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A framed poster hangs to this day in Steve and Joan Rivers’ house in Alabama.
It was created nearly 25 years ago when their oldest son was still just an only child.
“All About Me”
10-year old Philip Rivers.
The poster is a snapshot into the heart and soul of a young boy who would grow up to be the heart and soul of the Chargers.
A snapshot into the heart and soul of a young boy who would grow up to be the heart and soul of the Chargers.
One part charts his favorite things, including church, swimming and a litany of sports. It also includes his dislikes such as mayonnaise.
Another reads “Three Wishes – A Brother, Pro Ball and Good Grades.”
It’s the type of school project countless children create. However, this one was different. This one’s artist has accomplished every wish on his poster, including NFL stardom.
“I can see that poster plain as day, and it is crazy to think about,” Rivers said on the precipice of his 13th season. “It seems like everybody growing up wanted to be the next Michael Jordan or another athlete. But I’m actually getting to do it! That’s still crazy to me.”
Rivers is a true one of a kind in the NFL. Animated and humble, he not only possesses unique gifts on the field, but is an extraordinary figure off the field as well. Listening to his father Steve, his wife Tiffany and hearing from Philip himself, it’s clear the Chargers icon we know today is the same high-spirited kid who cut his teeth in Alabama.
It’s also the reason he has been able to achieve a level of success rarely seen before in the NFL.
Now, a look behind the veil to see how Rivers became a Chargers icon both on and off the field.
Philip Rivers calmly waits for his name to be called.
The quarterback draws a deep breath, soaking in the moment before running out for pregame introductions.
However, this isn’t Qualcomm Stadium. It isn’t even one of the other 31 NFL venues.
Instead, it’s the mid-1980’s on a tiny street in his hometown of Decatur, Alabama.
The announcer isn’t broadcasting to thousands of fans on a PA system, but instead it’s his father Steve, who’s booming voice is for but one listener.
It’s moments like these that remain close to Philip’s heart, and showcase how he was able to reach his level of success. To this day, he cites countless childhood memories with his father as the primary reasons for his accolades.
“I could go on and on, but the biggest thing was how my parents were into everything I cared about,” he said. “Even playing in the yard or dressing up and asking them to come out and introduce me to play a game against nobody. But they were into it! They cared about it all, and the love and support always showed. I would pretend all this was going on. I would have them introduce me coming out of the tunnel and pretend. I’d come back in and tell my dad, ‘Say it’s halftime!’.I can see it right now. Right where we were. Obviously I played football and was the coach’s son, but if I said I wanted to be whatever, he would have been into it. That is what I appreciate.”
Philip recollects these moments when he takes the field each Sunday. He also relives them during the numerous phone calls with his dad, including those during the dog days of training camp.
“Yeah, you have hard days,” he said. “I’m getting older and probably on the back nine of my career. And now talking to my dad, we have more of those conversations than we used to. More and more when we talk, I’ll say ‘this is crazy; we got to the NFL.’”
"We have more of those conversations than we used to. More and more when we talk, I’ll say ‘this is crazy; we got to the NFL.’”
We got to the NFL.
A high school football coach back home in Alabama, Steve Rivers is from whom Philip gets his love of the game. It’s also where he gets his drive, compassion and zest for life.
“The biggest thing for me was just watching him,” Philip said. “I think about our shirt a few years back (that read) Everything Matters. That sums it up. The way I put it from him, in his words ‘if you are going to do something, do it all the way.’ Whether it was mowing grass, back when you had to bag it, well don’t mow the extra strip when the bag is full and let some leak out. Go ahead and dump it. If you are going to mow the grass, do it right. If you were raking leaves, he wouldn’t dare leave a few over there that nobody could see. You’ve got to get all of them. For making the bed or whatever, if you were going to go do it, do it. That was the biggest thing from him.”
It’s a sight familiar to every Charger fan.
Philip Rivers at the line of scrimmage reading the defense pre-snap, gesturing and signaling as he gets the entire offense on the same page before he snaps the ball.
