Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers Rivalry Coming Full Circle

The careers of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are connected at the roots. They started as rivals competing for the same pro job in 2004. Now, as the 39-year-old Brees and 37-year-old Rivers enter the final stretch of illustrious careers, both men remain elite quarterbacks with a chance to advance to Conference Championships.

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

Rivers will lead the Los Angeles Chargers against the New England Patriots on Saturday in an AFC Divisional playoff battle. Brees faces the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in an NFC matchup.

Both squads are a daunting two games away from a face-to-face meeting in the Super Bowl. Individually, they have cemented themselves as future Canton inductees. Together, they rank among the greatest starter-backup quarterback combinations in history. Up there with Montana and Young or Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Advancing to the AFC Championship Game would be a first for Rivers, who is 0-7 in his career against Tom Brady. Brady is known as “The Impenetrable Wall” to most AFC quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning over the past 15 years.

Brees went to two Conference Championships and won a SuperBowl in his first four years with the Saints, but is eager to get back for the first time in nine seasons.

Things have worked out for both quarterbacks. 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 is yet to descend. 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 to sign with the Saints as a free agent in 2006.

https://youtu.be/_djZdxN1mCI

Getting hurt was the best thing for Brees. It facilitated Brees’ 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 13 seasons and he’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in 10 of them. In his first season as starter the Chargers 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. Until this season. 

That’s why the NFL world is pulling for a guy who is considered one of the all-time villains at the quarterback position, to finally become a Super Bowl champion and stamp his rightful place among the greats. 

Both quarterbacks can be considered all-time greats. Both currently sit in the Top 10 all-time in passes completed, passes attempted, passing yardage, passer rating and passing TDs.

Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards five times and had one of his finest seasons, becoming the all-time leading passer in NFL history. As usual, his stats were off the charts. More importantly the Saints won 13 games for the first time since 2011. 

Rivers has started all 212 of the Chargers’ regular season games since taking over in 2006. He will most likely have to take down two powerhouses in the Patriots and Kansas City to win his first ring. Brees has started all but three of Saints’ games in that span, including the Super Bowl in which he won a ring and an MVP award.

If the Saints and Chargers can push through to the Super Bowl, the intertwined football journey of these quarterbacks will have come full circle. One last gentleman’s battle to send these aging superstars out the same way they came in; competing with each other for a top spot.

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.