Leading up to the 2004 NFL draft, there was a lot of talk coming out of Charger camp about their desire to pick a QB with the number 1 pick. I was not a fan of that idea. I didn't think Drew Brees had been given enough of a chance. While I had concerns about his size and his arm strength, I loved his leadership abilities and quickness in the pocket where he could turn sure sacks into 20 yard losses -- I mean, minimal gains. My point was that the Bolts had bigger fish to fry at the top of the draft. Like sure-fire future Hall of Famer Robert Gallery! And to top it all off, the guy the Chargers were talking about selecting told them he didn't want to play for them!
On draft day, I was beside myself. The Chargers were on the verge of becoming a laughingstock. I half expected Roseanne Barr to come out and sing "San Diego Superchargers," and then grab her crotch. By the skin of his teeth, despite sacrificing all the leverage in the world, A.J. Smith managed to take advantage of a GM more stupid than him and make a trade for the ages. But for what? Philip Rivers? NC State??
After watching enough tape on Rivers to fill a, well an ESPN highlight reel, I was frustrated that my team would go with this oafish country bumpkin who was slower than molasses and whose throwing motion looked like he had just regained feeling in his arm after "plumb doin' too much cow milkin'."
And then came the holdout. Oh boy, here we go again. Seau, Tomlinson, now Rivers. For whatever reason -- whether it's because the Chargers can't pull the trigger on the money, or these top five picks are just so darn stuck up -- the frustration of not getting the deal done tainted my view of Rivers even more. (On a side note, one could easily draw the conclusion that Rivers' holdout was the best thing for the team because of how good it made Brees.)
Finally, he signed and eventually got into his first preseason game. And, although he slung the ball with his milkin' arm from what seemed like his hip, his release was faster than any Charger I'd ever seen. And there was a way about it that you knew, just by the way the ball shot out of his hand, that it was gonna be complete.
But there were still those feet! Those iron balls attached to his ankles! It's not about running speed. Heck, Fouts was a slow runner. Even Humphreys wasn't exactly greased lightning. But Rivers couldn't even stand up straight from center after taking the snap without being surrounded by four players.
And then there was the issue of ball security. Sure he was tall, but he held the ball too low. A finger swipe could knock it out of his hand.
But despite any and all flaws and bad performances, Rivers made himself available to the media. And although he bore a slight resemblance to Ryan Leaf, he showed a savvy and intelligence the Leaf never could (although maybe he's a little smarter than some of his current "roommates").
Rivers was smart. Football smart. Media smart. His "country bumpkin" image gave way to "Southern charm." If he ever said anything that vaguely sounded like bragging, he quickly backed it up with humility. If he was ever down on anyone, he reassured us that it was a team game, and the Chargers would get better as a team. He never lost confidence in anyone, and he never griped about his situation. He was offered a mop up job at the end of a Charger blow-out, but he declined. It was Brees' game. He should finish it.
And then came the adjustments. He acknowledged and embraced his weaknesses and made them a challenge to overcome. To this day, he stands under center in a staggered stance to help get out quicker. He holds the ball higher and tighter, and if he's not going to throw it right away, he tucks it in. And man, can he run! He works out everyday on the shores of Pacific Beach with a parachute tied to his back...
Okay, maybe not that last one. But Philip knows his limitations. And knows what he needs to work on (next up: SLIDING!). He takes nothing for granted -- even his place among the great QBs of the day.
Needless to say, my apprection for Rivers has grown immeasureably since 2004. He's an elite QB in this league. Not only because he completes a lot of passes for a lot of yards and touchdowns. Not only because he's a great leader and winner. But because he never feels the need to say these things to your face. He lets you figure it out for yourself. Even if it takes you 5 years. Philip... call me sometime. Let's hang out.