Though known primarily for his offensive genius, Sid Gillman used the Chargers’ first pick in the 1961 AFL Draft on a strapping defensive end from the University of Indiana, named Earl Faison. Faison grew up during the Jim Crow era in Newport News, Virginia in the 1940s and 1950s. While discussing his what he might do with his future, Faison’s coach told him, “Earl, the way I see it, there are three fields that you can go into after high school – tobacco, cotton and football.”
Faison used his 6’5″, 265-lbs, and highly athletic body to get out of Virginia. He starred at UI, and was an all-america selection his senior year, played in the East-West Game, the Hula & All-American Bowls and the College All-Star earned a starting position at left defensive end for the Chargers, joining a defensive line that included Bill Hudson, Ron Nery, and fellow rookie, Ernie Ladd. They made up the original Fearsome Foursome.
Statistics were not kept for tackles and quarterback sacks in the 1960s, but by all accounts, Faison had a tremendous rookie season. As a result of the relentless pressure that the San Diego defensive line kept on opposing quarterbacks, the Chargers defensive secondary, dubbed the “Seven Bandits,” set a league record by hauling in 49 interceptions over the 14-game season, a record that still stands today. Faison had two interceptions himself.
The post-season recognition came to Earl Faison in the way of an “All-Pro” designation by Sport Magazine, an AFL Rookie of the Year selection and an invitation to play in the AFL All-Star Game.
Earl Faison played six seasons in the AFL, all but six games of which were with the San Diego Chargers. Though considered a durable player who was in all 14 games in four of his six seasons, a back injury ended his career prematurely.
In his book, Crash of the Titans, author William Ryczek quoted the New York Titans offensive tackle Buddy Cockrell, “Faison was the best pass rusher I ever played against. He was real strong and had lots of speed. He’d get down in that sprinter’s stance and he was hell to block.” Cockrell’s linemate, Dewey Bohling, agreed. “Earl Faison was the hardest person for me to control. He was not only good, he was mean. [Ernie] Ladd was more easy-going. Faison had a mean streak in him. He’d go out of his way to try to hurt you. Ladd was a good ballplayer, but he wasn’t half as mean as Faison.”