Philip Rivers enters his 12th season as the San Diego Chargers quarterback, seemingly as excited as he was during his first season. Rivers still talks in rapid-fire style with his hands gesticulating as if he were a symphony conductor.
He's doing that despite the fact he's coming off one of the most painful ends to a season he ever endured and despite growing concern the Chargers will be moving to Los Angeles by the end of the season.
His contract status has been in the news, too. He and the team could agree to an extension right now or they may put off negotiations until next year, when his contract expires.
With all that in mind, Rivers talked to Bleacher Report as training camp opened last week:
Bleacher Report: You've played through a fair number of injuries, including a torn ACL in the playoffs one year. How painful was the end of last season, when you played with rib and back injuries?
Rivers: Last season was the worst it has ever been.
B/R: Worse than the knee-injury season?
Rivers: Well, that was maybe worse because of the surgery and the recovery that went with it. But the last three, four, five weeks of last season was about as tough as I've been through. And mentally, too, we were right there in it to stay alive and have a chance [at the playoffs].
But March and April rolled around, you start to feel good and that's when you say, "OK, let's go again."
B/R: How many kids do you have now?
B/R: So is there a "No Touching Daddy" rule at your house during football season? Or do you just have to endure the fact your kids are going to jump on you?
Rivers: Depending on the time, there's definitely a "Oh, hold on, not there."
It's funny because as they have gotten older, the older ones get it and the younger ones are just like, "Dad, does it hurt when I push there? Does your elbow still hurt? Is your leg still sore?"
So no wrestling in the house right now.
B/R: So all your kids have basically been raised in this town?
Rivers: My oldest was two in July before my first training camp. She's the only one not born here.
B/R: So when they come up and say, "Daddy, what's all this stuff about the Chargers moving to Los Angeles?" is that a hard conversation?
Rivers: It's harder for the ones who understand. The oldest has just turned 13, and then there's the 10, the nine, etc.
For one, as all children are, they're just attached to the house we're in now. We've been there six years now. I think it's hard for them because we have always had in our mind that we're either going to stay here forever or move closer to our family in the South. That's just kind of what we planned out.
Now, the business you're in, you never know. You could be in a different city playing somewhere with a different team. There's always a possibility of that, so I've been thankful I've been blessed to stay in the same town a long time.
But when you start thinking about [the Chargers] moving, it's not what they thought. It's like they ask, "Are you going closer to Gran and Grandad?" And the answer is, "No, we might go a hundred miles up the road and that part may be hard." Then they say, "Uh, Dad, you said we weren't leaving here unless we went home."
So that is hard, but that's life. With the children, they think about their little room, their place. It all comes back to, "We'll be together, we'll all be fine."
B/R: Is there a lot of talk in the locker room about Los Angeles? Or is there too much other stuff to be concerned with?
Rivers: I think when there's not a lot of football going on, or it's early in the offseason, you talk about it.
But now, it's just not a conversation in [the locker room]. It's just not a topic in there. I think it's just what you say: It's football and there's a lot of excitement about this year because we do know where we're going to be this year, and guys are just saying, "That will happen when it happens."
B/R: With your contract situation, are you really comfortable if something doesn't get done here? Or does something have to happen?
Rivers: I really am comfortable. I'm not just saying that. If something shakes out here soon, I'll be excited to know that I'll get a chance to finish my career in the same place, lead us to a championship. And if it doesn't get done here in the next couple of weeks, I'm fired up about this team.
B/R: Are you saying that you will shut down the negotiations if it doesn't get done soon?
Rivers: Yeah, I think that's what both sides have agreed to. Something has to happen here in a couple of weeks, or I'll just go play and feel good about where we are and then revisit where we are after the season.
B/R: You look a little lighter than usual.
Rivers: A little bit. I was about 226 pounds. I've played between there and 232, so I'm maybe two or three pounds lighter.
B/R: You're working in a new running back in Melvin Gordon. You're very pass-protection-oriented, like any quarterback. How has he done so far with the protection part of it, as opposed to the running game?
Rivers: The running game is the easy part for him. Just hand him the ball and he goes.
