A Career of Almost

Tristan Fluhr

Highlighting the Statistics and Career Legacy of Philip Rivers

Dadgummit, Golly, Hum D, Oh Honey. Not the typical banter you hear on the field during a football game at any level, but then again, Philip Rivers is no ordinary NFL quarterback. Born in Decatur, AL in 1981, Rivers has been around football all his life. His father, Steve, was the head coach of the Decatur High School Football Team and Philip began throwing the football from a very young age. But like many young kids, the football was too big for his hands, so he began a near-shotput style throw. Unlike most kids, however, Rivers from a young age was gifted as a passer and he stuck with it throughout his four years at North Carolina State University and for seventeen seasons in the NFL. Rivers retired at the age of thirty-nine on January 18, 2021, having spent sixteen seasons with the Chargers organization through their relocation from San Diego to Los Angeles and spending his final season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Rivers was drafted fourth overall in the 2004 NFL Draft by the New York Giants and was immediately traded to the San Diego Chargers for Eli Manning. Being one of the biggest draft day trades of all time, the two were constantly compared against each other and with the third quarterback taken in that draft class, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger and Manning both have won two Super Bowls and Rivers failed to reach the top of the NFL mountain in his career. This is a big knock against Rivers, but what is the legacy of “Uncle Phil” and where does he rank in career numbers?

The first two seasons of Rivers’ career was spend backing up Drew Brees. Once Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006 Free Agency, the keys to the car were given to him. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter with 3,388 yards, 22 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Rivers led the Chargers to the number one seed in the AFC with a record of 14-2, but much of the credit for this season goes to LaDanian Tomlinson who exploded for over 2,300 all-purpose yards and reaching the end zone 31 times. This is a theme of Rivers’ career as he is often overshadowed by the greatness around him. Another theme of his career is his struggles in big games. In that 2006 season, the Chargers were upset in the divisional round of the playoffs by Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. The Patriots would then go onto lose to eventual Super Bowl Champions, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. One of the major reasons that Rivers does not have a Super Bowl is due to being in the same conference as Brady and Manning. From 2004 until 2019, the bulk of Rivers’ career, the only quarterbacks to have made it to the Super Bowl in the AFC other than Manning and Brady are Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.

For many years Rivers was loathed by the city of Indianapolis because of his duels with Peyton Manning, but when Rivers signed with the Colts for his final season in 2020, the city was mainly unsure on what to think. Throughout the season, through the good and the bad, the city grew to love the gunslinger nature of Rivers and although the season ended with a Wild Card round defeat to the Buffalo Bills, the city was a fitting place for his farewell to the gridiron. And let it be known that he was not a joke in his final season either, at age thirty-nine, Rivers led the Colts to an 11-5 record, throwing for over 4,100 yards with 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His competitive spirit lit a fire under the team and has traveled with him as long as he has been in the league. There are players and fans that may not like his aggressive trash talking and larger than life personality, but one thing that cannot be denied is his love for the game.

In the later years of his career, more and more questions arose on whether Rivers is worthy of the Hall of Fame. While that question will be answered a few years down the road by the selection committee in Canton, his stats do tell quite the story. In the Super Bowl era (1966-Present), five quarterbacks have been enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame without winning the Super Bowl: Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, and Fran Tarkenton. It is an exclusive group of exceptionally talented players, but Rivers’ career numbers put him in the conversation. He ranks fifth all-time with 63,440 passing yards and fifth all-time with 421 passing touchdowns. He has a career passer rating of 95.2, which is twelfth all time, threw for over 4,000 yards in twelve seasons, and has a career win-loss record of 134-106-0 (.558). Rivers also made 8 Pro Bowls in his career, was an All-Pro in 2009 and 2013, and ranks twelfth all-time amongst quarterbacks in ProFootballReference.com’s Hall of Fame monitor with a score of 97.64. The career of the gunslinger was one of great highs and bouncing back from the lows like they never happened. He was an ultimate competitor and knew how to get the best out of his teammates, and to many he was dadgum fun to watch. Story by Tristan Fluhr.