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Philip Rivers Is as Fired Up as Ever for as Long as He's in Indianapolis

The long-time Chargers QB talks about his new situation on the Colts, having his next job lined up and how much longer he wants to play. Plus, who's getting a big contract next, scouting reports on college players opting out and concerns about Matthew Stafford's COVID-19 tests.

Philip Rivers has been looking forward to actually putting on the pads and being a Colt for months now. With that coming in the next few weeks, he can say that, for the most part, Indianapolis has lived up to all his expectations. But he’s also bracing for one notable exception that, for sure, is coming.

The team’s first home game is Sept. 20. It won’t be what he was hoping for.

“I have to admit I was excited about that,” he said, late Wednesday morning. “I was personally excited about a packed Lucas Oil Stadium, having that environment again. Because that environment existed in the old days in San Diego, and the last three years, it didn’t exist at all in L.A. So I was excited about that.”

And then, he stopped—and acknowledged the reality of 2020, and how this fits into it.

“But so what?” Rivers continued, now getting fiery. “What are you gonna let that do? You gonna let that make you say, Oh man, what in the world is this? No! I’m fired up, because you love to play. I do love to play. If they said ‘We’re gonna play in the backyard and nobody’s coming,’ would you still want to play? Heck yeah. That’s the way I grew up.”

Rivers turns 39 in December and, even with changing norms in how NFL quarterbacks age, he knows that plenty of people thought his split with the Chargers in January, after 16 years together, would lead to the end of an illustrious career in pro football.

He had other ideas. Signed to a one-year, $25 million deal in March, Rivers enters his 17th NFL summer in a new place for the first time since he was a rookie. As for his desires, well, he wanted to keep playing badly enough to uproot his family of 11 from the Gulf Coast (where they were after the break from the Chargers) to suburban Indiana, and he’s been willing to keep going through unprecedented circumstances.

He knows his time in Indy, and the NFL, is limited. He’s prepared for the next stop in life, more so than almost any pro athlete could be.

But the fact that he’s gotten older and has his post-career ducks in a row hasn’t made Rivers’s flame flicker. That much was clear on Wednesday.

In fact, it sounded like Rivers would play in the Lucas Oil parking lot if it came to that.

***

So now we’re into the walkthrough phase of training camp. Practice—actual practice (in shorts, but still)—starts next week. We’re getting there. And to get you ready, in this week’s GamePlan …

• We’ll give you the next set of names due for big contracts.

• We’ll give you scouting reports on opt-out stars from Minnesota and Penn State.

• We’ll examine the Matthew Stafford situation and what it means for the NFL.

But we’re starting with the Colts’ brand-new quarterback, who happens to be a relatively old quarterback.

***

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Really, all of the above related to the first question I had for Rivers: Why do this?

Rivers has made eight Pro Bowls and over $200 million as a football player, just went through a tumultuous end to his time as a Charger, moved his wife and nine kids closer to his native Alabama, and even got his next job, as a high school football coach, lined up and ready to go. Most people would add all that up, along with the pandemic, and probably think to themselves that whatever the season ahead looks like wouldn’t be worth the aggravation.

But to Rivers, it is.

“I think in the purest form, there’s still that love of the game, and I love to compete,” he said. “And this new opportunity at this point of my career, that’s it in its simplest form.”

So amid everything around him changing, there Rivers was in April, logging into Zoom meetings with his new coaches and teammates. There he was later in the spring, after moving to town on June 1, finding fields for casual throwing sessions with the guys who happen to live locally. There he was at the end of June organizing a minicamp at Grand Park, the complex north of town where the Colts, in a normal year, would hold camp.

And there he’ll be in a (probably) empty Lucas Oil Stadium in September, making another run at a title with a whole new set of teammates.

Over a half hour or so, he and I caught up on everything associated with all that’s coming, and more. Rivers—always one of the best guys in the league to talk to—was amped up, as usual, which allowed us to cover plenty of ground and jump around to bunch of different topics.

Opting out was a non-starter for Rivers. The new Colts quarterback, addressing COVID-19, sounded like a lot of the rest of us. He’s still trying to figure it out, and trying to adjust his life, both at home and at work, to be as efficient as he can be without being reckless with what’s happening in the world.

That said, he told me opting out, and pushing pause on the final phase of his career, was never really something he considered.

“I really didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t even get close to that, really, to be honest with you. I think the pause button at this point, voluntarily pushing it, for me, would’ve been the end. Now, if something crazy happens here and the season doesn’t finish, I don’t think I’ll completely just say, ‘That’s it, obviously.’ We’ll see what happens. But I felt like if I said, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna take the year,’ that would be the end. So I never really got there.”

That said, he did acknowledge, with nine children at home, he’ll need to be cognizant of everything around him the next few months. “Yeah, there are a lot of us in the house, all the moving parts. The biggest challenge and one that is a little bit selfish, but it’s also for the team, golly, I’m gonna be sick if I have a positive test on a Friday of a game week, and you feel fine but you can’t go because of something you did. So you’re careful in that regard.”

Indy felt like home quickly. And Rivers knew it would. He was with head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirriani and tight ends coach Jason Michael in San Diego, which has made taking the wheel of his new offense, in certain ways, like riding a bike for the quarterback.

In fact, Reich and Sirriani were part of a Charger braintrust in 2013—one that also included Mike McCoy, Ken Whisenhunt and Shane Steichen—that pieced together the offense from different parts that Rivers operated the last seven years. When Reich got to Indy in 2018, he did change some terminology. But the bones of the offense, which meshed what Rivers had done with the background of all those coaches, are the same.

“The scheme, is very, very, very similar, I’d say 80%, at least,” Rivers said. “But the terminology has been tweaked, which, in some ways, is really good. Like you said, you get so used to things. This is one of the first offseasons in a while, where—and you always work on your game—but it was like, ‘Man, I was studying the drawings and the play sheets. Normally, I’m just working on a fundamental here or there, or trying to find a new wrinkle.

“That was good for me, just because it was similar concepts, I was relearning them with a new terminology, and then hammering home all the reads and how we did it. So being in a different environment, but with the same offense, it’s a new challenge. It’s reinvigorating.”

And while Reich is key to that, so too is Sirriani. The two were very close in San Diego (Rivers is actually just six months younger than Sirriani), so that’s a factor. Another, believe it or not, is that Sirriani’s experience as the Chargers receivers coach (2016-17), maybe even more so than his time as the team’s quarterbacks coach (2014-15). Which has actually led to some tape that Rivers is pretty familiar with being shown in meetings.

“The way that the receivers have been taught to run routes, all the little nuances of the pass game, now that [Sirriani] has been here is exactly the same as I’m used to being taught,” Rivers said. “So yeah, there’s cutups of Chargers on there, because that’s stuff we have, it’s part of it, Colts running it, Chargers running it. So that’s a part of us watching it.”