He has done good [in other aspects], and I talked to him earlier and said, "Look, there will be a lot going on, but don't get frustrated, just stick with it. I'll keep reminding you," and this and that.
Early on here, we get together and talk through things and, at first, he felt there was a lot going on. ... Some of the other guys we have like Danny [Woodhead] and Donald [Brown], they don't need to be reminded to come back and get this safety, but I do it anyway. I'm just covering my bases.
Today at the walk-through, I didn't say anything and he came over and got one on his own. So I made sure to acknowledge him. He came back and got it. It was an adjustment without me having to point it out.
So Melvin is coming along fast, and he's going to have this luxury with three other guys who are going to be in there. He's not going to be asked to do it all. But he also knows that he can't just come out in certain situations. He has to be the guy who can still do it all. It can't always be Danny or Donald.
But to answer your question the short way, I think he has picked it up faster than I thought. ... It's a lot at the line of scrimmage. It's not just, "I have the [strong-side linebacker and the middle linebacker]." Yeah, you have them, but now all of a sudden we change it and not only [do] you have them, but here comes the free safety.
And the other thing I would say about Melvin is that he catches it really well.
B/R: He catches it quiet from what I could see today.
Rivers: Yeah, he doesn't fight it. That's one thing you never know with guy coming out of a program that doesn't throw that much.
The majority of his college career has been, "Just hand it to me." But he adjusts well and he's longer than I thought. He's impressive.
B/R: So you can flick it a little and don't have to be as exact when you throw to him because he's so tall and has a wide reach. He's way bigger than Woodhead or guys you've thrown to like Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Rivers: Yeah, I think that's fair to say. He has wider range. That helps a lot, especially when you have all the traffic in the pocket, like hands and arms up, or you're getting hit. To be able to just flick it a little helps.
But to me maybe even more important than that is the body control. [Woodhead's] range is not as great, but he has great body control. He can adjust to a ball on his back hip without having to turn all the way around and make it look like, "Gosh, what a terrible throw." He's able to kind of just adjust and slow down. Danny has that and Melvin has that.
So maybe more important than his height and range is he's got a subtleness. He's got a feel and I think that's big for running backs, because some of those balls can't be perfect.
He's catching it easy, but he's still getting used to catching the ball in the passing game. ... I think that just learning the route tree has been [hard]. He hasn't said that, but I get that feeling that he's looking at it and wondering, "Man, what are all these routes? I'm used to running a bunch of check-downs."
B/R: I have this rule with my kids: I always say, the first time I'm going to tell you. The second time, I'm going to tell you a little louder. The third time, it's on, I'm going to be yelling. Do you have that same concept with teammates?
Rivers: I don't have it down to that exact 1, 2, 3, but I try to handle it that way.
It's an emotional game and it builds without maybe going to Steps 1 and 2 and now, all of a sudden, you're at 3 because you've just had enough. But it's funny, I saw a quote from Melvin. He said he had seen my demonstrative demeanor, thinking I was yelling and screaming. Then he got here and it was more about, "Hey, you've got this guy" or whatever.
So it's good. It's not that way, "Oh, you gotta block this guy!" It's not that way...yet.
B/R: But it will get that way on Sundays, right?
Rivers: Oh, there's no question. I think back to [offensive tackle D.J.] Fluker and him being a rookie and me saying [to myself], "Patience, patience, patience." But then he comes back and I say, "D.J.!"
But the guys know, in general, that it's sincere and I love 'em and I just want us to do it right. So I think I try to at least establish that early so that when you do get a little fired up, you can put your arm around a guy and say, "Hey, you do know that I love ya, we just can't do that."
Shoot, I'm worthy of getting fussed at, too. But I think they know that and that allows them to understand that hey, it's an emotional deal out there.
B/R: How did your dad coach?
Rivers: He was that same way. He wasn't a big screamer and a fusser, but he did it that way.
It's funny, I see my dad in myself when I say certain things or I do certain things. I'll say, "That was my dad right there."
It was just the same deal with my dad. The passion he had as a coach. He cared for the guys. He pushed them, but he loved them. So if he ever yelled or got fired up, you felt bad. It was like, "Hey, I let Coach Rivers down."
