*San Diego's family-man quarterback hasn't alway endeared himself to opposing fans, but he just might be the cleanest-living, cleanest-talking trash-talker in the NFL.
*There's a word for a guy like Philip Rivers. Cocky? Many NFL fans would say so, considering his yap-a-lot demeanor toward anyone--player and paying customer alike--wearing an opposing team's jersey. Annoying? The folks in Denver believe it, especially after the Chargers came from three games down in the AFC West with three games to go to overtake the Broncos in 2008. Driven? After Rivers played with a torn ACL in the '07 playoffs, then led the league with a 105.5 passer rating last season, it certainly fits.
* But the best word to define Rivers? "Homebody," he says proudly. Rivers is an old soul of 27 who married at 19, has three daughters and a son and heads home--no, races there--at the end of every workday with the Chargers, the team he has quarterbacked for three seasons after sitting behind Drew Brees in '04 and '05. On an early-May Thursday in San Diego, after 90 minutes in the weight room in anticipation of what he hopes will be a Super Bowl season, Rivers sat for an interview with Sporting News' Steve Greenberg. Then he rushed to the players parking lot, jumped behind the wheel of his black Ford F-250 and made his way toward the destination that matters most to him.
What does San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' in-game yapping at opposing players and fans alike really say about him? What does it mean to him that he outlasted Jay Cutler in the AFC West? And can he own a division for an extended period of time like some of his heroes -- Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady -- have done in their careers?
Rivers, 27, discussed those matters, as well as his devout Catholic faith and his unique family life, in a wide-ranging Sporting News Conversation with Steve Greenberg. Here are some excerpts and outtakes from the magazine interview that is on newsstands now:
Q: You say you're going to tone down talking to opposing fans. Why would you do that? It seems like fun for both sides.
A: It is fun. There hasn't been profanity on either side; it hasn't been vulgar. In Indianapolis (in a January '08 playoff game), every completion Peyton threw: "That's how a real quarterback does it!" And then we scored and I said, "Yeah, what now?" But the reasons for toning it down are, 1) so it's not a distraction for any of us, and then 2) it wasn't explained on the SportsCenter reel like I've explained it to you. People watched it and said, "This guy's out of his mind." Not that I always worry about the perception, but I'm not going win that battle by saying I'm just having a good time.
*Q: You're not going to pipe down with opposing players though, are you? That wouldn't be you.
A: It's not like I go into the game with a plan: What am I going [to] think of today to say to these guys?
*Q: You don't write messages on towels?
A: No! It's all with the game. You get a guy to bite up and throw deep over his head: "Quit bitin' the cheese now!" It's all things you'd say in the backyard that I've said to my brother: "We're gonna lay you out all day!" "Ya'll can't stop that play!" It's all fun. And, over time, you get to know these guys and you can't wait to play them. Jared Allen in Kansas City was always fun to play against, hearing him holler back and forth, "I'm gonna be on you all day!" He caught a touchdown against us and was hollering over at Antonio Gates, "Hey, how'd you like that? It was a pretty sweet catch, wasn't it?" If you can't have that, then we're kidding ourselves--because it's a game.
*Q: Is it important to you that fans know you keep it clean?
A: It really is important. Being a family man, having four children, it is important that it's clean and that I can go home and tell the story to my wife or my mom. In high school, and for 51 games at N.C. State, I was the same guy and nothing really surfaced then. There just happens to be a camera at every angle now.
Q: One of those cameras caught you gesturing to Jay Cutler during a win against the Broncos a couple of seasons ago. It sure looked like you were taunting him. Did you go too far?
A: There are obviously two sides to every story. I've seen the clip over and over. They're a division rival, our guys got a big defensive stop, they'd been going at it all day with Jay, and I was kind of congratulating Matt Wilhelm and Shaun Phillips. I had a little smirk on my face, had a little, "Atta baby, nice play!" with my eyes directed toward Jay. Is it something I regret? No, because it was clean. But I understand some of the feedback and the perception it created. Maybe it wasn't the best thing. But I can repeat everything that was said and how it went. If it doesn't get caught on TV, I don't think either one of us would have ever thought about it.
*Q: But Cutler was offended. He later said he's "not a big fan" of yours and he doesn't like the way you carry yourself on the field.
A: I've been nothing but complimentary of Jay as a player and a quarterback. I think he's a great player. I would like to think we've got a great deal of respect for each other as players, competitors. I think it's become a non-issue. It has fizzled out. But I will miss the two times a year against Jay (who was traded to the Bears in April) and the hype that it brought.
Q: How great was it for this team to hang in there last season and win the division the way you did, especially after that nutty call in Denver in Week 2?
