People want to know if Philip Rivers makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I tell them he just did.
How? He retired.
OK, so that happens annually to dozens of pro athletes. But not like this; not the way it happened with Philip Rivers. Because when he made his decision Wednesday after 17 years of quarterbacking in the NFL, we didn’t find out through ESPN, FOX or the NFL Network. Nor did it come via a prepared statement from an agent.
Nope, this one came straight from Philip Rivers and through the unlikeliest of sources: A beat reporter for a newspaper that no longer covered him.
That would be Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who followed Rivers and the Chargers for over a decade (2005-16), watching all his games -- first, as the paper’s beat reporter and, later, as a columnist. During that time, he and the Chargers’ quarterback forged a strong friendship, with Acee – who now covers the Padres for U-T – saying that Rivers “taught me football on a new level.”
Yet it wasn’t what Rivers did on the football field that impressed him most. It was what he did off it, with Acee gaining so much trust from one of the game’s most productive quarterbacks that Rivers seldom ducked a call or text. In fact, Acee said he can recall only once in the hundreds of communications he had with Rivers where the quarterback didn’t respond.
And that was when he tore his ACL in a 2007 playoff game vs. Indianapolis.
The severity of the injury wasn’t revealed and wasn’t known – until, that is, Acee broke the story the Friday prior to the Chargers’ conference championship game vs. then-undefeated New England. Rivers denied the report then, telling the network crew broadcasting the game that it wasn’t true.
Except it was.
Nevertheless, he played. The Chargers lost. And he apologized.
“He said, “I didn’t want them to know I was hurt,’ ” said Acee. “I had no problem with it.”
Fast-forward to Tuesday night when Acee was home. He had just settled into a couch when Rivers telephoned. It wasn’t unusual. The two spoke often, so Acee had no idea what was on his mind. And when Rivers started talking, he really didn’t know. The first five minutes of the conversation, he said, was all about the Padres and how they might do this season.
“But I knew what was coming,” he admitted.
Rivers told him he was going to retire, and he wanted Acee to write the story.
“The funny thing,” said Acee, “is that he’s the one that started talking about it. I didn’t ask him about it. We never talked about it. But I knew he was going to let me break the story.”
And he did.
The agreement was that the Union-Tribune would run the story on its website Wednesday morning, 30 minutes in advance of Rivers announcing it publicly. Acee agreed. He knew what Rivers was doing and so did Rivers: Rewarding the beat reporter who followed him for years on football fields, in locker rooms and across parking lots and saving one last bow to the city that cheered him before he was uprooted with the Chargers in 2017.
“It was important for him for the hometown paper to have it first,” Acee said. “It was out of his affection for San Diego.”
The gesture was not uncommon for Rivers, still one of San Diego’s most adored sports stars four years after the Chargers left for L.A. And the response was predictable. According to Jay Posner, sports editor at the Union-Tribune, the story drew a “massive” audience on its website Wednesday.
“This will be one of the biggest stories we have on the website all year,” he said.
As it should be. San Diego fans took care of Rivers and the Chargers. And, in the end, Rivers took care of them – telling the people of San Diego first that he was quitting.
“Big credit to Philip,” said Acee. “He is a rare dude.”
The question now is: What happens next, with some persons forecasting a broadcast career. It makes sense. He’s glib. He’s honest. And he’s homespun. But Acee doesn’t see how it happens, and neither do I. Because Rivers’ next stop will be local, too. He plans to coach high-school football.
His Dad coached him there, and maybe, just maybe, he coaches his sons there, too.
“His number-one goal was always to be an NFL quarterback,” said Acee. “But 1-A was coaching high-school football.”
That’s unusual. But so is Philip Rivers. Maybe he never makes it to Canton, I don’t know. And, frankly, it really doesn’t matter. What does it that Philip Rivers just gave us a glimpse into what makes him a Hall-of-Fame individual, and it’s a moment football fans everywhere should treasure.