Thus, it should come as no surprise to hear his father say the QB showed that same personality at a very early age.
Steve Rivers recalls a certain story from the early 1980s, when he was the head football coach at Decatur High School. He and his wife would take their son to the school’s basketball games, where Philip could be seen “orchestrating” the Red Raiders’ pep band.
"Philip would stand on the bleachers with us and would mimic being the director. He’d move his arms like he was guiding them."
“I know it sounds ridiculous to say he was a leader at three or four years old, but he started to show leadership skills when he was that young. We’d go to the basketball game, and Philip would sit in the stands with us. When the pep band came out during the breaks to play, Philip would stand on the bleachers with us and would mimic being the director. He’d move his arms like he was guiding them. So even then he was the type of person who wanted to take charge at an early age. He was alert enough to know they needed a leader, and he wanted to be the guy to be that leader.”
When you are Philip Rivers, a game of hide and seek is no simple game.
Even at six years old, he approached any game with the same fiery competitiveness he does his NFL opponents. As his father explains, Philip used to dress up in camouflage and scout the terrain in order to get the best possible advantage.
Philip used to dress up in camouflage and scout the terrain in order to get the best possible advantage.
“Oh, he was very competitive back then, too,” Steve says. “Now I will tell you, I’m a competitive guy. His mom is awfully competitive, too. Whether it is swimming in the backyard, volleyball, playing goofy golf, it doesn’t matter if you are playing a card game; if you are playing a game, against Joan, my wife, more than once she has said ‘if you are not trying to win, then why do you play?’”
It’s easy to see where Philip gets his competitive streak from. However, his parents may not hold a candle to his grandfather, Bob Gunner.
“Joan’s dad, now he is ultra-competitive.”
Philip, who remains very close to his grandfather to this day, lets out a laugh thinking about all those games going up against “papa.”
“That’s what we call him. Papa. We saw him every Sunday afternoon because we lived in the same town. He was my mom’s dad and he loved to play games, whether it was at the putting green in the back yard, Intellivision, if we were playing card games to whatever; he really loved to play and he loved to compete.”
If you think the Rivers’ family is any less competitive now that they are grandparents and great-grandparents, think again.
“My mom is the same way even to this day playing with my children,” Philip laughed. “She won’t play unless she is trying to win! Playing against my six-year-old daughter in a board game, my mom is trying to beat her! And then also my dad, he usually gets most of the credit for this and my dad is super competitive so he does deserve some of it, but it was my mom and papa who were really competitive.”
Steve Rivers is the type of football coach every parent hopes their son can have.
In fact, to this day, Philip says his father keeps his “trophies” in a drawer at their house. Those trophies are countless cards and letters written by past players telling Steve exactly what he meant to them when they played for him.
"Philip was in hog heaven. He’d be close to where the officials were measuring for a first down, and he’d be right in the huddle with them."
“It was just absolutely awesome,” Steve said. “Starting when he was four and five, he came to practice almost every single day. He was on the sideline, and started by holding a water bottle. Of course he wanted to be a ball boy, and that took a few more years. And when he got to do that, he was in hog heaven. He’d be close to where the officials were measuring for a first down, and he’d be right in the huddle with them. He’d look back at me and hold his fingers apart two inches or a foot; whatever it was. He’d show me how much was needed.”
Spending endless hours around his father and those teams is where Philip’s deep passion for the game took root. For instance, Steve recalls how his young son would watch each of his coaches intently. He was eager to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
“I had this one coach who was in charge of quarterbacks and running backs at one point, and I was overseeing everything. We were running the option at the time, and I think Philip was about 10, and he would go to that group over and over and watch how they would run it. He would study how the fullback would run the option and he’d study how the tailback was running it. He wanted to understand all of it. He wanted to see how to press the corner. He was taking it all in.”
