Thank You, Philip Rivers
On Monday, February 10th, 2020, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that an era was coming to an end. Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers had mutually agreed to part ways, and the signal-caller would be entering free agency. For the first time I can remember, the Chargers will be starting over at the QB position.
Rivers as a Charger
2006, Rivers’ first as the starter, was the year that the Chargers went 14-2, lost in the divisional round to the Patriots, and then fired Marty Schottenheimer. LaDainian Tomlinson won MVP and broke the TD record. I still have the picture of the offense holding LT on their shoulders on the wall in my room at home. I found an angle of that picture I’d never seen before when researching this piece. Usually, you see the picture from the front, with Lorenzo Neal and Antonio Gates at the edge of the circle of players holding LT up. The other angle, shown above, shows Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson, with Rivers’ arm wrapped around the knee of LT. In retrospect, of course Rivers was one of the players actually holding LT up, and not one of the ones jumping around on the edge. That’s just the way he was.
Rivers played through that 14-2 disappointment of a season, 6 seasons with Norv Turner, 4 of Mike McCoy, and 3 with current head coach Anthony Lynn. In that time, there have been 6 different offensive coordinators (including two stints of Ken Whisenhunt), 5 different team rushing leaders, 6 different team receiving leaders, and 2 different home cities. In those 14 seasons, Rivers never missed a start, not even after tearing his ACL during the 2008 playoffs. He was the epitome of consistency for a team that had none, save for the despised Spanos family.
What Rivers Meant to Me
I’m 21 years old, having spent 16 of them in the suburbs of San Diego. My parents are both from Michigan, so it was a pretty easy choice to root for the Chargers instead of the Lions. I’m just young enough that I don’t really remember the 2004 NFL Draft, when Eli Manning and his family forced their way out of San Diego, resulting in the North Carolina State alum Rivers coming to town instead. I vaguely remember Drew Brees as a Charger, but mostly only that I was sad that the organization was letting him leave. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Philip would become the lone consistent element of the Chargers for the rest of my formative years.
I went to River’s charity 5k in downtown San Diego every year. I wore his jersey the most, more than the LT and Gates jerseys. After the team moved to LA, most of my friends from back home stopped supporting the team out of principle, but I couldn’t do it as long as Rivers was our QB. He stayed in San Diego and commuted to LA every day because he had committed so much to the city. It felt wrong to bail on him if he wasn’t bailing on San Diego.
This season, I think many Chargers fans at least recognized the end was near, if not here. We’d seen it from the other 2004 quarterbacks, too: Ben Roethlisberger’s body is breaking down and Eli Manning had been relegated to backup status before retiring after the end of the regular season. Unlike the Giants and Steelers, though, we didn’t and don’t have a successor. Philip was always adamant he’d never mentor a replacement, a stand he committed to until the very end. Even so, I was very vocal that Philip should’ve had the opportunity to end his Chargers career on his own terms.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the Spanos family does business. Eric Weddle was famously driven out of town after disputes with management. LT played a couple of throwaway seasons for the Jets before retiring as a Charger. Gates wouldn’t have been a Charger in 2018 if not for injuries at tight end. He didn’t officially retire until after this season, one he spent as a free agent. Brees was allowed to leave in favor of Rivers thanks to a shoulder injury many were afraid of.
Now, Rivers will search for a new team while the Chargers search for a new identity. For Philip, it looks as though he’ll return to his roots in the South, likely for one of the league’s teams in Florida. Whichever team he picks will immediately be my second-favorite team in the NFL. For the Chargers, it’s a bit more complicated. There have been rumors about Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Justin Herbert, and every player in between. The team desperately needs to sell tickets in their new mega-stadium they share with the Rams, which will require a fresh and marketable new face of their franchise.
Maybe the Chargers should return to their roots, too. It might be wishful thinking, but the team could move back to San Diego. It would likely require Spanos selling the team, but the league might prefer it, given how poorly the LA move has gone. Instead, the team I love will be relegated to tenant status inside a gigantic stadium built for the Rams. Change is necessary and inevitable, but watching the Chargers without #17 under center will feel wrong.
Thank you, Philip Rivers. Thank you for the trash talk without cursing that made opponents more confused than anything else. For every win and every loss, the bolo ties, the aw-shucks attitude, and memeable faces. For what you did for the city of San Diego and the Chargers as a team.
Thank you for everything.