Philip Rivers showed one day this summer that he's a better student of football history than I am, and I actually pride myself on knowing the heritage of the game.
We were discussing the Chargers' chances of returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence, and the conversation morphed -- surprise! -- into the fact that he's the only one of the three big guns from the quarterbacks draft class of 2004 who hasn't won a Super Bowl. It is, of course, Ben Roethlisberger 2, Eli Manning 2 and Rivers 0.
But Rivers has studied the players he hopes he can emulate this year. Just listen: "Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl in his ninth year, right? Drew [Brees] in his ninth year, too, right? And for [John] Elway, it was his 15th and 16th years, right? This is my ninth year. It's not like, 'Well, it's all over for you; you can't win one, or more than that.' ''
I went back and did the math. Elway, drafted in 1983, won titles in 1997 and '98, his 15th and 16th years ... Peyton Manning, drafted in 1998, won a title in 2006, his ninth year ... Brees, drafted in 2001, won a title in his ninth year, 2009.
Pretty good. Someone's been doing his homework.
You'd think Rivers would swat away questions about Roethlisberger and Eli like gnats, and direct the inquisitor to the Elway-Peyton-Brees numbers. But he's realistic and pleasant about his peers in the 2004 draft, even if deep down it must grate on him like nails on a chalkboard.
"It's the crazy-obvious story,'' he told me as the Chargers prepped for their season. "But it's not what drives me, I swear it. I want to get in the club, but I want our team to win a Super Bowl as much I want to win one. We all, who play the position, want to be part of leading a team to a championship.''
The fact that Roethlisberger won two, and now Manning, after his fourth-quarter heroics against the Patriots last February (again) has won his second ... that doesn't really bug Rivers, the man GM A.J. Smith chose for the Chargers over Manning?
"I don't know why,'' Rivers said, "but I was actually pulling for him [Manning] so hard late in that game. I just really like the way he plays. I like his demeanor, how he's stayed true to himself and hasn't let anyone change him.''
Rivers knows he'll have to cut down on his mistakes -- only Ryan Fitzpatrick (23) and Josh Freeman (22) had more interceptions than Rivers' 20 last year -- but when you watch him practice, you realize you can't take away his strength, which is his confidence in fitting balls into tight spaces. I saw him zip a pass past two defenders, right into Antonio Gates' hands, and that's not a rarity. "I can't change who I am,'' Rivers said. "But there were times I tried a little too hard last year. Pressed a little bit to make things happen. My objective this year is to throw completions instead of trying to make the difficult throws downfield so much.''
Rivers has to make do without Vincent Jackson, obviously, and without another young receiver he was just bonding with, Vincent Brown, until at least mid-October (broken ankle). But he has a healthy Gates back. The Chargers, and Rivers, will start their season of intrigue with the final Week 1 game Monday night at Oakland.
Yes, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are an upgrade over Whathisname and Whosthat at corner for Dallas, and Eli Manning will be held to fewer than 300 yards Wednesday night. But I don't like the condition of the Dallas pass catchers (and I don't know how effective Jason Witten will be even if he and his wounded spleen take the field), and I like the impact of David Wilson on this game. I wasn't crazy about the sameness of this matchup when the NFL announced it -- this is the third time in the last five regular season games they have met -- but, as usual, it's going to be a good game.
Thanks are in order for your generosity on the first day of the drive to help former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason accomplish his goal of building a residence for ALS patients in New Orleans. Your generosity is humbling. As of 10:30 this morning, you've donated $10,121, so we're on the way to my goal. I want to raise $50,000 toward the $750,000-$1 million needed to build the place, and if you can give $5 or $10 or $100, I'd be indebted. I'm running a half marathon, the Hamptons Half Marathon, on Sept. 29 on Long Island, and if I run it in less than 2 hours 20 minutes I'm donating $1,000 to the cause ... and if I'm slower or don't finish, I'll give a total of $2,000.