I know it was that way with my friends. But I make it clear with guys that, hey, if that was a bad throw, I let them know. Just so it's not that thing where, "Oh, it's always us [the wide receivers]."
B/R: You remember the old wide receiver Mark Clayton who played for the Dolphins?
Rivers: Oh yeah.
B/R: He used to complain that when Dan Marino would make a mistake, he would point to the receiver and yell, "Man, that was a terrible throw." But fans would always think he was yelling at the receivers. Clayton just hated that. He said, "Even when Marino is taking the blame, it looks like I'm the problem."
Rivers: I can see that. It's like [wide receiver] Malcom Floyd is the best. He won't ever let me take the blame. I'll say something like, "Malcom, I'm sorry on that 7-route, I threw it badly." Then he'll say, "No, Phil, that's me." He always, always says that to the point it's unbelievable.
B/R: Like when you throw it eight feet over his head on occasion.
Rivers: Oh, yeah, it's "I can get that." I'm like, "OK, Malcom." But there's no way.
B/R: Have you always talked with your hands?
Rivers: Oh yeah, it's like I have no chance. I'll do some on-camera stuff and they'll be like, "Can you maybe not use your hands so much?"
It's so hard. I'm putting them down by my side. And that adds to some of what you're talking about, because people always think, "Oh, Rivers is really getting after him." No, it's just the way I talk. It's actually not like that.
B/R: Did anybody ever suggest you be a conductor?
Rivers: It's funny, when I was about two or three years old, I would be up in the stands when my dad was coaching. I'd be sitting next to my mom. This is before I became a ball boy. But I'd always ask my mom or my dad later on, "I want to play football, but at halftime can I be the drum major? Do you think I could come out at halftime and lead the band?" I loved that. I would stand in the bleachers and do that [conducting] over and over again.
B/R: Do you ever think back to that playoff game against the Patriots?
Rivers: Which one, the ACL one?
B/R: No, the first one at home in the 2006 playoffs.
Rivers: Yeah...the Patriots at home, [at] the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game [2007 playoffs], and the Jets game at home [2009 playoffs]. The Jets game at home was the same situation as the first one. We had the bye, we were at home. You think about those because you did everything as a team to get in the best situation possible and then both of them we didn't play well. The New England one at home, especially. The Jets game, we got beat and didn't play very well.
B/R: And Darrelle Revis had a really good game.
Rivers: Oh yeah, the interception bouncing off [wide receiver] Vincent Jackson's leg. But the first Patriots game, we had the game won. I mean really, we had it right there. Those games you think about. It's amazing to think, it has been almost 10 years.
B/R: Do you ever think about the fact Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning—the guys you were drafted with in 2004—each have two Super Bowl rings?
Rivers: Not like one would think. I'm not blind to that fact. I know we're all part of that quarterback class, and you know that you're the odd guy out in that category. But that doesn't motivate me any more.
The competitor in me knows that [I'm] third on that list. But it doesn't make me want to try harder. My desire to try to lead this team to a championship is the same as it has always been.
Has it grown? Probably; sure it has. It grows every year that you don't get it. But it's not fueled by that.
B/R: If this is the last year the Chargers play in San Diego, how hard is that going to be on the team and on the community?
Rivers: You don't want to put added pressure, but it really makes you want to make this a special season with the chance it could be the last. You want to be awesome in Qualcomm.
Maybe it's not the last, but should that happen, that would be the end of a lot of years here for this organization. I can't think back that far, but all the guys who played here and been here, the stories that have been told about how they won the [AFC] Championship Game in Pittsburgh and came flying back here...they said they pulled the buses out on the field [at Qualcomm] and the place was completely packed.
The game after we beat the Colts to play the Patriots in the AFC championship, we couldn't even drive down the street [in front of the training facility] and get in the parking lot when we came back.
I have a lot of great memories in the stadium here when things are going good. So what if it is the last season here? I don't think that will add any pressure here, but I think human nature tells you that if it is, let's make it special.
Jason Cole covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.