Not many younger fans knew who John Jefferson was, but he was one of Dan Fouts most reliable targets and a member of the Air Coryell offense. Those who do remember him are quick to point out his futuristic goggles he would wear. He did not play many seasons in San Diego, but he was extremely productive during his 3-year tenure. So much in fact, that he is part of the Chargers 50th Anniversary Team. Some of the oldest fans may still have a sour taste in their mouth with how Jefferson left the club, because he forced the trade to Green Bay to get out of San Diego over a contract dispute. Out of his short 8-year career, he was most productive as a Charger from 1978-1980.
John Jefferson grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas and played college football at Arizona State University. As a Wide Receiver, he played in all four seasons and was rather productive. As a freshman, Jefferson had 30 receptions for 423 yards and a single touchdown. As a sophomore, Jefferson increased his productions with 52 receptions for 921 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jefferson saw a dip as a Junior with 48 receptions for 681 yards, before he bounced back with 53 catches for 912 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Jefferson was a Concsensus All-American and led the WAC in receptions and yards. He was ranked a top-10 wide receiver in 1975 and 1977 in catches and yards. His most memorable moment was “The Catch” that helped the Sun Devils beat Arizona which led to their undefeated 1975 season where they ranked 2nd according to the AP Poll. For Arizona State, he ranks 4th in career receptions, 2nd in receiving yards and 9th in career touchdowns. He left his collegiate career with 188 receptions for 2993 yards and 20 touchdowns. To think that he ranks this high in an era that that did not have the high powered offenses seen today through the air is an unbelievable feat.
For his outstanding collegiate career, the San Diego Chargers drafted John Jefferson 14th overall in the 1978 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Jefferson had 56 receptions for 1001 yards and lead the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns. His 1001 yards was a Chargers franchise record until it was broken by Keenen Allen in 2013. He lost out on Offensive Rookie of the Year to Earl Campbell, but his name did catch quite the buzz. He did find his way onto the Sports Illustrated cover as, “The Touchdown Man”
He made 2 consecutive All-Pro teams in 1979-1980 and lead the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns in the latter year, with 82 receptions for 1340 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was the first player to have 3 consecutive 1000-yard seasons and had over 10 touchdowns in each year. After the 1980 season, the Chargers and Jefferson would enter into a contract stalemate, which led to the trade to Green Bay.
Jefferson would never again reach the same heights as he did in San Diego, though he did pair nicely next to James Lofton. He played 4 seasons with the Packers and 1 season for the browns before he retired. He finished his career retiring at 29 years old, with 351 career receptions for 5714 yards and 47 touchdowns. There are not many players who started out as fast as Jefferson did. Had he stayed in San Diego, who knows what records he could have held.
Once Jefferson was unable to stick on the Houston Oilers roster, he retired and went back to school to finish his degree in History. He would be named to the Arizona State Hall of Fame and later, the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He would try his hand at coaching by becoming an assistant for the University of Kansas and also found his way into the Washington Redskins front office as Director of Player Development in the 2008-2009 season.