San Diego Chargers: How Philip Rivers Became the Franchise

Andrew LongworthCorrespondent IMay 13, 2011

San Diego Chargers: How Philip Rivers Became the Franchise

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    CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 26:  Philip Rivers #17  of the San Diego Chargers throws a pass during the Chargers 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Imag
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    So far in this offseason, the grand majority of the writer’s ink has been consumed by the lockout, the draft, and then, like a boomerang aiming for the worst part of the anatomy, back to the lockout again.

    Talk surrounding the San Diego Chargers has mainly focused on the draft, first-round pick Corey Liuget, and the hopes of a city resting on his huge shoulders. If you run out of things to write about with Liuget, write about Darren Sproles and his pending free agency. No Sproles, maybe Vincent Jackson. No Jackson, dig up something about how hapless Los Angeles will snag away the Bolts and return them to their original home—L.A.’s pitiful record with professional football teams notwithstanding.  

    How funny, then, that people should forget the franchise player himself, the smack-talking, sidearm-throwing, melon-headed quarterback from Alabama wearing No. 17; the guy you love unless he is playing against you. 

    If you are one of the AFC West teams, you long for the days of yore when it was perfectly acceptable to boil people in oil or stick them into an iron maiden, because that's exactly where AFC West teams would want Philip Rivers.

    There are some QBs that are destined for greatness, regardless of whether that coveted big ring is on their fingers once they step away from the game for good. 

    Just what makes a QB great varies. Some like Marino will put up the numbers. Some will have that one unforgettable game, like Joe Namath. Some will win Super Bowl after Super Bowl like Montana.

    This article recounts Philip Rivers’ path to greatness in five acts, in chronological order, or his five greatest games in pro football.

    There will be plenty of guffaws and scoffs here from Rivers’ peers and critics. But, Super Bowl ring or none, even those will have to grudgingly agree that he is a QB for the ages.

Chargers 49, Bengals 41: November 12, 2006

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    CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 12: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers throws the ball during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on November 12, 2006 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Chargers defeated the Bengals 49-41. (Phot
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The mouth is born.

    After a horrendous first half that saw the Bolts D get sliced and diced by Carson Palmer to the tune of a 28-7 score, Rivers translated the trash heap the Bolts had found themselves under to trash talk, before leading the Bolts on one of its most memorable comebacks in history.

    The sobering result in the second half: six drives, six touchdowns.

    Chargers win by eight.

    When the Bolts scored to cut the gap to 14 immediately following the break, Rivers, according to center Nick Hardwick, was heard mouthing off the unforgettable words to Bengals players:

    “Y’all don’t think we’re outta this!”

    Five touchdowns and a Chargers win later, his teammates knew that the Chargers are never "outta it" with Rivers under center, a lesson not only the Bengals would learn in the coming years.

Chargers 28, Colts 24: January 13, 2008

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    INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 13:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers trades verbal barbs with Colts' fans as he walks into the locker room against the Indianapolis Colts during their AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome on January 13
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The day L.T.'s team became Philip’s team.

    The Chargers came into this game handicapped as it was, with Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal riding the pine and Antonio Gates playing on a dislocated toe.

    It would only get worse.

    L.T. was taken out of the game with what was later diagnosed as a bruised knee. So now the Bolts had their running game removed, along with their biggest receiving threat.

    Rivers, for the game, would throw for 264 yards on 14-of-19 passing and three scores before he was removed from the game himself with an injury.

    Unforgettable, a defiant and injured Rivers would enjoy trash talk with Indy fans upon leaving the stadium. Bolts fans who’d watched the game on the tube remember it well.

    “THANK YOU! I appreciate it!”

    Little did Colts fans know that this was only the beginning of a long book of horror stories they would have to endure against Philip Rivers.

Patriots 21, Chargers 12: January 20, 2008

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20:  the San Diego Chargers throws a pass against Adalius Thomas #96 of the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship Game on January 20, 2008 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Patriots won 21-12. (Photo by Al Bel
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Many legends at QB will be remembered for extraordinary things.

