if his last game was a failure if that would be hard to deal with. His answer about the big picture of his entire career overshadowing the last failure was inspiring and insightful.

  • Alex’s Blog: “We Took a Shellacking” | Winners Within Us™ Magazine said:

    [...] available to all who would try. When you do your best, you cannot lose. As Hall Of Fame Quarterback Dan Fouts says in his interview in this magazine, “The only failure is the failure to [...]

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