clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

“Now I Begin” — The Heart of a Leader

From the time Philip Rivers arrived in San Diego in 2004, we have heard of his leadership in the Bolts locker room and the character behind that leadership. At a recent commencement address, the San Diego Chargers’ quarterback offered up a rare look at the man underneath the #17 jersey.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

20 years ago, a commencement address at an obscure East Coast College would have gone unnoticed in San Diego, even if the address was delivered by one of the city’s most recognizable people. The age of the internet has changed that. An example of this is an article posted on by Kate O’Hare on May 18, 2014.

While is known as a "conservative" news and opinion website, the posting is a great demonstration of the internet’s ability to disseminate information. Ms. O’Hare did not put an editorial slant on what Philip Rivers told the class of 2014 at the Catholic University of America’s commencement ceremony; she simply posted what he said. This speech reveals much of the foundation of the person that Philip Rivers actually is and two decades ago, we may not have had that chance.

Nunc Coepi

If you ever get to go inside the Bolts locker room, you may see a pair of strange words painted on the wall or printed upon t-shirts worn by staff and players.

The Latin words "nunc coepi" are translated into English as "Now I Begin". Rivers told the graduating class that this phrase is his personal motto. Rivers applies this motto to everything he does:

Now I begin. In our prayer, in our habits, in our relationships, in our profession. It is applicable to everything. Nunc Coepi (Now I begin). Whether you made a bad grade or didn’t do so well on a project. You must begin again. When I have a bad play or a good play, whether I throw a touchdown or an interception, I must begin again." This motto has also been adopted by the team.

The deeper meaning to this phrase, (as described by Saint Jose Maria Escriva) is, "the cry of a soul in love which, at every moment, whether it has been faithful or lacking in generosity, renews its desire to serve — to love — our God with a wholehearted loyalty." While some of you may not be comfortable with the mention of a deity, Rivers himself told everyone at the commencement speech (and in many other settings) that his life priorities are "Faith, Family, and Football, in that order".

Love of Football

Philip Rivers is the son of a coach. Rivers spoke about growing up around his father’s team and dreaming of the day when he could be his dad’s QB. He spoke even more about the camaraderie of the game:

The fans, touchdowns, making the highlights on "Sports Center"… that’s all fun stuff. But it’s the bus rides, the locker room, the practice field, the weight room, and all the time spent with teammates and coaches that are the most enjoyable. It’s setting team goals, facing the obstacles shoulder to shoulder, and climbing that mountain together. The journey with my teammates is what makes the wins so special.

Rivers is a leader because he loves the game. He also loves the people he plays the game with and preparing for the season and the games. That love for his teammates and the process itself is a large part of what makes Philip Rivers a leader.

Love of Family

Rivers spoke of his love for family; his wife of 13 years (Tiffany) and their 7 children. Along with his parents, Rivers values his family almost more than anything else.

"When I come home from a road game, it’s not cameras and microphones, autographs and photos, or jeers and heckling; its bikes, and scooters, and sidewalk chalk all over the place. Win or lose, those seven children and my wife love me for being Dad and husband. My family keeps it all in perspective… My favorite hobbies are playing with the kids in the yard, endless hours of whiffle ball, swimming in the pool, walks to the park--all nine of us together, that’s what I love to do.

Tiffany and I work hard to cultivate a fun culture of morality, encouragement, and unconditional love, and the freedom to fail. You protect the things you value by preparing, praying, planning, setting goals, working hard, and being intentional…leaving nothing to chance. Tiffany always tells me as I walk out the door to head to the stadium, after we say one Hail Mary together, "Do your best, and let God do the rest." That’s all any of us can do.

As a quarterback, I prepare and plan very meticulously to achieve my football goals. How much more should Tiffany and I prepare and plan to achieve our family goals. Class of 2014, what is valuable to you? Avoid regret that comes with chance…Identify what is valuable to you, then prepare and plan to protect it. Nunc Coepi."

