So long, Uncle Phil

(Author’s note: This article was started on January 20, but sometimes life intervenes and we have to put things off. This is a meandering, odd piece, but I hope as Colts fans you’ll eventually understand where I’m coming from – just like I did with Philip Rivers.)

Unless you missed it – was there something else in the news today? I can’t remember – Philip Rivers announced his retirement after 17 seasons. A lot of what I’m about to say here are things I had rolling around my head a few weeks ago. Until the ugly 2nd half debacle against Pittsburgh, I’d envisioned saying much of this after Rivers hung up his cleats with a Super Bowl ring.

It didn’t work out that way, of course, but the sentiment is still valid.


How it started:

I remember Rivers getting drafted by the Giants in 2004 and being a bit surprised anyone from NC State could be a top 5 draft pick, but there he was. It didn’t last long, as soon he was traded away to the Chargers after Eli Manning whined his way to New York.

He sat on the pine backing up Drew Brees for two seasons. then December 31st, 2005 happened. That’s the day Brees tore his labrum attempting to recover a fumble. Looking back on it, so many things changed because of this injury. Brees is a free agent, and the Chargers let him walk because hey, they didn’t draft this Rivers kid for no reason. Miami is interested in signing Brees, but backs off because they’re afraid his shoulder isn’t healed. They trade for the ghost of Daunte Culpepper instead, and follow a 9-7 2005 season with a 6-10 mark in 2006. New Orleans offers Brees a nice contract, and he leads them to the NFC championship game. Rivers beats the Colts twice in the playoffs, Brees beats them in the Super Bowl…yeah. Ugh.

Let’s flash to January 14, 2007. The #1 seed and 14-2 Chargers are facing the Patriots in the divisional round, with the winner facing our Colts for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Here’s the thing: If San Diego wins, they host the AFCCG. If New England wins, the Colts host. This is how I found myself sitting on the couch screaming “miss it, miss it!” as Nate Kaeding of the Chargers lined up a 54 yard kick to tie the game with 8 seconds left. He did miss, and a week later the Colts won the Super Bowl when they finally vanquished the Patriots. I don’t remember anything Rivers did in this game, but he did lead his team to an 8 point lead with 5 minutes to go, only to see his defense let them down. I didn’t care – the Colts were in business.

It’s November 11 2007. The 7-1 Colts are facing the 4-4 Chargers – winners of 3 of 4 – in the Sunday night game. You know how it never rains in San Diego? Yeah, there was a monsoon that night. Peyton Manning threw SIX interceptions in this game. SIX. He threw three of them to Antonio Cromartie. Despite this, Peyton still lead the Colts down the field near the end, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 29 yard potential game winning field goal with 1:31 left. What happens? The hold is bad because of the muck, and the ball goes wide right. Dammit. I was furious. And Rivers? He didn’t play very well – in fact, his fumble in the end zone brought the Colts to within the eventual 23-21 final score – but he was on full display that night. The barking at the officials, the hand waving, that thing where he claps his hands really fast 2-3 times. To hell with him and the Chargers. Fluke win.

This game also marked the first appearance of the San Diego Running Back™. The SDRB would show up again several times over the next few years, but its debut performance came in this game courtesy of Darren Sproles. He didn’t do anything on offense, but he did score with a kick return and a punt return.

January 13, 2008. The AFC Divisional playoffs. No matter the result, it’s the last game at the RCA Dome. I’m here, one of 57K ready to see the Colts get revenge for the fluke a couple of months ago. Except it doesn’t happen. The Colts get a big break during the 2nd quarter, when LaDanian Tomlinson goes out with a “bruised knee.” It doesn’t matter, because Rivers is throwing darts. He throws 3 TD’s in 3 quarters, the last of which is a 56 yarder to the aforementioned Sproles on the last play of the 3rd quarter. The San Diego Running Back™ strikes again.

Something else happens though. Rivers is soon seen jogging his way towards the locker room. What’s this all about? No one knows, but the stadium video board catches him screaming at the fans. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, the fans were totally giving Rivers the business on his way to the locker room, but I was there, and I will swear to my grave Mr. Clean uttered some replies that weren’t “dadgummit!” I’m also convinced he gave a little “deez nuts” gesture as well. No one will ever persuade me otherwise. That was all I needed to see. Rivers was officially public enenmy #2 (Brady is forever #1, duh). It was on.

San Diego won 28-24 thanks to backup QB Billy Volek and the other The San Diego Running Back™, Michael Turner. Parking at the Dome was worse than usual, since its replacement was fast under construction next door. It was a long walk to the car for the 3 hour trip home. And it was snowing.

January 20, 2008: The Chargers get the task of trying to beat 17-0 New England in the freezing cold. Still distraught over the Colts’ season being over and knowing there was no way the warm weather sissies from San Diego were going to win, I hardly watched. What I did see, was Rivers struggling mightily. It brought a smile to my face.

A few days later in January 2008: Word comes out Rivers tore his right ACL and meniscus in the playoff game against the Colts…then had surgery midweek just so he could play against the Patriots. His teammate Luis Castillo called it “one of the gutsiest things I’ve ever seen.” I nodded my respect, but it didn’t dim my hatred. I’ll bet he wasn’t fist pumping after his two interceptions.

