(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access Wes Chandler’s comments on Paul Warfield fast-forward to 18:30 of the attached audio: Ep 59: Former Charger WR Wes Chandler Joins The Show | Spreaker)
Few wide receivers are compared to Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield, and for good reason: Warfield was one of the greatest to play the game. Nevertheless, when I recently asked former Chargers’ quarterback Dan Fouts – also a Hall of Famer – about one of his favorite targets, Wes Chandler, guess whose name he brought up?
Yep. Paul Warfield.
“He reminded me of him,” Fouts said. “Nobody could cover him.”
He’s right about that, especially in the strike-truncated 1982 season when Chandler set an NFL record by averaging 129 yards receiving per game. In eight starts he had 1,032 yards receiving, and do the math: That would be another single-season record of over 2,000 yards for 16 games. He also had nine receiving TDs which, extended over 16 games, would’ve been a league mark of 18.
Chandler averaged 21.1 yards per catch that season and 16.0 for his career, but it wasn’t numbers that defined him; it was subtlety. Wes Chandler was smooth, fluid and graceful as he glided in and out of pass routes much like … well, Paul Warfield.
That wasn’t a coincidence. It was by design, as Chandler explained on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
“Paul Warfield was my idol,” he said. “He was playing for the Dolphins. I grew up in the state of Florida, and, so, on Sundays that’s all we were able to watch. There was no Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time. It was the Miami Dolphins. There was no Jacksonville Jaguars. And the Dolphins … if you were watching anybody, you were watching (Jim) Kiick, (Mercury) Morris, (Larry) Csonka and Warfield. And (Bob) Griese put this ball up.
“The gracefulness to change directions is what I really tried to emulate in terms of Paul Warfield himself. So I tried to do those things when I was actually doing my workouts. I wanted to give that change of direction while the defender was going one way. I anticipated his direction change, and I would give him a different step.”
Whatever it was, it worked. The third overall pick of the 1978 draft, Chandler had 65 catches each in his second and third seasons with New Orleans. Then, in the middle of the 1981 season he was traded to San Diego, where he eclipsed 800 yards in five of his first six seasons there on a team that included Hall-of-Famers Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner and running back Chuck Muncie.
Of course, it was that 1982 season that stood out, with Chandler burning defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco for three touchdowns one weekend before torching defending AFC champion Cincinnati – the team that eliminated the Chargers in the 1981 conference title game – for 260 yards the next.
As Fouts said, nobody could cover him.
“Is that what you believed at that time?” we asked Chandler.
The answer is yes.
“I had that feeling when I was leaving (the University of) Florida,” said Chandler, a star at Gainesville. “Actually, I had that feeling when I got to New Orleans. And knock on wood: I say that with the greatest respect and confidence, let me say that.
“I think that in your preparation for what you know you’re going to be up against – the greatest players in the world; some of the greatest athletes in the world when it comes to defensive backs – I prepared myself for the physical aspects of it. Having been a running back in high school and partially at Florida, the contact was not an issue for me. It was being able to be quicker and more nimble than they were.”