Behind every coach is the coach’s wife. In addition to her contributions and sacrifices, Joan Rivers is the ultimate football mom for the ultimate football family. She was also as influential to Philip’s success as was his father.
While some moms may believe what happens on the field needs to stay on the field, Joan felt differently. She wanted to bring it to the dinner table.
While some moms may believe what happens on the field needs to stay on the field, Joan felt differently. She wanted to bring it to the dinner table.
“We were just a normal family,” Steve said. “We sat down for dinner together most every night. When I was about to coach Philip, people would give advice like ‘leave it at home or the stadium’ and all that. Well, my wife was not going to have that. When we came home, she wanted to know what happened at practice, what we were going to do about this team or this school. It was a sharing time with scouting reports and who did well in practice and, ‘Oh my goodness, so-and-so got hurt, I don’t know what we are going to do about Friday.’ That type of thing. So everybody was a part of it. We didn’t leave it at the stadium; we brought it home. She has been such a big part of it.”
“She liked to know the ins-and-outs,” Philip added. ‘Maybe not so much the X’s and O’s, although she did like hearing my dad explaining strategically how we beat someone, but she wanted to know the stories of how a play came up or what somebody said. How did this happen? What did y’all do? What did the referee say? Things like that. And I heard all the time. ‘Oh, how was having your dad as coach? Did you leave it at the field?’ We did in the sense of, if it was a bad practice or whatever, that didn’t come home. If I had a bad day at practice or as a team or if we got beat the week prior, it wasn’t going to be miserable at home. But we certainly talked a lot, and my mom was a big part of that. It was nice.”
“When we lose, or when we win or whatever, it’s the same way. I’ll be tucking (my sons) Gunner and Pete in and telling them, ‘Shoot we wanted to win, but what are we going to do about it?’ I remember last year against Oakland. Remember that game we were down so big? Gunner is the one who said, ‘Dad you almost won!’ I said ‘Yeah, we didn’t, but that is why you keep playing. Even if it is 38-7, you’ve got to fight until the end. You may come up short, but you don’t quit.’ My girls learn those lessons, too. It’s not just about sports. It’s how you handle yourself on the field, and also how you were at the press conferences and so on. That’s what my parents showed me.”
While Philip Rivers’ fiery personality and competitive nature is often on display, the quarterback notoriously refuses to curse.
His vocabulary is famously littered with phrases including “Dadgummit”, “Shoot!” and “Golly!”
In fact, while the Rivers family is a football family, Joan’s main concern was Philip hanging around the locker room. The term “locker room talk” exists for a reason, so Joan waivered on Philip’s exposure to that setting at such an early age.
“Joan is a great coach’s wife and she loves football, and we’ve been blessed to have her for that and so many reasons for sure. But she was concerned that Philip was too young, and could hear a lot of things from older kids in the locker room. You know how it is when frustration sets in when guys get competitive. I told her that it is the real world, and we had that under control in our program. We didn’t have that atmosphere. But even if you do hear some things, you have to know what is good and what’s bad. What is right and what’s wrong. But we were around good people, good men, good coaches and good kids. So we decided together that the positive nature of our locker room and the people we had in there was more beneficial than any possible downside in that regard.”
Rivers runs a locker room the same way his father did at Decatur and Athens.
Sure enough, these days Rivers runs a locker room the same way his father did at Decatur and Athens. It permeates the way he interacts with his teammates and “talks trash” with opponents.
That’s because to the Rivers’, football is more than a game.
“That’s just the way we grew up in our house and it’s just a habit I’ve created,” Philip said. “The things football has done really is so much more than the game itself. I mean, I do love the game. I love figuring out defenses and I like to practice and all that stuff. But the characteristics and traits you have to have or work at to be successful are the same ones you need in your faith. They are the same ones you need in your family life. It’s the sacrifice, discipline, adversity, toughness, perseverance, you can go on and on with those and fill them in on how they apply to your faith and family. That is why for me, football is my favorite sport. I mean, I love everything, but it’s the life lessons and traits that you need to have that builds you up in other areas.”
