Philip Rivers has decided to hang it up after 17 NFL seasons, 16 with the Chargers and this past campaign with the Colts. And there is no doubt that, a decade from now, we'll see photos of the quarterback from the 2020 season and be all, "Oh yeah, I remember that one year when Philip played in Indy." Happens with a lot of quarterbacks, even the greats.
I was in the camp rooting for Rivers to make his first Super Bowl appearance this season. He's been one of my favorite players in the NFL for quite a while. His good-natured trash talking would have made him a perfect wrestling foil. And really, I'll always assert that if the 2004 NFL Draft had played out differently and Rivers had stuck with the New York Giants (or landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers), he'd have multiple rings and we'd be talking about him among the best of the best.
Instead, he lands on a different list: The best quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl. A dubious distinction. Kind of like being the only one of your friends to grow up without an NES. (Not me -- mom was a gamer.)
So where does Rivers land in the realm of the ringless? Let's count it down, starting with the underappreciated signal-caller who was the toughest omission from my top 10 ...
Just missed: Ken Anderson was a damn good quarterback. The 16-year Bengal led the NFL in passing yards in 1974 and '75 with Bill Walsh as Cincinnati's quarterbacks coach. Anderson's best season came in 1981, when he was named NFL MVP and led Cincy to the first of their two Super Bowl appearances -- before losing, of course, to Walsh's 49ers. So he earns honorary mention in this article.
10) Jim Everett
Surprised seeing this name on the list? Don't disrespect it -- I'll throw hands on this one. Like Ken Anderson, Everett was a damn good quarterback people need to appreciate more. He led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1988 (31) and '89 (29). His 1989 Rams were just one of two teams to beat the 49ers that season -- and L.A. nearly defeated San Francisco twice in the regular season, but the Rams' defense faltered. And while I'm spitting truth here ... If the Rams would have kept Everett and Eric Dickerson together -- ED was traded during Everett's first full season as a starter in 1987 -- the Rams could have forged a dynasty.
9) Michael Vick
I'll just come right out and say this: Vick was one of the best quarterbacks I've ever seen. I know he is a polarizing figure to some people. That's fine and understandable. But honestly, Vick was one of the biggest game-changers and most exciting athletes I've ever seen in my life. I mean, this goes beyond Madden 04. Vick was the first visiting quarterback to win a playoff game at Lambeau. (Yes, I roasted Packers fans for years.) And while his career is littered with "what ifs" -- on and off the field, obviously -- I really do wonder how much different Vick's NFL tenure would have been if he'd spent the entirety of it with Andy Reid.
8) Steve McNair
Coming out of Alcorn State, "Air McNair" was a somewhat-controversial pick when the then-Houston Oilers took him third overall in the 1995 NFL Draft. He became one of the best quarterbacks of his era. McNair not only guided the 1999 Titans to the Super Bowl -- where they memorably lost by the length of a yard -- but also led Baltimore to a 13-3 record in 2006. (Those Ravens were eliminated in the Divisional Round by the eventual Super Bowl champion Colts.)
7) Dan Fouts
When adjusted for era, Fouts is easily one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. Playing in Don Coryell's high-flying offense, Fouts eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1981 -- and that was when 4,000 passing yards actually meant something. (Defense was allowed to be a little more, um, defensive in that time.) The Chargers lost back-to-back AFC Championship Games in the 1980 and '81 campaigns. Tough to figure which was harder to deal with: The home loss to the wild-card (and hated) Raiders or the "Freezer Bowl" defeat in Cincinnati (a game that was calculated to have wind chills of minus-59 degrees, and occurred one week after the Chargers' Divisional Round win in balmy Miami).
6) Warren Moon
Moon passed for nearly 50,000 yards during his NFL career -- a rather remarkable feat, considering he spent the first six years of his professional career playing in the Canadian Football League. He did win five straight Grey Cups, which is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, he never came close to a Super Bowl in the NFL. His Oilers failed to make an AFC Championship Game. In fact, you know that crazy wild-card game where Frank Reich rallied the Bills back from a 32-point deficit to beat Houston? Yep, that was against Moon.
5) Philip Rivers
This seems like an appropriate spot for Rivers. Some old-head Chargers fans might take issue with Rivers being ahead of their guy Fouts, but let's take a moment to remember that Dan played under Don Coryell -- one of the greatest and most innovative coaches in NFL history. Rivers had Norv Turner in his life for too long. Of course, it was the final year of the Marty Schottenheimer era when Rivers missed his best chance at a Super Bowl title. The 14-2 Chargers had the Patriots on the ropes in the Divisional Round. If Marlon McCree had just gone to the ground after he intercepted Tom Brady in the fourth quarter, Rivers wouldn't be on this list. Because, yes, I say the Chargers would have whipped the Colts the following week and went on to win it all. Even though Rivers got to the 2007 AFC Championship Game -- where he lost to the Patriots while playing with a torn ACL -- that 2006 season was truly the closest Rivers ever got to a ring.
4) Fran Tarkenton
Tarkenton retired with every major passing record, including yards (47,003), touchdowns (342) and also interceptions (266). But he was one of the best scrambling quarterbacks of his era, too. Think of a 1970s Russell Wilson, if you will (though Russ has that ring). Tarkenton was also ahead of his time, too, in that he led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances -- and lost them all. A decade-and-a-half before Jim Kelly's 0-for-4.
3) Randall Cunningham
If I could transport one player from the past into today's NFL, it'd be Cunningham. Not just a dual-threat quarterback, the dude was an All-American punter at UNLV, too. His Eagles teams were spectacularly watchable. The torn ACL in Week 1 of the 1991 season was an absolute crusher. While he was known for his running, Cunningham had just posted 30 touchdown passes in 1990 and was on the cusp of becoming the league's best QB. The injury really hurt his career arc, but he also famously had a great second act, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 1998 while leading the Vikings to a 15-1 record. Unfortunately, that team fell in the NFC Championship Game following Gary Anderson's first missed field goal attempt of the season.
2) Jim Kelly
Well, it's not like he didn't have his chances. Dude went to four consecutive Super Bowls. FOUR CONSECUTIVE. Think about how dominant the Brady/Belichick Patriots were -- not even New England made it to four straight Super Bowl Sundays. But Kelly did that with the Bills. And he was running the K-Gun, one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. It's just crazy to think Buffalo didn't win a Lombardi Trophy during that stretch.
1) Dan Marino
Not much suspense here with this one. Marino made the Super Bowl during his second season, after setting an NFL record with 5,084 passing yards in 1984. Watching Marino throw for 5,000 yards back then would be the equivalent of watching Matthew Stafford eclipse 7,500 in the modern NFL. He also tossed 48 touchdown passes in '84, the most in NFL history at that time. Those two records lasted for 20-plus seasons. Everyone assumed Marino would be in (and win) multiple Super Bowls. But his Dolphins were taken out by the Patriots in the 1985 AFC Championship Game, and Marino made just one AFC title game after that.