A: It was unreal. I was talking to my wife about last season, the 4-8 (start) and how we came back. She said, "Isn't it funny how you just remember how it ended?" It's hard to put yourself back to how hard it really was and how rough and sick we felt coming in here at 4-8 and going to Wednesday practice. It was rough. ... And it was super rewarding, and a lot of people deserve a lot of credit. Norv (Turner) did a heck of a job. Maybe he doesn't get the credit he deserves for never flinching. To stand in front of the team and it looks like it's slipping away from you, it's not easy. What do you say? "Hang in there, we're almost there, keep playing hard." But he did that;
he never flinched.
*Q: How great was it for this team to hang in there last season and win the division the way you did?
A: It was unreal. I remember us quarterbacks, me and Billy (Volek) and Charlie (Whitehurst), sitting there in between meetings and film doing probability on our chances four the playoffs. Treating it as if every game was 50-50, we were going, "All right, we have a 3.5 percent chance at this point," and it kept moving up; it went to 12 and then 25 and then, obviously, in the last game against Denver it was a 50-50 chance.
*Q: You didn't have it more like 90-10 by then?
A: It was 50-50 on the board, but we said, "Shoot, it isn't 50-50."Q: Did you know you were going to win that final game, at home vs. the Broncos for the division title?
A: Oh, yeah. We did. And I think the whole world knew it and everybody picked us. We said, "Guys, let's do it. Don't get caught up in it." But we walked into the locker room after that crazy loss to Denver in Week 2 and Norv said, "Hey guys, Week 17 is going to be for the whole division, at our place." And it turned out that way. That was awesome.
*Q: Well, the Cutler stuff is over--you outlasted him in the AFC West. Can you rule the roost in the division for a while?
A: We hope so. The division has changed a lot this offseason, with new coaching staffs--which will mean new systems--and new players. Those teams were very active in the draft and free agency. You normally go into the season with six games where you pretty much know the personnel, and those are the easiest games to prepare for. It's going to be different going into this season, but we certainly feel like we're the team everybody is chasing.
*Q: Are the Chargers going to win the Super Bowl this season?
A: I don't even want to say yes because for two offseasons now there's been so much hype around this town and in the national media that this is the most talented team in football--the Chargers have got this and this and this--and then we've gone 1-3 and 0-2. We've been battle-tested, faced every situation we could face, had every type of adversity. You can kind of just sense now in our locker room, "Let's be quiet and go play and get it done."
*Q: What are you expecting from LaDanian Tomlinson? It it possible anymore, in this offense, for him to lead the league in rushing?
A: There's no question it is. He's looked awesome this offseason. And nobody really knows but him about what he was going through with the injuries last year. He has looked as fresh and excited as he's been since I've been here. I don't see any reason he can't win that thing.
*Q: If you could play the rest of your career for Norv Turner, would you want that?
A: No question. There's a perception that he's so laid-back, he needs to be more fiery. He's as passionate and as excited and motivating and hard-working of a coach as I've seen. I don't know how much more you could ask for and what you could want. And he's a lot of fun to play for. I like to think that we're wired the same way. It's good when the head coach and the quarterback are on the same page. It sounds funny, but we both like football a lot.
Q: Was there a big difference between the undefeated Patriots team you lost to in the '07 playoffs and the Steelers team you lost to last postseason?
A: The records were different, but the Steelers have a disciplined, tough, nasty defense with an offense that gets it done. The atmosphere is a lot tougher in Pittsburgh. We'd already been there once, and we went right back six weeks later. That's as good and tough and nasty of a defense as I've played. They've got the great players -- (Troy) Polamalu, (James) Harrison -- but they've got so many guys who know their roles and play them to a T. We hung in there, but that third quarter was so crazy. It's hard to win a game when you run one play in a quarter.
Q: Who's the best player from your 2004 draft class?
A: I think, right now, it's Larry Fitzgerald. The things he does and how consistent he is and what he can do in one play, one catch, to change the game, is really unmatched.
Q: Here's an impossible question. If you were on a team with Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, who would start?
A: That is pretty impossible. I imagine you'd get three "I woulds" if you asked all three guys that question. I think I'd have to say I would.
Q: It's pretty neat, isn't it, how things have really worked out for you, Manning and Roethlisberger, but also for Drew Brees, whom you replaced here?
A: All four guys have continued to improve and have good careers. The one thing I really appreciated was the relationship with Drew here my first two years, what I learned from him about pushing myself and competing. He's meant a lot to this organization. Eli and Ben have a handful of Super Bowls and obviously have played great, and here in San Diego we've won a lot of football games. Since 2004, we're in the top four in games won in that span. New England, Indianapolis and the Steelers are the only teams that have won more.
*Q: It was quite a haul the Chargers go for Eli Manning--not only you but draft picks that turned into Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. How would you analyze that 2004 draft-day trade?
A: I like to think the Chargers go the better end of that deal. When you think about what Merriman has meant to this team, and Nate Kaeding's one of the top kickers in this league, we have greatly benefited from it.