In fact, Rivers runs his family at home and football family at Chargers Park the same way his parents did.
“He is a combination of things,” Steve added. “That is his mom, she is a devout catholic and she is a wonderful person and mother and lady. Then as a coaching staff, we never did (curse) around the boys, we just didn’t have to do it. So he didn’t hear it that much, at least from us, we all slip up I suppose, but no one ever berated players or anything like that and certainly never cursed at players; it was just the normal stuff that he would hear. He knew right from wrong and I think being around that at an early age, we taught him about that - that those things weren’t good and he learned that… We are certainly proud of him as a football player and athlete obviously, but his mom and I are more proud of the fact that he is a good human being; he is a great dad and an awesome husband. He loves the church, we have been very blessed, that is for sure and he has been very blessed and our whole family has been very blessed.”
Ever wonder why one of the league’s most accurate passers has one of the most unorthodox throwing motions?
If you ask Philip’s father, being a ball boy for the Decatur Red Raiders had a profound impact on the quarterback’s release.
Philip never thought twice about his unique form until he enrolled at NC State. He was tossing the ball around one day with some of his teammates when Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow thought his new quarterback must be injured because of his unorthodox throwing motion.
"He asked if I was alright or if I was hurt or something. He actually sent the tape to Mike Holmgren and some guys he’d been around asking about it."
“No one really said anything until I got to NC State,” he said. “I remember Norm Chow telling me he was watching us off the balcony seeing me throw. He asked if I was OK. He hadn’t recruited me. He was hired after so he had never seen me play a snap. So he asked if I was alright or if I was hurt or something. He actually sent the tape to Mike Holmgren and some guys he’d been around asking about it. They were like, ‘Well, he gets it off quick. If it’s not a problem, then just leave it alone.’”
Even though he still uses the sidearm, it’s much less pronounced these days after 12 years being in the NFL. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t use it from time to time.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve matured and gotten stronger. It’s gotten less and less (from the side). There are times where you can see me throwing from that different angle, but it’s more conventional now than 15 years ago.”
It’s impossible to count the number of games Philip played in growing up whether it was on the gridiron, a little league baseball field or the hardwood for basketball.
However, he can count the number of times his dad missed a game.
Painstakingly, it happened to be one of the best performances of Philip’s young life as the future NFL quarterback dropped 50 points in a 10th grade basketball game.
Thankfully Steve had Joan capture the entire game on video.
"I was like ‘Dad, I had 50 points!' It was a 10th-grade game. I hit 12 three-pointers. Gosh, that’s crazy.'
“It’s crazy how that happened. Dad had some coaching clinic thing and he just said, ‘mom’s coming, mom’s going to be there’. And because of that, that was one of the only games we have on video. We wouldn’t have videoed it if he was able to come. We got home and he watched it, but I was like ‘Dad, I had 50 points!' It was a 10th-grade game. I hit 12 three-pointers. Gosh, that’s crazy. It was one of those nights where you couldn’t miss. We lost, but I had 50 points and my other buddy had 24. And the other team just never missed.”
As a quarterback in the NFL, Philip knows it’s impossible to attend every one of his children’s functions in season. Although during the offseason he not only attends most, but you can find him serving as a coach.
“Now I get to coach my own children and watch them play, and I love it. I’ve tried to help them a bit. With Gunner playing now, he is like how I was as a kid. I am so into it like my dad was, too. This is his first year playing in the fall. His first game I will be on the road. I’ve already told him I am going to miss the first game, and he understands. And that’s great. But I am going to make sure someone videos it, and I will watch it like my dad did for me when he missed my game.”
Much like Steve has Joan as his rock at home, Philip has Tiffany, his childhood sweetheart.
When the two met in middle school, there was one stark contrast. Tiffany and her family had very little interest in sports. However, that quickly changed.