Thanks to those who have given, and thanks if you can give at some point in the next three weeks ... and thanks for your good wishes if you can't.
You sent in some great ideas for a new category for Monday Morning Quarterback, via Twitter and email. Some of those that I'll consider:
From @mgpreppy: Roster Churn of the Week. Players just signed off the street and playing a big part in a game.
From @rbratin: This Week in NFL History.
From @drmx3: Call of the Week. Dissecting a play call that turns out to be a turning point in a game.
From @six_dos: The Football Education Section. Some scheme or terminology and how it's being used by a team.
From @mjcusimano: Contract of the Week. Salary, incentives, bonuses, restrictions, covenants, etc. and analysis.
And one that's near and dear: The Dr. Z Unsung Lineman of the Week, from a few of you, including @MDay411.
Which leads me to a few email suggestions:
From Alan Riggs, of Swansea Ill.: "Maybe it is just because I miss Paul Zimmerman's regular contributions so much, but I would love to see the most underappreciated yet fundamental skill in the game get some love. How about 'Block of the Week'?
From Rick Krumel, of Mooresville, N.C.: "Man, I Wish I Could Have That Play Over!"
From Steve, of Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan: "Call me a softy, but I'm a huge fan of the feel-good stories in sports -- the Make-A-Wish kid getting to meet his sports hero, the wounded veteran who gets a new house thanks to the NFL, etc. The NFL and its players often make the news for boneheaded mistakes, but the good guys don't get the same credit for their actions off the field. How about highlighting, every week, a story where an NFL team or player does something for the community or an individual, without all the P.A. cameras there to catch it. I'm not a very creative guy, so how about Feel Good Story of the Week?"
From Mike Rosenberger, of Seattle: "Column suggestion: 'The Hidden Game.' Like many of your readers, I think I know a reasonable amount about pro football. But, honestly, there's so much I don't know. For example, what exactly is Dick LeBeau's zone blitz, as distinct from regular blitzes? I'd suggest you take a play from the preceding week, and really break it down.''
From Marty Mesher, of New York: "The new section that I would like to see would be a 'Where Are They Now' section. Being from New York, I would like to know what people like Joe Walton, Ray Handley, Rich Kotite, Wayne Chrebet, Johnny Mitchell are doing with their post-football life and I'm sure that there are interesting stories from all teams.''
From Paul Erickson, of Platteville, Wis.: "Behind the Personnel Decision' or something like that. Each week you can spotlight a decision and get the coach's, GM's and/or player's view. For instance, what did the Packers see in Graham Harrell that they are willing to keep him as the backup QB instead of signing a veteran?''
Thanks so much for those. I'll make a decision and let you know late this week what I'm going to do.
Now for some regular emails:
ON CONCUSSIONS IN FOOTBALL AND THE MILITARY.
I think they have been exchanging ideas since 2009, just not in an official capacity. The other day at West Point, Roger Goodell said he began talking with military leaders about the issue on his trip overseas to see the troops in 2009. Thanks or your service, and I hope both sides can learn something in this deal. I have a feeling it's going to be more valuable for NFL doctors and trainers, because of the amount of money and time that the Army has spent trying to improve headgear and concussion-related care for the troops.
IN DEFENSE OF PRESEASON FOOTBALL.
You should read the tweets and emails I get about the subject. I respect that what you're hearing is accurate, but I think the majority of fans who buy tickets feel put upon at paying the same price to see lesser players play as they do for big games during the season.
IF I COULD, I WOULD.
I had a choice when the story was told to me: Tell the story without providing which game it happened in, or which coach did the browbeating of the official, or don't tell it at all. I told it because I think it provided valuable information about a fairly important aspect of the new officials, or at least one of the new officials -- namely, that he could be intimidated into changing his call.
ON TRENDS IN 2012.
Good question, As I wrote in the SI NFL preview issue this week, one coordinator told me he is thinking of playing a third safety on first downs this year, particularly when his team is facing one that has a couple of strong receiving tight ends. I think you're onto something.