*Q: What has Manning been missing out on these past five years?
A: San Diego is a great place to live. I'm sure there are a lot more sunny days and it's a little warmer year-round, that's for sure. It worked out for both of us. Not knowing the type of team camaraderie they have there--obviously, they won a championship--I'm excited that I was the one who got to be around these guys and this organization. It's amazing how much Southern California has become home.
Q: What was it like to play high school ball for your father in Athens, Ala.?
A: Some of the greatest memories that I've ever had. It was awesome. Ever since I was old enough to think about it, I couldn't wait to play for him. It was something both of us couldn't wait for. And then it just flies by. I'll never forget both of us literally crying our eyes out after the last game we were together. We lost in the playoffs in the quarterfinals. We were the last two in the locker room; we sat there and had a big hug. God, it was over. It was the end of it. I remember that like yesterday.
*Q: Somebody said of you, "When he leaves here, he leaves here." As in, it's family time. What does family mean to you?
A: It means everything. I love being around the guys, but when the day is done I like to be with Tiffany and the kids, playing and swimming and wrestling on the floor, watching some videos. The Chargers and football are part of our family, certainly, but family is definitely ahead. Tiffany is great. We met back when I was an eighth-greader and she was a seventh-grader. We go way back. She loves being a mom.
*Q: A 27-year-old with a wife and four kids--that's some heavy-duty stuff.
A: I don't know any other way. Tiffany and I got married after my freshman season. I was 19. We had Halle 15 months after. I had a semester in the dorm, and that was all I needed.
*Q: How did you know Tiffany was the one?
A: I knew she was special from early on. I remember seeing her at the baseball field and telling my mom, "You see that girl over there? She's a good girl." I kind of picked her out. And I guess from then on, I was kind of in pursuit.
*Q: You are a devout Catholic who speaks out about his faith. That's kind of a rarity in the sports world, isn't it?
A: There are not a lot of us, and we need more of us. It's faith, family, football--in that order. I grew up in Alabama and was a little bit of a minority down there already. We went to Mass every Sunday. Tiffany wasn't Catholic growing up; she was a very strong Christian. It was important to us as we nurtured our relationship that, spiritually, we were on the same page. She actually converted before our wedding day. We're both very strong in the faith. We both say we're best friends, and that's where it all starts. Raising our children in the faith now, it has provided us many blessings and means a ton to us.
Q: You publicly supported Prop 4, a California ballot initiative that would have required parental notification before abortions could be performed on minors. Did you also get involved with Prop 8, which eliminated same-sex couples' right to marry in the state?
A: On Prop 8, I did not, but I have the stance that you would imagine. As for Prop 4, just having young daughters, I felt strongly enough about it to try to help out. Another thing I feel strongly about is chastity. You ask why I got married so young -- it was important to Tiff and I to remain pure until we got married. That was certainly some motivation right there to get married young. (Laughs.)
*Q: Have you struggled at times to be yourself in the jock culture, where there's a lot of sex outside of marriage?
A: Temptations are there in every profession, wherever you are, whatever you do. Me? No, I haven't struggled. I credit that to my strong faith and commitment to not put myself in tempting situations.
*Q: Do you talk to teammates about their sex lives?
A: I certainly am open to it, but I just try to live by example. I certainly stand up for what I believe with anything that may come up that I feel convicted and strong about, but I try not to be pushy or force things upon guys.
*Q: Back to football--who's the best quarterback who ever lived? And who's your all-time favorite?
A: Right when you first asked the first question, two guys popped into my mind: Joe Montana and Dan Marino. I had a poster wall of quarterbacks, and Marino, Montana, Brett Favre, John Elway, Troy Aikman, those guys were all on the wall. I wasn't a "That's my guy!" type of fan; I was just a fan of quarterbacks. I couldn't wait to watch a game and see guys play. Maybe because I see a similarity in style--toughness, grittiness, hating to lose, enjoying the game--I've always wanted to play like Brett Favre. And then Peyton Manning has always been a favorite. Playing against a Peyton Manning-led team--the way he plays the game and goes about it and respects it--it's always meant a little more.
*Q: Who do you see as the best quarterbacks in the game, and where do you fit in the pecking order?
A: The first two guys that come to mind are always (Tom) Brady and Peyton.
*Q: In that order?
A: Not necessarily. In fact, Peyton probably would be the first guy if you asked me who I'm taking today for one game. You know, these questions are hard for me because I always try to be humble as possible. But as a competitor, I want to be confident in myself. If somebody actually did ask me who I'm taking today to play one game, I'd say I want to be the guy. So I say Peyton, eliminating myself. I may be the only guy who thinks that, and that's fine. I feel like if I can continue to get better, I can be right up there in the mix with all those guys.
This story first appeared in the May 25 edition of Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.