“Tiffany’s background in sports is none really,” Philip said with a smile. “I would play against her brother in little league and I knew of him. He was on the basketball team in 8th grade and I was on the 7th grade team and she was a cheerleader. Her family wasn’t a sports family necessarily. So that’s what the neat thing was. She grew to love football.”
Even though football was an acquired taste she’d come to love, Tiffany felt an instant connection with the Rivers family. She lets out an ear-to-ear smile reflecting on what it was like to see Philip alongside her future in-laws.
“They have always been close,” she said. “Gosh, it was so long ago, but especially growing up because his dad was his coach. They talked about everything, and I admired that. They talk like that still to this day. And it’s the same with his mom, too. They’ve always been a really close family. Philip has a heart of gold. He’s always had one, and always been close with everybody. Philip and his whole family, they are very genuine. What you see is what you get. It’s all very real.”
Now that they have eight kids of their own, Tiffany sees how Philip’s upbringing is reflected in his parenting style.
“Philip is the best dad in the world. His parents were always supporting him whatever he did, and that’s what he is like with our kids. Philip devotes so much of himself to each one of them individually. It’s all about the time spent. Even when he is busy, and he puts in a lot of time with the Chargers, when he gets home he can’t wait to spend time with them. He is so selfless. That is the number one word I would use to describe him. He goes to each of our kids and asks about everything that happened in each one of their days. It’s all about family, being together and talking. He’s such a good man.”
While Steve is proud of so much his son has accomplished on the football field, he’s even prouder of the husband and father he’s become.”
“I can’t begin to tell you just how proud we are of him,” he said. “He and Tiffany have such a good relationship as husband and wife. Seeing them with their kids, we get to see him with them away from football. We see them at home, when it is bicycles and tricycles and chalk, climbing and playing whiffle ball in the backyard. Whenever we go out we always have a big whiffle ball game and it is just awesome to see how happy his kids are. One thing I think, Philip has never told me this but I’ve recognized it, that when football season is going on, he is into it so much and he has to put in so much time, everybody does, that when it is the offseason, they do so much good stuff together; the whole family. He makes sure that it is magnified. They are getting old enough now that they are more involved and like it more, the baby is still a baby but the older ones are getting to be like he used to be. Seeing him with Tiffany and his kids puts a big smile on my face, and Joan’s too.”
As Philip explains, all he’s accomplished from his success at NC State to NFL stardom is because of his wife.
"It wasn’t like we get to go to the NFL and have a huge wedding right away. We had those little, normal college struggles that you have. We married after my freshman year and having a child before my junior year."
“She has really helped me be grounded,” he said. “She’s helped me stay close to my faith, and we got married and had children young. We lived in a little apartment, and we had to move in with my parents at one point. It wasn’t like we get to go to the NFL and have a huge wedding right away. We had those little, normal college struggles that you have. We married after my freshman year and having a child before my junior year. Kind of like, ‘Hey mom, dad, we’ve got to move in!’ So I think going through that helped. She is very close with my family. I was an only child for a long time. I was 11 when (my brother) Stephen came along. Then I was 16 when my sister was born. Tiffany and I had our first when Tif was 19, and my sister was 4 years old. And they are close. They are like sisters, but it’s her aunt.”
Meanwhile, long before becoming a husband, father and Pro Bowl quarterback, Philip was an eager high schooler grateful to finally play for his father.
Just before Philip entered high school, the Rivers family moved to Athens, which is approximately 15 minutes from Decatur. He joined the ninth grade team where he played quarterback and tight end for the school’s freshman squad.
In true Rivers fashion, Steve gave a definitive answer.
“I remember asking him, ‘What do I call you?’” Philip said. “It had always been dad since forever. It was dad when I was a water boy and ball boy from 7-13 years old. I remember getting close to when I was actually going to be on his team. I asked, ‘What do I call you on the field, is it coach or dad?’ He said ‘Shoot, I’m your dad.’ It was funny. Everyone would be ‘Coach Rivers, Coach Rivers’ and then I’d say ‘Hey dad’. That was neat. Obviously that is why it was so special. He’d treat me like all the other guys except for when he knew things might not be going well that he could be a little harder on me to get everyone else going. He would do that sometimes. When it wasn’t just one guy messing up and we were stuck just walking around in practice and would get sluggish, he’d get on me. And everyone else would then be like ‘oh shoot we better get going!’ He would use it to have that affect.”
