Commentary: History should be kind to retiring QB Philip Rivers

Commentary: History should be kind to retiring QB Philip Rivers

Among the athletes I have dealt with in my time around this newspaper game — and, when I began, the newsroom was smoky and nasty and lousy with whiskey and there were presses to stop — Philip Rivers is the most misunderstood.

In the eyes of some, Rivers will retire after his 17 years of NFL quarterbacking as a brash, loudmouth, whiny sore loser who never got to a Super Bowl.

I don’t know exactly how far away the truth is, but that depiction of him by unsocial media and those who don’t care about the truth (which is a lot of what we are now), couldn’t be further from it.

On the Mt. Rushmore of good people I have covered, Philip Rivers is cast in stone.

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Never mind how great, comfortable and tolerating he was with the media, and among NFL players of considerable talent, he was the best I’ve been around. It’s more who he is, the person, the competitor, the husband, the father of nine, a man of great faith, a rare athlete who couldn’t even bring himself to curse, finding a homespun, cracker-barrel way to get his point across. And the terrific player.

The trash he talked — and there was plenty — was sanitary.

He spent 2020 quarterbacking the Colts, and after losing the wild-card playoff game to the Bills — and he played very well; it was a coaching loss — his speech and body language said he had played his final game.

That he gave his retirement story Wednesday to our Kevin Acee, who had covered him for many years, tells you Philip remembered where he came from, that he didn’t need to exit by the national door of ESPN or Fox or any other news outlet.

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It was the act of a nice guy.

Of what I know of Philip, he is a man made of no phony or evil parts. Never even close to a hint of scandal.

Prince Philip.

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Honest. No fingers pointed. A leader of men who won and loved it and lost and hated it, a survivor of many disappointments, many brought about by the franchise which wore his face. It simply wasn’t in him to hide emotion; his sleeve was heavy with it.

When the NFL Team That Used To Be Here up and left San Diego for Los Angeles, the loyal Philip obviously thought ownership had betrayed the fans and city that had adored the team. He refused to move his family, riding a van to the team’s Costa Mesa Lima Bean Farm for work. There even was talk of his retiring then.

Once he replaced Drew Brees as starter in 2006, he never missed a game, 240 in a row, and he played the 2007 AFC Championship Game in New England less than a week out of surgery for a torn ACL. He was a tough guy who wore the clothing of passionate sheep.

Brees was the starting quarterback in 2003, and he played poorly, getting benched in favor of 39-year-old Doug Flutie. General Manager A.J. Smith rightly felt he had no choice but to draft a quarterback with his 2004 No. 1 overall pick.

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Irate over Eli Manning’s refusal to play in San Diego, Smith called the Manning Family’s bluff, drafting Eli and then working a memorable trade with the Giants to acquire Philip, whom New York had taken fourth overall.

Philip Rivers holds up his Chargers jersey with coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2004.

Philip Rivers holds up his Chargers jersey with coach Marty Schottenheimer at a news conference after the trade that brought him to the Chargers in 2004.

(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It’s been easy in hindsight for some people to say the Chargers should have just kept Brees, a magnificent competitor who turned around his career starting in 2004, but at the time A.J. had to draft a QB given how bad Drew had been in 2003. And the team knew Philip well, Marty Schottenheimer and his staff having coached Rivers in the Senior Bowl.

“When hearing about Philip’s decision to retire, the first thing that flashed into my mind was Archie Manning,” Smith says. “Second was about Philip’s remarkable career. Great player. Hall of Fame player. Great leader. Respected. Unmatched work ethic. One of the toughest players I’ve ever been around in my career. Mentally strong. Off-the-charts character.”

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Domonique Foxworth, the ESPN analyst who played defensive back vs. Rivers in college and the NFL, said this when asked what he remembers about the QB (some with tongue in cheek):

“I understand all that effusive praise you have for him, for being so generous to reporters. As a player, good riddance. The man was far too good and also far too arrogant and he would talk trash in your face after throwing a touchdown.

“I have a ton of respect for him, and as a defender, I’m not sad to see him go. And he was a hell of a trash talker with dadgummits and gosh dangits. Say the words you want to say!”

Thing was, those were the words he wanted to say. It was hard for him to stop talking. He would end most sentences with “and.”

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Philip would make an absolutely terrific TV analyst, but early on he made it clear that wasn’t for him. Many years ago he told me his dream was to coach high school football in Alabama, whence he came, and that’s precisely what he’s going to do.

Some people consider him a Hall of Famer, some do not. I’ve been in that room, when Hall voters discuss the candidates, and it’s tough — especially on quarterbacks who haven’t won Super Bowls, which should not be the primary consideration.

There are modern QBs in the Hall who did not win Super Bowls. Dan Fouts is one. Warren Moon. Jim Kelly. Fran Tarkenton. Oh, and Dan Marino.

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Maybe Rivers won’t be first-ballot. But his resume includes eight Pro Bowls, 5,277 completions (fifth all-time), a 95.2 career passer rating (12th), 421 passing touchdowns (fifth), 73 300-yard passing games (fifth), 12 4,000-yard passing seasons, and he even was 2013 Comeback Player of the Year (when he had nothing serious from which to come back).

I believe history will be kinder to him than his elitist naysayers are now. He was better than Eli Manning, but Eli quarterbacked the Giants to two Super Bowl wins — and he played in New York.

Looking back now, Philip Rivers deserved better — from a franchise so often clueless and unfortunate, to an ignorant public quick to criticize what they either don’t know or don’t care to know.

He should have won Super Bowls. He wasn’t perfect, but to say it was his fault is stupid. His errors were the byproduct of a fierce will to find a way to win a dang football game.

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