For as long as I can remember, Philip Rivers has been the starting quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers, even when they were based in San Diego. However, Rivers’ time with the Chargers will end next season as the team announced Feb. 10 it is moving on from its 38-year-old franchise quarterback after 14 seasons with Rivers as the starter.
Rivers joined the Chargers via a trade with the New York Giants on the night of the 2004 NFL Draft. Since being named the team’s starting quarterback prior to the 2006 season, Rivers has not missed a single start. In fact, Rivers’ streak of 235 consecutive starts is the second-longest among quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
With Rivers’ NFL future uncertain, the sports world has turned its focus to his legacy. Rivers has played at the same time as surefire Pro Football Hall of Famers like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, making it even more difficult to assess how Rivers will be remembered. In the most pass-happy era in NFL history, Rivers’ career begs the question of whether he has done enough to cement himself as an all-time great.
Going simply off of raw statistics, Rivers would be a shoo-in for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. He ranks sixth all-time in career passing yards and career passing touchdowns. The five quarterbacks ahead of him — Brees, Brady, Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino — are all either Hall of Famers or future first-ballot Hall of Famers.
The biggest knock against Rivers has been his inability to lead his team to the greatest prize of all: a Super Bowl victory. In fact, Rivers’ Chargers have never even appeared in a Super Bowl and have made just one AFC Championship game, which resulted in a loss to the then-undefeated New England Patriots, in January 2008. The playoffs are where legacies are created and Rivers’ 5-6 record in the postseason is simply mediocre.
While winning a Super Bowl is a team accomplishment, it is hard not to use it as a measuring tool for a quarterback’s success. When fans call Brady the greatest of all time — which he is — their most cited statistic is his record six Super Bowl rings. Another prime example is Eli Manning, whose recent retirement has stirred up conversations about his own Hall of Fame chances. While the strength of Eli Manning’s numbers alone may not get him in, his two Super Bowl rings will likely earn him the nod despite poor regular season statistics and frequent uninspiring performances in other big games throughout his career.
The issue with arguing Rivers’ lack of Super Bowl success precludes him from the Hall of Fame is the fact that there are already five Hall of Fame quarterbacks without a ring — Warren Moon, Sonny Jurgunsen, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly and Marino. What makes this argument against Rivers’ qualifications even more ridiculous is the fact that Rivers outperforms these five players in nearly every statistical category.
Among these five, the closest comparison to Rivers is Marino. Marino ranks one spot above Rivers in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. This can largely be attributed to the fact that Rivers has started 23 fewer games than Marino. While Marino has one Super Bowl appearance to Rivers’ zero, Marino’s playoff record of 8-10 is very comparable to Rivers’. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who denies that Marino deserves a spot in Canton, so there seems little reason for the lack of consensus about Rivers’ Hall of Fame eligibility.
The answer probably lies in the fact that Rivers has zero All-Pro selections to his name, meaning he has never been considered the league’s top quarterback in any given year. Still, it is unfair to blame Rivers for the competition he has faced at the quarterback position. With several other all-time greats to compete with throughout his career, it is no surprise that Rivers has never achieved this honor.
Although Rivers lacks a single dominant season, he has more than made up for it by performing at a high level for an extended period of time. As mentioned above, Rivers is one of the most durable players of all-time, starting 235 consecutive regular season and playoff games involving the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers. This includes the 2007 AFC Championship game, when Rivers played with a torn ACL.
Rivers has not only managed to stay on the field, but he has also consistently put up solid numbers. Since 2008, Rivers has ranked in the top eight quarterbacks in the NFL in passing yards in all but one season. While many franchises struggle to find consistent quarterback play, Rivers has been a constant for the Chargers for more than a decade, a team that has consistently struggled with injuries to skilled position players such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon.
“Through 16 seasons, 224 consecutive starts and more ‘dadgummits’ and ‘shoots’ than any of us can count, not only has Philip Rivers been our quarterback, he’s been the heart and soul of our organization,” Chargers Owner Dean Spanos said in the news release about Rivers’ departure.
Rivers’ time with the Chargers may have ended, but it is clear he wants to keep playing. Following the team’s week 17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Rivers told the media, “If one of 32 teams want me and it’s the right situation, I can start that 225th game in a row, I’ll be running out there.”
While Rivers may want to keep playing, he has nothing left to prove. Regardless of whether he ever takes the field again, Rivers merits induction into the Hall of Fame.