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Philip Rivers' career defined by buoyant personality, inconsistency in big moments

Philip Rivers was never fast enough to run away from defenders, so he sure wasn't going to run away from Father Time, the undefeated opponent who catches up to everyone, though some sooner than others.

That's not to say the heavy-footed Alabama native didn't try to win the race. The 39-year-old spent 17 seasons in the NFL, playing many of them at a high level, with the Chargers and Colts. But it was clear in recent seasons that his faceless opponent was closing the gap, and now, after 256 games (including the postseason), Rivers is calling it a career.

When news of his decision broke on Wednesday in The San Diego Union-Tribune, I was not surprised. Rivers believes he could continue playing -- which he could -- but I do not believe it would be at a level good enough to get him to the one place his career never took him: the Super Bowl.

I hate saying that. Really, I do. Rivers was the type of player you privately rooted for, particularly if you spent any time around him. Calling him likable seems insufficient. He had a zest for everything he did, his carbonated personality bubbling over whenever he became excited. The only thing he loved more than his family was competing -- while talking G-rated trash with a Southern accent.

Friends tell stories of him draining corner threes during pickup basketball games and, after each swish of the net, asking his defender: You really going to give me that? You better get closer next time. Or if a teammate had the hot hand, lowering his voice and raising the temperature by saying: Man, he's wearing you out.

His style of competing didn't endear him to opponents early in his career, but he ultimately won over many of them when they realized there was nothing malicious about him. He was simply a modern-day Andy Taylor whose use of the word dadgumit seemed straight out of Mayberry.

He was always about faith, family and football -- in that order. In his locker, he kept a laminated trading card of St. Sebastian (the patron saint of athletes), first given to him by his mother after he played in an AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL. He did not beat you over the head with his faith, but it was as much a part of him as his unorthodox throwing motion, which sometimes looked as if he were shot-putting the football rather than throwing it.

Those are the things I will remember about the man. The picture is grainier when it comes to the player. I heard others on Wednesday morning refer to him as "great" and a "future Hall of Famer," labels that get tossed around too casually, in my opinion. Greatness means you consistently lifted those around you and consistently delivered in the big moments and the marquee games. Rivers did not do that.

He was really, really good, throwing for 63,440 passing yards, fifth-most in league history, and 421 touchdowns over 14 seasons as the Chargers' starter (he sat behind Drew Brees for the first two years of his career) and one with the Colts in 2020. But numbers alone do not make a Hall of Famer, particularly at a time when rules changes have turned the unthinkable into the routine. There has to be more. There has to be a rising tide. That was not the case with Rivers, at least not consistently.

His teams were 134-106 in the regular season and 5-7 in the playoffs, despite some of those teams being incredibly talented. He threw for 300 yards or more only three times in the playoffs, with two of those games being losses -- including his last game, a Wild Card Round defeat to the Buffalo Bills. He was also held to fewer than three touchdown passes in nine of those games, with zero touchdown passes in four games. His teams did not score more than 21 points in four of the seven playoff defeats and they were held to 17 or fewer on three occasions.

His stumbles there are magnified when looking at the careers of the quarterbacks drafted immediately before and after he was taken fourth overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. Eli Manning (first overall) and Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall) not only went to Super Bowls but won two each. They delivered in the big moments; not every time, but enough times to bring home hardware.

There is a Bible verse which states that to whom much is given, much will be required. That can be applied to life as a quarterback in the NFL. It ain't fair, but it is a reality that cannot be run from.

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