Drew Brees & Phillip Rivers: From Young Gun Rivals To NFL Quarterback Idols

The careers of 42-year-old Drew Brees and Philip Rivers,39, are winding down. Rivers announced his retirement intentions on Wednesday.

Most informed football experts expect Brees to announce his shortly, bringing an end to the careers of two all-time NFL statistical kings.

From Rivals To Idols 

The careers of these two pigskin pushers are connected at the roots, launching as rivals competing for the same pro job in 2004. Last weekend, they both finished brilliant careers with losses in the Divisional playoffs in 2020.

Brees was sent home last Sunday, by Tom Brady in the two legendary quarterbacks’ first and last meeting ever.

Overall, Brees went to two Conference Championships and won a Super Bowl in his first four years with the Saints, but could never get back. Statistically, he ranks as the GOAT

With two legendary careers in tow, it’s safe to say that things have worked out for both quarterbacks since they were young guns battling for the San Diego Chargers starting job 

Brees graduated from Purdue and joined the Chargers in 2001, coming off a putrid 1-15 season. The diminutive QB took over in 2002 and by 2004 the Chargers were a 12-win team for the first time since 1979.

Despite Brees’ rising success, the Chargers acquired the No. 4 overall pick Rivers in a 2004 draft-day trade. The N.C. State product rode the pine for two full seasons behind Brees. The quarterbacks developed a bond of mutual respect, choosing to take the high road rather than engage in media-driven combativeness.

“From the moment I was around Philip, you realized he was going to be a very good player, and he was going to be around for a long time,” Brees said in an October usatoday.com article.“I like to think that for those two years, we brought out the best in each other. It was a great learning experience for both of us. I think we both got a lot better as a result of it. But from the very beginning, you knew that he’s got a mind for this game. He’s a student of the game. He’s highly competitive, and just makes plays. Look at the length of time that he’s been able to do it, in one place with a lot of different faces around him over the years.”

The consensus opinion was that Brees was just babysitting the starting position for the 6-foot-5, rifle-armed Rivers, who was considered the franchise’s future. In the last game of the 2005 season, a twist of fate settled the QB controversy and set both of their careers on an upward trajectory that ascended to incredible heights.  

Brees suffered a dislocated right shoulder joint and a tear of the labrum and rotator cuff. Nine months later, he turned down a 5-year $50 million deal (with little guaranteed money) and left LA to sign with the Saints as a free agent in 2006.

SILVER LINING

Getting hurt was the best thing for Brees. It facilitated his move to the Saints and Sean Payton and we know what kind of explosive offensive impact that duo has had on the NFL. 

“In those first two years, I enjoyed working with him and competing,” Rivers said. “It worked out well for him. Shoot, he’s had one heck of a run in New Orleans and won a championship. I’ve been able to have some longevity here with the Chargers. It is unique. Drew and I have always kept in touch. I have always pulled for him from afar.”

The Chargers became Rivers’ team for the next 15 seasons and he’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in 12 of them. In his first season as the starter, San Diego went 14-2 and Rivers took them to the Divisional Playoffs. It was a great start to his career, but subsequent Chargers teams would never be as good.  

Rivers, 39, played 16 seasons with the San Diego and his final season with the Colts. He ranks fifth on the all-time passing list with 63,440 passing yards and 421 TD passes.

His one year with the Colts can be considered a success. Rivers led them to an 11-5 regular-season record, before losing a 27-24 nailbiter to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round.

According to ESPN analyst Domonique Foxworth, Rivers is one of the “all-time trash talkers in the game.” His ability to curse out competitors, without actually using profanity is legendary. Rivers’ non-stop verbal assaults on defenders and his unorthodox delivery and consistent success are something that Foxworth says, “as a defender, I will not miss one bit.”

Rivers never won a Super Bowl or even advanced to the AFC Championship Game, but proponents of the future Hall of Famer will tell you that his inability to win the big one can be attributed to Tom Brady and the Patriots, who he never beat (0-7 in his career against Tom Brady). Before Patrick Mahomes stormed the scene, Brady was known as “The Impenetrable Wall” to most AFC quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning, during the last 15 seasons.

Brees is already considered HOF worthy. I personally feel that Rivers is deserving, but his lack of hardware leaves some wiggle room for debate.

The intertwined NFL journeys of these elite quarterbacks have come full circle. They began as rivals, battling for the same space. Now, they both come to the end of illustrious careers, with minimal regrets. Two prolific gunslingers and representatives of the fading pocket passer era, content with the decisions they made and the fate that the football Gods have dispensed. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.