The 1979 Chargers finished in first place in the AFC West after having finished 9–7 in 1978. The Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts threw for more than 4,000 yards, and wide receivers Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson both gained more than 1,000 yards receiving. The Chargers became the first AFC West champion to run more passing plays (541) then rushing (481).
The 2006 edition of Pro Football Prospectus, listed the 1979 Chargers as one of their "Heartbreak Seasons", in which teams "dominated the entire regular season only to falter in the playoffs, unable to close the deal." Said Pro Football Prospectus of the team, "the creative [head coach] Don Coryell always designed potent offenses, but the San Diego defense didn't catch up until 1979. ... In their first playoff game, the Chargers hosted a Houston Oilers team missing running back Earl Campbell and quarterback Dan Pastorini and fell on their faces. Fouts threw five interceptions and no touchdowns, and the Chargers blew a third quarter lead and lost 17–14. The Chargers would not have the best record in the NFL again until the 2006 season. They would not have another top ten defense in points allowed until 1989. They would not win 12 games in a season until 2004. Their best shot at glory went horribly awry, thanks to the worst game in the illustrious career of Dan Fouts."
|1979 San Diego Chargers season|
|Head coach||Don Coryell|
|General manager||Johnny Sanders|
|Owner||Eugene V. Klein|
|Home field||San Diego Stadium|
|Division place||1st AFC West|
|Playoff finish||Lost Divisional Playoffs (Oilers) (14–17)|
|1979 San Diego Chargers draft|
|1||13||Kellen Winslow * †||Tight end||Missouri||from Cleveland|
|3||73||Cliff Thrift||Linebacker||East Central||from Cleveland|
|Pro Football Hall of Fame Made at least one Pro Bowl during careerMade roster|
|1979 San Diego Chargers final roster|
On opening day in The Kingdome on September 2, the Chargers beat the Seattle Seahawks 33–14. Clarence Williams rushed for 2 touchdowns. Rolf Benirschke kicked 4 field goals, and Dan Fouts passed for 224 yards.
The next week, San Diego got a come-from-behind win over the Buffalo Bills as Clarence Williams picked up 157 yards on 18 carries and had a team-record 4 rushing TDs.
In week 4, Chargers lost to the New England Patriots 27–21. Patriot linebacker Steve Nelson preserved the victory with an interception of a Dan Fouts pass on the New England 2-yard line with 1:37 remaining in the game.
|1||September 2, 1979||at Seattle Seahawks||W 33–16|
|2||September 9, 1979||Oakland Raiders||W 30–10|
|3||September 16, 1979||Buffalo Bills||W 27–19|
|4||September 23, 1979||at New England Patriots||L 27–21|
|5||September 30, 1979||San Francisco 49ers||W 31–9|
|6||October 7, 1979||at Denver Broncos||L 7–0|
|7||October 14, 1979||Seattle Seahawks||W 20–10|
|8||October 21, 1979||at Los Angeles Rams||W 40–16|
|9||October 25, 1979||at Oakland Raiders||L 45–22|
|10||November 4, 1979||at Kansas City Chiefs||W 20–14|
|11||November 11, 1979||at Cincinnati Bengals||W 26–24|
|12||November 18, 1979||Pittsburgh Steelers||W 35–7|
|13||November 25, 1979||Kansas City Chiefs||W 28–7|
|14||December 2, 1979||Atlanta Falcons||L 28–26|
|15||December 9, 1979||at New Orleans Saints||W 35–0|
|16||December 17, 1979||Denver Broncos||W 17–7|
|San Diego Chargers(1)||12||4||0||.750||6–2||9–3||411||246||W2|
|Kansas City Chiefs||7||9||0||.438||4–4||7–7||238||262||L1|
|Divisional||December 29, 1979||Houston Oilers||L 17–14|
at San Diego Stadium, San Diego
A week after a game, Sports Illustrated published an article entitled "The Stolen Signals Caper." For the season, San Diego's standard game method was for Offensive Coordinator Joe Gibbs to stay upstairs in the booth and phone plays down to Head Coach Don Coryell and Jim Hanifan on the sidelines. The two of them would confer, and then Hanifan would signal in the plays using hand signals much like baseball teams use. Houston Defense Coordinator Eddie Biles broke the code. And the Oilers did not overplay their hand. Biles merely signaled the play to Oiler Middle Linebacker Gregg Bingham who called the Houston defense on the field. Bingham stated, "My job was to put us into the right defense—I guess you'd say the perfect defense." One result is that Houston Strong Safety Vernon Perry intercepted four of Fouts' passes, three of them while playing double coverage against the Chargers. Oiler J.C. Wilson also had one interception. The article stated, "People who have been around the Chargers for years said they had never seen him [Fouts] throw into so much double coverage."
Or a little song written back in 1979.
|Wild card berths (3)|
|Division championships (15)|
|Conference championships (1)|
|League championships (1)|
|Current league affiliations|
|Former league affiliation|
Championship seasons in bold