Once upon a time, Philip Rivers was a member of the most prestigious of clubs, one that only a few lucky men have ever been let in to, and one that dozens, if not more, have been kicked out of.
The Elite Quarterback Club is one of the most revered in all sports. Every year, hundreds of words and thousands of hours are spent debating who should be permitted entry, and who should be shown the door. It’s a completely ridiculous cycle, and a conversation that, upon its initiation, almost immediately defaults into a tired cliché, but alas, such is the way of the football world. Fighting it would be like trying to run in a hamster wheel.
Philip Rivers used to considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady, the Mannings, Roethlisberger and Rivers used to be the group. After spending his first two seasons in the league with a clipboard in his hands watching Drew Brees do his thing, Rivers burst onto the scene in 2006 and, in his first year as the team’s starter, led the Chargers to a 14-2 record. That season Drew Brees threw for a league-high 4,418 passing yards. No one in San Diego cared. They had the 25-year-old Rivers and his awkward, yet strong and accurate throwing arm under center. For him and the Chargers, the sky was the limit.
And for three years, that belief seemed to be justified. Rivers put up huge numbers and the Chargers kept winning and everything seemed right and on the upswing in San Diego. It’s hard to remember now, but there was once a time when fans and analysts would debate whether the Giants made the smart move by choosing Eli Manning over Philip Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft.
That is no longer the case. Home playoff losses and .500 seasons and late-game fumbles and turnovers have transformed Philip Rivers into the AFC’s lighting rod quarterback, the conference’s answer to Tony Romo. No longer is he placed in the same sentence as the Manning brothers. Now the question seems to be: How many more years can the Chargers go before they need to start looking for a replacement?
How does Rivers feel about this? Does he think the criticism is fair? TDdaily spoke to the Chargers QB earlier this week—at the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Awards in Los Angeles—about that and more.
TDdaily: What’s the question you’ve been asked the most today? Or the most annoying question you keep getting asked?
Philip Rivers: They’re not too bad. It’s OK.
TD: So how you feeling right now?
PR: Good. I feel healthy, I feel good. I’m excited about the season coming up—we’re just a week away.
TD: Do you get sick of getting asked if you feel like you have something to prove, and do you feel like you do?
PR: Well, now I think that you always have that, and that you always want to create an edge and that type of mentality every year. Certainly there have been more questions about my play the last few years, but I don’t feel like there’s anything “the matter,” or anything that needs fixing. That being said, I also know that I have to play better.
But the margin of difference between where I’ve been the past few years, and playing really good, it’s not so large, for me or the team. You turn the ball over a few less times, win a few more games—we’d find ourselves in the postseason each of the past three years. So I’m excited about this season. It’s been a tough transition, but one that’s been very exciting, and challenging, and I like where we sit going into training camp.
TD: So when you look at your recent struggles, do you view them more as a result of some unlucky bounces, or is there something that you feel you have to fix?
PR: No, I definitely have grinded this off-season, like I always do every off-season—you have to have a good off-season to have a great year—but also, there’s a story with every turnover. Ultimately, I know I’m the guy who threw the ball and therefore I’m responsible, but what I mean is that it’s not like I forgot how to throw a completion or that the team forgot how to get a first down or win a game or anything like that. It’s just that the margin of error in this league is so small, especially at my position. I don’t ask for any sympathy and because I’m the quarterback I’m responsible, especially for the mistakes I make. But I’m also excited because I know that I can play better and that I will play better.
TD: So it seems like you kind of look at you and your team’s struggles with an optimistic lens, that you believe that as bad as things have been, you’re not so far away.
PR: Yeah, for sure. As tough at it’s been the past few years—and it’s been tough and I’ve had some rough moments—and we’ve been .500, and .500 is not acceptable. But if your lowest of lows is being .500, well, that’s a lot better than a lot of lows.
TD: What’s been the roughest moment for you? Has there been any point where you’ve doubted yourself?
PR: No, I don’t think I ever doubted myself at any point. I mean, losing six in a row a couple of years ago was rough. The Kansas City game, where I fumbled the snap late in the game…you know last year was tough, too. That was the first losing season I’ve ever been a part of, so that was obviously tough individually and collectively because you lose your coach and all that stuff. But all that’s behind us. We’ve got a new start here and I’m looking forward to it.
TD: You guys have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator—how hard is it to adapt to a new system?
PR: Yeah, it’s been a challenge. You know, I’ve called plays one way for nine years and all of the sudden it’s a new offense. But also, in the same way it’s been fun to learn something new. We all run the same plays in this league, we just call them different things. But it’s been fun learning something new and I think it can be a positive and I like where we’re going.
Yaron Weitzman is an Associate Editor for TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.