PHOTO (PFHoF): Mindy Coryell Lewis, Don Coryell’s daughter, with Air Coryell pilot Dan Fouts, the Chargers’ Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback at the bust unveiling Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
CANTON, Ohio – Mindy Coryell took the stage to represent her father Don Coryell on Saturday afternoon at his post-humous Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement. She was by his side for the unveiling of his bust.
Of course, she was.
If you’re from San Diego, you’ve heard the legendary stories of little Mindy quietly riding in the car alongside her father. As San Diego State’s coach (1961-72), Coryell was a mad scientist focused on his game plan. He routinely forgot to drop off Mindy at school while he drove, deep in thought, to his campus office.
John Madden, a Coryell assistant at SDSU who was later on his way to his own Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2006 as the Oakland Raiders coach, told a version of the story when he spoke at a memorial for Coryell, who died in 2010 at age 85.
“That was Don and that was concentration from a football genius,” Madden explained while chuckling.
Mindy, upon stepping to the microphone on the Canton stage as she delivered her speech at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, confirmed the tales.
“They’re all absolutely true,” she said.
Coryell’s SDSU offenses were the precursor to his Air Coryell years directing the San Diego Chargers, 1978-86. Coryell was long recognized as a passing game innovator, but his lack of Super Bowl was held against him by voters for nearly 40 years. The Chargers lost two AFC Championship games, one to the Raiders in the 1980 season and one to the Cincinnati Bengals in a 1981 season title game that was known infamously as The Freezer Bowl.
But the voters finally recognized Coryell’s career.
“His influence on the game is one that continues to grow not only in the NFL but in college and high school,” said Fouts in his presentation speech that, like the other presenters, was aired on video to keep the schedule on time.
Coryell was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. He remains the only coach with 100 wins in college and in the NFL.
Air Coryell led the NFL in passing seven of nine years while the Chargers won three straight AFC West titles, 1979-81, and advanced to the playoffs a fourth straight year in 1982. Fouts is one of three Air Coryell players previously enshrined along with tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner.
When Coryell’s introductory video, featuring Fouts, finished playing on the screen, Fouts took the stage with Mindy Coryell Lewis. Mindy and Fouts walked together from the back of the stage toward the bust, with Fouts grabbing Mindy’s hand. When they unveiled the bust, Mindy leaned over and gave it a kiss. Mindy then addressed the crowd.
PHOTO (PFHoF): Dan Fouts presents Don Coryell’s gold jacket at the Friday night Pro Football Hall of Fame dinner.
“I’m sure he’d be humbled, grateful and maybe a bit surprised his legacy has lived on all these years and is now forever recognized as worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” she said.
She also thanked Fouts for relentlessly pushing Coryell’s case before the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.
“Thank you, Dan, for that amazing introduction and all that you’ve done that led to this moment.”
Fouts had chipped away at voters resisting Coryell’s election by citing his innovative game and his remarkable record of players making the Pro Bowl for the first time while playing for him with the St. Louis Cardinals as well as the Chargers. Fouts flipped enough votes in the 2023 class when he cited words from the late Bill Walsh, a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach. Walsh wrote in a letter to Coryell that Walsh also sent to Fouts that Coryell influenced the passing game more than any other coach.
MORE ON DON CORYELL AND HIS PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME ENSHRINEMENT
Mindy stated early in the speech she promised not to break down in tears, and she held up in an upbeat, light-hearted tone — until the very end. Then, her voice began breaking up as she delivered her final words:
“Ladies and gentleman, Air Coryell has landed in Canton. … I broke my promise.”
Coryell was inducted as a contributor among the nine Class of 2023 members. He was the only coach.
Recently retired players elected were Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber, Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, Miami’s Zach Thomas and the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis. Three veteran players were the New York Jets’ Joe Klecko, Cincinnati’s Ken Riley and Dallas’ Chuck Howley. Ken Riley II represented his late father. Scott Howley spoke for his father, who watched from home at age 87.
Thomas, during his induction speech, mentioned Junior Seau, his teammate for three seasons in Miami. Thomas wiped away a tear with a handkerchief as he said of Seau, “I’m truly honored to join in that museum.”
He looked over his shoulder to his museum behind the stadium.
Seau, who grew up a Chargers fan in suburban Oceanside, California, played 13 years with the Chargers before finishing his career in Miami (2003-05) and in New England (2006-09).
Tony Dungy made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, but the Class of 2023 exemplifies another reason he stands out as an elite coach.
When Barber was enshrined, he joined three previous Tampa Bay players under Dungy who were recently inducted: defensive lineman Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch.
Dungy coached the Bucs from 1996 to 2001 and the Colts from 2002 to 2008. Sapp played for Tampa Bay, 1995 to 2003; Brooks, 1995-2008; and Lynch, 1993-2003.
Colts’ Pro Football Hall of Famers whose career also overlapped with Dungy’s Indy years were Peyton Manning, 1998-2011; Marvin Harrison, 1996-2008; and Edgerrin James (1999-2005).
Tom Shanahan, who covered the Air Coryell Chargers, is an author and historian on college football integration of one book, “Raye of Light,” with second book due out soon, “The Right Thing To Do.” The Football Writers Association of America awarded him first place for his story on the 1962 Rose Bowl, Alabama and segregation
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Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read a summary.
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RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy