Major League Baseball's All-Stars are gathered in San Diego this week to celebrate the best of the best. Given that the Padres are well on their way to a 10th consecutive playoff-free season while the Chargers are fresh off a miserable, four-win campaign -- and facing potential relocation -- it's nice for the great fans in San Diego to be treated to a non-depressing display of sport (see: Giancarlo Stanton's unbelievable showing in Monday night's Home Run Derby). Nice for those folks to have something to cheer about.
After all, in the wake of the Cavaliers snapping Cleveland's interminable title drought, The San Diego Union-Tribune's Michael Gehlken identified this city as the new American symbol of sports futility:
OK, Rivers is one of the wackiest candidates on the greatness scale that we've seen. But I strongly believe he is just that: a truly great quarterback, one worthy of a bronze bust in Canton.
You can argue that Rivers has never been a top-two quarterback in his own conference. You can argue that Rivers is the third-most Hall-worthy quarterback in the 2004 draft class. Even if those statements are valid, I argue that, if you judge Rivers solely against Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and the Manning brothers, you're missing the entire thing. Just like if you judge Rivers solely on the stats.
Not that the numbers don't paint a rose-colored picture. Remember, Rivers sat on the pine behind Drew Brees for his first two professional seasons, so some of his counting stats trail those of his draft classmates, Big Ben and Eli. But do you realize Rivers has a higher completion percentage (64.8) than both of them? He also has more passing yards per game (252.7). His career TD-to-INT rate (281:135) is superior to those of Roethlisberger (272:147) and Manning (294:199). Oh, and if you believe in the passer rating, Rivers boasts the best mark there, as well (95.5).
Numbers aside, though, Philip Rivers passes the eyeball test of greatness. You've seen it through the years, with the way Rivers has played. He has won games, carried flawed Chargers teams and defenses. Rivers has maximized pedestrian receivers and spotty lines. Don't forget: He spent six years of his prime getting Norved. (Look it up. It's a verb. Norv-ed (v) -- The act of a team underachieving due to Norv Turner being the head coach.)
Of course, Eli and Ben each have a pair of Super Bowl rings. Manning is 8-3 in the playoffs and Roethlisberger is 11-6 (as compared to Rivers' 4-5 postseason mark). Those two deserve plenty of credit. No doubt about it. But I'm not going to take away from Rivers' career because the Chargers had playoff injuries, they had other stars who underachieved and they happened to run into Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- clearly two of the best quarterbacks of all time. I'm not going to downgrade Rivers because of their genius.
Last month, I had Rivers on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," for a wide-ranging interview. I asked him about his legacy and if he is overshadowed. Rivers immediately formed that familiar smile on his face.
"I don't know. Those guys you mention are worthy of receiving the recognition they've gotten," Rivers said. "You mention the AFC quarterbacks, and Brady and Peyton and what they've done over the years. And then the career Drew [Brees] has had, and Aaron Rodgers, who is probably the best in the game right now. And then you mention the guys in our draft class. I mean, Eli and Ben, they've both been to a couple of Super Bowls, won them. I don't think that it's been overshadowed. I feel like I've had a successful career thus far, and hopefully it is going to continue to be better and better."
OK, but honestly, Phil -- what about that elusive ring?
"My happiness is not going to be driven solely on whether we win a Super Bowl or not," Rivers said. "I want to win one so bad for our city and our team, but I'm not going to be a miserable person if we don't. Let's compete like crazy and see what happens down the home stretch."
Well ... I'll be the one to tell him: It's not going to happen. This will lead some people to question Rivers' legacy. Not me. And maybe that's what moves me to write this column in July of 2016, heading toward what could be another trying season in S.D.
It would take a miracle for the Chargers to even make the playoffs this year. The Raiders, Chiefs and defending-champion Broncos are all better. Not to mention what the rest of the AFC looks like. San Diego did Rivers no favors by eschewing a franchise left tackle with the third overall pick (instead taking defensive end Joey Bosa). Last year felt like a funeral for the Chargers in San Diego, with a move feeling inevitable. Well, that hasn't happened -- yet. For now, there's no closure. And oh, by the way, Mike McCoy's seat is blistering hot.
Rivers has no offensive line right now and might not have the same coach or city next year. Roethlisberger doesn't have such issues.
Rivers, 34, has four years left on his current deal. I expect him to individually play fabulously and maximize the "talent" around him, like always. And like always, he will watch the Super Bowl from home. He will watch other greats cement their legacies in the eyes of many football fans.
Bottom line: I love watching Philip Rivers play football. His QB contemporaries -- boasting enviable playoff success -- make Rivers underappreciated. But big picture, Rivers' greatness should never be underrated.