Philip Rivers completed 31 passes in Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the most memorable catch of the day was the emotion-soaked catch in his voice.
With his eyes red and nose runny, the Chargers quarterback struggled to maintain his composure, gripping the sides of his lectern and clenching his jaw to gather himself. Before him, an uncertain road unfurls.
At 38, Rivers wants to keep playing football, and feels he still has something to give. But with his team finishing 5-11, struggling to build a fan base in Los Angeles and starting a new chapter in SoFi Stadium next season, it could be time for both sides to part ways.
“Whether it’s exactly the end or not, which it still could be, but either way we’re probably on the 16th playing a little par-three with only two holes to go,” said Rivers, who had nine fewer touchdown passes and eight more interceptions than last season. “I’m definitely on that back stretch, and there’s been times I’ve been a little emotional. Even at the house, talking through things and thinking about, man, the last blitz protection meeting, or the last bus ride.
“Those things I have gotten to every now and then. That’s when my wife says, ‘Shoot, if you try to hold it in, it will all blow up at some point.’ I have allowed myself to do that, but at the same point go, ‘Shoot, don’t let that ruin the moment that you’re in. Just be right here and enjoy it like I always have.’”
Enjoy it? This lousy season? Yes, in fact, he has. He explained that to a reporter as he ducked into a coaches dressing room.
“The word I keep coming back to is thankful; I’m thankful to go through this,” he said. “Through this whole thing, people have said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re 5-10. It’s been brutal.’ But I feel thankful. I’m healthy. I have guys I like to work with. Is it going to be ‘poor me,’ or is it going to be ‘keep fighting’?
“I think in times like this, who knows when a leader can have an impact? When it’s going good, you don’t even need leaders, you know what I mean? But in times like this, if you can be a leader in the locker room, who knows who’s going to hear you and say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to remember that.’ You never know who’s watching you.”
Those all might sound like hokey platitudes, but those who know him see Rivers as one of the most genuine, wholesome, respected guys around. He spent Sunday morning at the 8 a.m. mass — his typical pregame routine — at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, about a mile from the team hotel. He was joined there by his parents and sister, who had made the drive from Alabama. His wife, Tiffany, was back in San Diego with their nine children.
Rivers famously doesn’t swear — yes, those on-field outbursts are G-rated — and has a higher GPS rate (Gollys Per Sentence) than Andy Griffith ever did. When he’s done with the NFL, he wants to go back to Alabama and coach high school football, even though he’s got Tony Romo-type potential as a TV analyst.
“I’m not going to say absolutely not,” he said of broadcasting. “But coaching would be Friday night football, Saturday with the family. That’s what I’ve always dreamed about.”
The Chargers pick sixth in the 2020 draft, and predictions of what they might do are all over the map. Maybe they’ll keep Rivers. Maybe they’ll make a run at Tom Brady. Maybe they’ll take Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It’s all just fantasy football at this point.
“It’s not something I’m thinking much about right now,” said coach Anthony Lynn, who has been led to believe he’s coming back. “I feel for the guys in the locker room, staff. We lost a hard-fought game. When the dust settles, we will evaluate everyone, and we will see who we are bringing back.”
Rivers doesn’t believe his career is done, regardless of where he is next season. Asked if he would consider playing for another team, he said: “Yes, I plan to play football, so yes. Where that is going to be will get sorted out over the next few months. I’ve never been in this position; I don’t even know when the league year starts. We’ll just kind of see. I’m very thankful for the 16 years, and if there’s another, I’ll be thankful for that.”
His voice wavered when asked what’s made him most proud about his career. His 224 consecutive starts in the regular season top his list.
“I can say I gave it everything I had, every week,” he said. “Maybe that means an interception on fourth and 18 when you’re down by 10 because I don’t care that it’s going to say two interceptions [on the stat sheet], I really don’t. I ain’t quitting.”
Stitched on his cap was a Latin phrase “Nunc Coepi,” which over the years has become his personal motto. It means, “Now, I begin.” And so he does.