January 2009: The Chargers return to Indy for another playoff game just a few weeks after dropping a 23-20 contest to the Colts on a 50 yard walk off Adam Vinatieri kick. Rivers doesn’t play particularly well. but leaves the field with a wave anyway. The San Diego Running Back™ strikes again, however, when Sproles wins it on a 22 yard run in OT. Dig this: Sproles’ numbers on the day: 105 yards rushing (2 TD), 45 yards receiving, 106 yards on kick returns, and 72 yards on punt returns. Ouch.

2010: The Chargers score 20 unanswered 2nd half points and whip the Colts 36-14. Rivers hits on 19 of 23 passes but throws no TD’s. He doesn’t need to, because Peyton Manning throws 4 INT’s  – two of which are returned for TD’s. This was part of a stretch where Manning’s arm suddenly seemed dead, and he appeared on the injury report. A portent of things to come.

Alright, so at this point you’re saying, “Ok, we get it. The Chargers consistently beat the Colts. What does this have to do with Rivers?”

Everything. He was the face of the franchise. Whether he threw 3 TD’s or no TD’s, his team usually won, and no matter what, there was the whining to the refs. There was the hand waving, finger pointing, fist pumping, seemingly always yelling about something BS. The ridiculously awful release, like he was throwing the shot put instead of a football. Disgusting. You hate what you can’t beat, and I HATED Philip Rivers.

He and the Chargers would beat the Colts again in 2013.

How it’s going:

I will never forget the day I finally started liking Philip Rivers. It was October 18, 2015. Rivers and the 2-3 Chargers are in Green Bay facing the 5-0 Packers in the late afternoon game. The Colts had the Sunday night game, against New England. You may recall it. Colt Anderson had 1 rushing attempt for -1 yards. Let’s move on.

The Chargers suck. Only one playoff appearance since 2009. You hate to see it, right?

On this day, Rivers is just straight BALLING. He’s making every throw. He has to. His team sucks. Keenan Allen has 14 catches before exiting during the 3rd quarter with a lacerated kidney.

The Chargers never have the lead, but Rivers rallies them from a 17-3 deficit to tie it midway through the 3rd quarter. A 28 yard kick by Mason Crosby gives Green Bay a 27-20 edge with about 2:30 remaining in the game.

So here’s Rivers, with 80 yards and all 3 timeouts to tie this game up. He immediately goes to work, hitting 7 straight passes to move them to the Packer 2, but has to use all of his timeouts in the process. The next two plays go nowhere.

It’s 4th and ballgame. Rivers’ pass for Danny Woodhead in the corner of the end zone is batted down. Game over. Rivers lays flat on his back, then sits up and pounds the turf in frustration several times with both hands.

This was it. I finally realized what he was all about. Was he emotional? Yes. Did he have a passion for winning and a frustration he couldn’t contain when he fell short? Absolutely. I understood now.

He completed 43 passes for 503 yards that day.

In 2016 the Colts finally beat Rivers again, in a game I remember nothing about other than the ending, where Bob Lamey punctuated the end of his game broadcast with “the game is finally f**king over!”

The 2019 season opener saw Rivers get his revenge. This was a tough one to watch, because the Colts should’ve wiped the floor with the Chargers, but the Andrew Luck retirement had put a damper on things. Still, one would think the Colts would win this. Nope. Rivers threw for 3 TD’s and 333 yards. Aside from a ridiculous end zone pick by Malik Hooker, he was flawless. Rivers used RB Austin Ekeler to make the Colts defense look stupid time after time. Ekeler scored the game’s first TD on a 1 yard pass following a BS penalty against the Denico Autry on a FG try – I believe the league later apologized to the Colts with one of those “oops, we screwed up, sorry about your loss” explanations – and Rivers made Darius Leonard look like an absolute fool in pass coverage on the play. Don’t listen to me, though. The video is out there.

He was the same Rivers – the waving, the finger pointing, the fist pumping, etc. But it didn’t matter anymore. I recognized he’d just made Matt Eberflus look like a flag football coach.

March 21, 2020: Rivers signs his one year deal with the Colts. I was ambivalent about it. It’s not that I didn’t want him in Indy – certainly Jacoby Brissett was not nor will be the answer – I was just skeptical whether he still physically had it.

2020 season: Rivers mostly plays his ass off. Everyone finally got to see what he was about now that he was on the good side. The arm had faded. I will argue it was still much better than 2015 Peyton Manning’s arm. The toe injury didn’t help – I don’t care who you are, turf toe is freaking painful. In almost every case, surgery is required. This isn’t stubbing your toe on a door frame or something. Seeing Rivers take command of his team and of games was something I’d never been able to appreciate before. I gained a newfound respect for him. It’s just unfortunate for the Colts that his physical ability had diminished. He played his ass off anyway. Seeing how emotional he was following the playoff loss was tough. I felt it.

I thought a one and done deal was best, and I’m glad he was able to recognize it was over.

I will miss you anyway, Philip Rivers. Thank you for always giving it 10000%.