Philip made varsity the next season, playing for his father who was head coach. However, Steve opted to give the starting job at quarterback to a different player instead of his son, a move that would pay major dividends down the road.
“We had a senior quarterback (Grant), and he and Philip were probably pretty equal in ability. But the senior was the leader of that senior group, and he was more mature than Philip was as a sophomore. I wanted to handle everything the right way. The community was very strong and supportive, and what we did is we let Grant play quarterback. Well, one of my longtime assistants said ‘Give me Philip at outside linebacker’. He wanted to play Philip at weak-side linebacker (WIL). I said, ‘Linebacker?!’ So I talked about it with the coach, and Philip wanted to play so much and knew the game so well, he said Philip could overcome some lack of speed and his strength. Well, he did play linebacker that year, and he played outstanding. We were undefeated and went 10-0.”
Perhaps more important than Philip’s play that season, his experience at linebacker gave him a new level of understanding when it comes to reading a defense.
"Philip's not the fastest and he’s not the biggest, but he’s a really good football player. I contribute a lot of that to the year he played linebacker."
“I often credit that year to Philip’s development as a football player,” Steve said. “He’s a football player. He’s not the fastest and he’s not the biggest, but he’s a really good football player. I contribute a lot of that to the year he played linebacker. He got to see the game from a different perspective. It was good. It made him tough. He wasn’t used to playing as physical a game as he did there for the first time. We played in a really good league, and for a linebacker, it required him to be really physical. He had to get with it, and he really did. So that was a really good growing lesson for him that 10th grade year.”
Looking back, Philip agrees with his father’s assessment.
“I felt that I built some toughness too,” he said. “I was right there in the box playing linebacker. I was 6-4, 180-pounds. I was a string bean, but I felt like I built toughness that year. I loved to play ball and I never felt like I was just a quarterback. I was a football player. I do think I benefited that year because I did build my toughness, but I felt like I understood defenses even better. I went on to play safety the next two years even when I was quarterback. I punted, too! I never came out I guess you could say.”
Philip sits back with a big grin as he eyes the fresh mowed grass at Chargers Park.
Even with all the success he’s had, like most adults, some of his best memories are from his high school days.
“It’s weird,” he says bluntly. “I have played 51 games in college, played here for 13 years and played in every stadium. But some of my favorite memories are still from high school. I remember plays in games; I remember bus rides. That is why I try to tell kids today to have a goal in mind. If you want to play in the NFL, go for it. But enjoy the heck out of high school football.”
“I have played 51 games in college, played here for 13 years and played in every stadium. But some of my favorite memories are still from high school."
Philip did all of the above.
Following his year at outside linebacker, Philip took over as the starting quarterback for the Athens Golden Eagles. For Steve, getting to coach his son as the team’s starting QB was an emotional experience well worth the wait.
“That was so special because we had been waiting for it for so long,” he said. “He was eager to be coached. He wanted to do the right thing. He was always the good kid in school who wanted to please his teachers. To see that in my son, and to spend that time, it was (overwhelming) for me. And for him, I know he enjoyed it because he’d been standing around listening to me speak and coach for years.”
As Philip led a pair of strong Athens teams the next two seasons, it wasn’t long before the legend of Philip Rivers began to spread and numerous colleges recruited the quarterback.
The chance to earn a football scholarship went from what seemed to be a remote possibility to a likely certainty.
“The thought of me getting a football scholarship didn’t even register with Tiffany,” Philip said. “And then when I started getting letters from the NFL, the first letter we got, she was like ‘oh, you have a chance at this?’”
