Tom Krasovic: Philip Rivers was last major link to Chargers' San Diego era
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Tom Krasovic: Philip Rivers was last major link to Chargers' San Diego era

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San Diego got lucky with Philip Rivers, the quarterback with whom the Chargers are splitting up after 16 years of football marriage, the first 13 in San Diego.

Rivers kept the attention of local sports fans, from one Sunday to the next, for more than a decade. Off the field, he helped folks - many of them troubled children - and earned high marks for accountability, work ethic and civic pride.

Whether the hundreds of thousands of San Diegans who've continued to watch the Chargers on TV since the franchise relocated north three years ago will continue to pay attention remains to be seen, but this much is clear:

Rivers and the team parting ways Monday severs the franchise's final major link to the San Diego era, which began in 1961.

The 38-year-old quarterback, who may be a candidate to join the Colts or Buccaneers, was the only remaining player who'd taken part in the thrilling seasons between 2006 and 2009 when the Bolts won four consecutive AFC West titles in Mission Valley and reached an AFC Championship Game.

He played the sport's most important position, and in both style and endurance, was close to unique.

An NFL gunslinger, Rivers zipped touchdown passes from weird angles and past the hands and earholes of opponents. He threw to pockets of air, where a teammate would materialize.

In demeanor he acted more like a linebacker than the cool surgeon-quarterback.

He never seemed to stop talking during games, let alone sit down.

By way of tiny Decatur, Ala., and North Carolina State, here was a country-football surfer capable of riding almost any wave available to a pocket quarterback, yet willing to take on most any wave, too.

So in NFL annals that span 100 seasons, Cowabunga Phil stands sixth in career completions, touchdown passes and passing yards - and also sixth in passes taken back for touchdowns by the opponent.

Rivers was durable, also in the extreme.

He never missed a start with the Chargers after he took over in 2006 for Drew Brees. The only NFL quarterback with more consecutive starts was Brett Favre.

Even when Rivers tore up a knee in the January 2008 playoff game in Indianapolis, he came back to play a week later at New England after Chargers team physician Dr. David Chao provided a temporary fix to the torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Not only did Rivers start 224 consecutive regular-season games plus 11 more in the playoffs, he never missed any important regular-season snaps in his 14 seasons as a starter.

The father of nine seemed to have as many football lives as he had children.

Blows that would've sent many quarterbacks to the sideline didn't seem to harm Rivers.

For example, six years ago in Florida, teammate D.J. Fluker, a 340-pound tackle, rammed into Rivers at full speed - helmet to helmet - while pursuing a pass-rusher who'd circled behind the quarterback.

Rivers acknowledged the blow left him "stunned" _

for a moment. He said he regained his bearings after a clock stoppage. He went on to lead the team to victory.

Three years ago in New Jersey, a New York Giants end slammed full speed into the knees of an unsuspecting Rivers. The 6-foot-5 quarterback, his legs swept out from underneath him, went down like he'd been standing on ice.

He stayed in the game, never missing a snap. This time, the Bolts rallied for a victory that averted an 0-5 start in team ownership's not-so-grand Los Angeles venture.

It wasn't until later in that 2017 season that Rivers sustained the first official concussion of his career, his amateur football days included. Teammate Antonio Gates said a high-low, unflagged blow from two Jacksonville Jaguars rushers probably concussed Rivers, who afterward stood squinting on the sideline in apparent pain but remained in the game, which became an overtime defeat.

Before the lingering effect of that brain injury, which he self-reported the day after the game, Rivers said he'd never experienced any football-related symptoms like those linked to a concussion.

While good luck plays a role in any athlete's longevity, there are other ingredients at work.

Toughness matters, Rivers noted a few times.

Rivers said his father, who was his head coach in high school, taught him the importance of staying on a field (and not letting your opponent see you as vulnerable).

Sparing himself many hits, Rivers had a quick-throw release that invited comparisons to Dolphins Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

He had a feel for football that former NFL quarterback Frank Reich, a former Chargers coach and now the Colts head coach, said stemmed from "being the smartest guy in the building," coaches included.

The notion that professional athletes are role models is often overdone.

Let's agree that Rivers drew the attention of a generation or two of San Diego youths, and that, given the scope of NFL media coverage and TV audience, he represented San Diego to much of the country.

It would seem he firmly held up his end of that relationship, even if his incessant trash talk during games turned off some folks.

He always showed up for work. He never blamed teammates or the bosses for Chargers defeats. He created no headlines for bad behavior off the field. Teammates insist a swear word never came out of his mouth.

With wife Tiffany, he helped find homes for foster children in San Diego.

Three words apply, as Rivers moves on from the football club that called San Diego home for 56 years.

Thank you, Phil.

Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

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