What got my attention in his talk about family was the part of creating a household culture of "freedom to fail". Note that he equated aspects of his family life with football. Giving a team mate (or a family member) freedom to fail while still keeping the heart to heart connection and relationship intact is not easy, but is inspirational for the team mate (or child) that falls short of perfect. This too, is one of the reasons that Philip Rivers is so respected by his team mates.

The Most Important Thing

"Lastly, I can’t tell you about my priorities, my foundation, what defines me, without telling you about my faith; my Catholic faith. C.S. Lewis said this about Christianity, ‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.’ My faith is the most important thing in my life. "

In an increasingly post-Christian society, where religion is too often a political statement, or a cynical career path to fame and wealth, or a cover for darker conduct, such sentiments often provoke discomfort or contempt. Yet, this article in the Christian Science Monitor puts the number of "openly devout" Christians in the NFL at 33% and I have heard figures in the 40-60% range for NFL players that self-identify as "Evangelical, Pentecostal, or Charismatic born-again Christians".

It is known that a significant number of NFL teams have players only Bible studies during the work week (the Seahawks had one during the week before the Super Bowl). Many NFL teams have chaplains and some of the league’s most openly religious players are often identified as being the leaders in their respective team’s locker rooms.

I find it interesting that the two players most often mentioned as being the leaders in the Bolt’s locker room, Rivers and Eric Weddle, are also usually referred to as men devoted to their faith. In a profession with little job security, incredible stress to perform, unimaginable levels of acute and chronic pain, and the threat of career ending or debilitating injury present in every practice or game, it is doubtful that anyone playacting their faith could maintain a convincing charade for long.

As for Rivers, his faith permits him to weather the bad times

"There were so many ups and downs for me in the 2010, 2011, 2012 seasons, and I had many struggles, that I began to worry. When would a bad play happen again? Would we make the playoffs ever again? Will I continue to have turnover problems? As these bad thoughts and worries crept in, I began to read and pray and meditate on this from Imitations of Christ:

‘What good is anxiety about the future? Does it bring you anything but trouble upon trouble? It is foolish and useless to be either grieved or happy about future things which perhaps may never happen. But it is human to be deluded by such imaginations, and the sign of a weak soul to be led on by suggestions of the enemy. For he does not care whether he consumes you by love of the present or fear of the future. Let not your heart be troubled or be afraid. Believe in Me and trust in My mercy. Don’t worry.’

It also permits him to be thankful and seek the good in every situation, even a child’s health issue:

January of 2013, our oldest son, who was 5 years old, was diagnosed with T1 diabetes. Immediately, anguish and sadness and frustration all emerge and as a family, as mom and dad, we felt like it was the end of the world. How would he adjust? What does this mean? How hard will this be? After walking in and out of the children’s hospital and seeing other, sicker children, we became grateful. Not happy that our son would deal with this for the rest of his life, but we all have our crosses to bear. Not all of them the same, and I was once told, that if we all could see everyone else’s problems, threw them in a big pile, we would probably want to just keep ours. Through this life changing health issue and throughout the struggling seasons, we have much to be thankful for.

The Heart of the Leader

Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet, not every team acknowledges that their QB or even their best player sets the tone for a team’s locker room culture. Something else besides performance or ability seems to make a team leader in the NFL.

For Rivers, his passion for the game is certainly a part of it. His perspective in knowing that one bad play, game, or even season is not the end of the world and communicating that to his teammates, while pushing himself to be better is another element. While those are crucial, what came to me while reading the transcript of his speech is his care and yes, love, for those around him.

Intimidation and a mandate to "toughen up" those around you may look like it is working for a short period of time, but that type of fear and dysfunction cannot usually produce sustained positive outcomes. A man may work hard to avoid punishment, but will work even harder to avoid seeing disappointment in the eyes of another man that he knows cares about him and the common goals you have been working for. This is the heart of the leader; the certainty that no matter what happens, his hand will reach out to help you up and pat you on the back while he says once more "now I begin".