"When I started getting letters from the NFL, the first letter we got, she was like ‘oh, you have a chance at this?’”
“Auburn actually recruited him pretty hard,” Steve said. “But Coach (Tommy) Tuberville and that staff had Jason Campbell in the wings. Alabama also recruited Philip, as did Ole Miss but of course they had Eli. Now NC State recruited him too, and they offered him first. They offered him his junior year. Now why did he go there? I would say two reasons. One was coach Joe Pate, who I had known a long time. And the second reason and probably the most important one was Philip didn’t want to go anywhere and sit. He wanted to play. He felt like he could come in right away, and NC State needed a quarterback. Coach Pate was the first person who told me that Philip had the ability to be a college player. That was back in the spring of his sophomore year. He had a lot of confidence in Philip, and Philip felt comfortable with him. He made him feel at home. We went over to visit a couple times, and Philip felt like he had a chance to head in there and play his freshman year. He started 51 straight games, so I guess you can say it worked out well.”
NC State also afforded Rivers a chance he never considered. Since he was eligible to graduate high school early, he could get a head start by moving into campus in January.
“Coach Pate was like ‘Hey, I was looking at your transcripts and you can graduate in December and come January,’” Philip recalled. “‘You will have the chance to do spring ball and then you’ll have a better chance to start.’ That was a big pull. I could get there in the spring and golly I could start fresh, there was no other QB, the other guy was gone and I would have the chance to play that year.”
Rivers did just that, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Philip and Tiffany got engaged that spring, and Tiffany lived at Joan’s parents’ house near NC State. They were married the following spring, and had their first child soon after.
Then, in 2004, Rivers landed in America’s Finest City in a draft day trade, beginning a new journey that continues to this day.
“That was a great time in our lives, and Philip did it so naturally,” Tiffany said. “There was a lot going on, and it was tough at times, and he did everything so effortlessly. It was hard for him to leave his family, but he is doing what he loves to do. He knew what he wanted to do when he was five, and now he was getting to do it.”
Philip Rivers’ accomplishments over his first 12 seasons are well known throughout the NFL.
However, among the litany of milestones he’s reached and icon’s he’s passed, one stands out above the rest.
It was a moment that brought tears to the Rivers’ boys’ eyes.
While Philip boasts a close relationship with his maternal grandfather, he never got to meet his dad’s father. However, he grew up hearing how his grandpa was a huge Johnny Unitas fan.
"That kind of stuff is what gets me emotional because I never met my granddad, and now my dad’s son is right up there with his football hero."
“Whenever I passed Johnny Unitas, he said his dad, my granddad, wouldn’t have been able to believe it because that was his favorite quarterback,” Philip said. “He told me how his dad loved Jonny Unitas and he said to see my name up there with his is crazy! That kind of stuff is what gets me emotional because I never met my granddad, and now my dad’s son is right up there with his football hero. It’s about the memories more than anything. Of course as a competitor you want to do things: win Super Bowls and so on. But the game of football is so much more. So many memories and time and moments together where we have laughed, cried, been excited, high-fived and all those things. So when I passed Johnny Unitas, the memories it brought of him as a kid and his dad saying Jonny Unitas is his guy, that was emotional.”
Every time he watches it, the same thoughts run through Steve Rivers’ mind.
“That moment before he runs onto the field is emotional,” he says as his voice cracks. “When I’m there in person and he runs out of that tunnel, I still get choked up. Even 13 years later, when he runs out of that tunnel as an NFL football player, especially the quarterback, I know that he is living his dream. From that aspect of his life, his faith, his family and his church are more important, but he is living that dream of being an NFL player. I’m even getting choked up talking about it. We are just proud. The people of San Diego have treated Philip so well. It just makes me proud that I can say that he is that kind of person that deserves that. He is a good human being. He is humble and honest and passionate about everything he does. If they do feel that way about Philip Rivers in San Diego, they picked a good guy. Even though he is my son, I have to say that they picked a good guy to look up to. I look up to him every day.”