April 24th was the date of the 2004 NFL draft held in Madison Square Gardens. Everyone knew that Eli Manning was to be the 1st pick of the draft, and Eli made his intentions clear that he did not want to go to the team with the first selection. That team was the San Diego Chargers, and they were in drivers seat for one of the biggest trades in NFL history. They drafted Eli Manning, with the intention of finalizing a trade with the New York Giants, that would later help turn the Chargers into a Legitimate contender in the AFC.
In return, the Giants traded to the Chargers their 2004 4th-overall pick, Phillip Rivers, along with a 2004 3rd-round pick, a 2015 1st-round pick and a 2005 5th-round pick. The Chargers essentially turned Eli Manning into Phillip Rivers, Nate Kaeding and Shawn Merriman. Each of these players helped the Chargers to win the AFC West division in 4 consecutive seasons from 2006 through the 2009 seasons, including a single trip to the AFC title game in 2008.
Shawn Merriman became the Defensive Rookie of the year, 2x First Team All-Pro, 1x Second Team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler and lead the league in sacks in 2006. Injuries cut short Merriman’s stellar start to his career. After his 2008 knee surgery, he was never the same. Nate Kaeding made 2 All-Pro teams and 2 Pro Bowls, kicking 86.2% on field goals, which made him the second most accurate kicker at the time of his retirement. As great as a regular season kicker he was, he turned out to be an abysmal kicker in the playoffs, knocking the Chargers out of a potential Super Bowl, and missing multiple kicks in multiple close games.
The real prize of the trade turned out to be Phillip Rivers, who would go on to become the Chargers leader for the next 16 years. The sidearm gunslinger holds all the stats to one day have his own bronze bust to sit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His accolades are seemingly endless. He ranks 6th all-time in passing yards, 6th in passing completions, 6th in passing touchdowns and 9th in quarterback wins. He holds over 30 Chargers Franchise records in addition to his other accomplishments to include and still counting:
- 2010 NFL Passing Yards Leader
- 2008 NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader
- 2008 NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader
- 2008 NFL Passer Rating Leader
- 2013 NFL Passing Completions Percentage Leader
- Tied Single Game Most Consecutive Completions at 25
- Single Game Completion Record 96.55%
- 8x Pro Bowler
- 2013 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
- 10x AFC Offensive Player of the Week and 4x AFC Offensive Player of the Month
- 5th All-time and Current NFL Ironman with 224 Consecutive Starts and counting
- Most Passing Touchdowns between QB-TE Duo (Antonio Gates – 87) and 2nd most all-time of any Duo
- 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year Finalist
In terms of stats, he out-ranks his fellow 1st-round quarterbacks from the 2004 NFL Draft. What he lacks are the Lombardi trophies both Manning and Rothlisberger hold. That single lack of accomplishment bumps him below the quarterbacks mentioned above. He is close to joining Dan Marino as one of the best quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl, but even Marino made it to the big game at least once. Phillip has gotten to the AFC Championship exactly once in his entire career. He just can’t seem to get by the Patriots, but thats an issue for every team it seems.
He hasn’t had as much of a supporting cast as he had early in his career, especially along the trenches, which hasn’t helped his chances. He was drafted by a great coach in Marty Schottenheimer, only to be left with Norv Turner and Mike McCoy led teams for much of his prime. The losses over the past 10 years have been laughable. Some of them didn’t even seem real. The Chargers have more 1-score losses then any team in history over a 10-year span. Don’t fact check that, but I’m sure if I looked it up, they would be up there. The supporting cast, coupled by bad coaching, bad offensive line play, the ownership, move to Los Angeles, on and on, there is an argument that Rivers never had as much of an opportunity as Eli or Big Ben. Just comparing the Giants and the Steelers franchise to the Chargers is a joke in itself.
Philly Riv, El Capitan, Phillipe Rios. Whatever you call him, he has been the heart and soul of this Chargers team ever since Junior Seau and Ladanian Tomlinson. Some of the greatest memories come with Rivers under center. Tomlinson’s record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season happened with a Rivers handoff. Antonio Gates’s record-breaking touchdown, for most touchdowns caught by a tight-end in a career, came off a River’s thrown ball. He played on a torn ACL in the AFC Championship, against the Patriots. The comeback in Kansas City in 2018. Beating the Bengals, Titans, Ravens, and Colts in overtime on Wildcard Weekend. All the shouts of “Dagnabbits”, “Quit Crying”, “Wooo, Heck Yeah Baby” and “I will do it by your ear, I will scream in your ear. Thats what will do!” There have been great moment that will live on forever.
Now that Phillip Rivers will no longer be a Charger, the hope is that he lands with a legitimate contender. Best case scenario is the Patriots or Colts which have strong rosters, and more importantly, strong offensive lines with great coaching. Worst case scenario has to be the Buccaneers, who have great receivers, but similar issues to the Bolts. As strange as it will be to see 17 wearing anything other then powder blue, he is a high-character player, respected by the entire league, and he deserves to go to a team that will give him an opportunity to win the big one. Thank you 17 for the 14 years you gave to San Diego, and the 2 years to Los Angeles. You will be sorely missed. Nunc Coepi!