    There’s Joe Namath and the guarantee. There’s Joe Montana spotting John Candy in the middle of a game-winning drive that would win the Super Bowl. There’s Brett Favre and the All-Pro effort following his father’s death. Bart Starr and the Ice Bowl.

    No quarterback would ever be remembered for a game he lost.

    Until January 20, 2008.

    The Chargers would lose the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots, 21-12.

    Philip Rivers did not get the Bolts into the end zone once against the 17-0 Pats. In fact, Rivers passed for 211 yards on 19-of-37 pass attempts that included two picks.

    Yet, the perfect Pats didn’t put the Bolts away until the fourth quarter.

    That sounds normal and routine, until you consider the fact that Rivers played the game with a torn anterior crucial knee ligament. For many QBs, this means retirement. For others, a long ride on the pine. For Rivers, it meant a challenge of legendary proportions.

    Whereas there have always been questions lingering about the Chargers’ toughness in the years they’d been underachieving, football history will confirm there are none about their quarterback.

Chargers 23, Colts 17: January 3, 2009

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    SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03:  Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers drops back to pass against the Indianapolis Colts during their AFC Wild Card Game on January 3, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Colts 23-17 i
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Elway time at Qualcomm Stadium.

    And it arguably started a month before that.

    After the Chargers had reeled off four straight wins and depended on an epic Broncos collapse to win the AFC West, it would be at home against the Colts and their 12-4 record and nine-game winning streak.

    With L.T. again on the sidelines for a crucial playoff game, it would be up to Rivers to compete with the Colts.

    And compete he did.

    With under two minutes left, Rivers would guide the Bolts to a game-tying field goal with 31 seconds left, only to see the Bolts come back and win it in OT, courtesy of a Darren Sproles touchdown run.

    Remarkable, considering that neither Vincent Jackson nor Malcom Floyd, heroes of the 2008 playoffs a year earlier, would have a catch between them.

Chargers 29, Texans 23: November 7, 2010

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    HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers looks for a receiver as linebacker Brian Cushing #56 of the Houston Texans applies pressure at Reliant Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Gett
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Years before, the Chargers had already become Philip Rivers’ team.

    After this game in Houston, there was little doubt that he had become the franchise.

    Coming into Week 9, the Chargers were a disappointing 3-5, owing chiefly to the ineptitude of their special teams who were making the 2008 Detroit Lions look competent.

    Besides the losing record, the Chargers hadn’t won a road game, in addition to an injury list that read like a casualty list caused by the plague.

    The top four receivers were on the shelf. Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee hinted that the Bolts would have to go to the ground game early and often to stand a chance against Houston. Incidentally, they would also lose starting halfback rookie Ryan Mathews to an ankle injury later in the game.

    What to do?

    Rivers would throw for 17-of-23 and 295 yards, including two touchdowns each to undrafted rookie Seyi Ajirotutu (can you spell that without Googling it?) and little used backup tight end Randy McMichael.

    This was the equivalent of a man digging himself and a franchise from six feet under and single-handedly reviving them.


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    HONOLULU - JANUARY 30:  Philip Rivers, #17 of the San Diego Chargers, passes against the NFC team during the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on January 30, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
    Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

    It would take John Elway 15 long years before he would be able to hoist the ultimate prize up in the air—the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

    And even without the trophy, John Elway would have been a bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    That would appear to be Philip Rivers' lot, if he should end his career without a ring.

    I certainly wouldn't count on it.

    There are some quarterbacks that have that fire, with the passion and leadership to raise their teams to greater things, and Rivers is one of those players.

    San Diego has competed owing largely to their supreme performances at quarterback.

    It can only be a matter of time before the desired results roll in come January.

    With Philip Rivers at quarterback, it's hard to bet against the Bolts not winning it all one day.