Philip Rivers has enjoyed a remarkable career in the NFL, especially considering his highly unorthodox, shot-put-esque throwing technique. Before he was a household name on a path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Rivers was on the radar of then-Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville (who may be elected to the U.S. Senate come Tuesday night). As told by Colts reporter Zak Keefer in a sprawling profile spanning most of Rivers’ career, Tuberville drove four hours cross-state to watch the high-school prodigy play in his native Athens, Alabama.
With Tuberville in attendance, you would expect Rivers to air it out, peppering the defense with deep shots and other downfield heroics. Instead, Athens (coached by Rivers’ father, Steve) opted for a run-heavy scheme as Rivers spent much of his night handing off to his running back, because it seemed to be working. Rivers was held to single-digit passing attempts in the winning effort, missing a golden opportunity to impress one of the most esteemed coaches in college football, but it didn’t bother him in the slightest.
Later, Auburn offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone pitched Rivers on playing for his dream school, but with one catch—the Tigers didn’t want him at quarterback. Auburn already had a stud in Jason Campbell and Mazzone wasn’t sold on Rivers as a passer, casting skepticism on his odd throwing mechanics. However, Mazzone thought the 6’5” Rivers, who dabbled at other positions including safety and linebacker in high school (he also returned kicks, if you can believe it), would be a strong fit at tight end.
Predictably, Rivers wanted none of that, electing to play at NC State, where he started at his preferred position of quarterback as a true freshman. As fate would have it, Rivers and Mazzone’s paths would cross again with Mazzone eventually leaving Auburn to become the offensive coordinator at NC State. According to Keefer, Rivers was nowhere to be found at Mazzone’s first practice. After a brief search, Mazzone finally located Rivers, who was donning a No. 86 jersey and going through drills with the team’s other tight ends. When asked what he was doing, Rivers responded, “I thought you said I was supposed to play tight end in college.”
The setup to that joke took four years, but Rivers’ execution was flawless. Zeefer’s article includes a wealth of other great tidbits and anecdotes on Rivers, including the time he played through a torn ACL in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, his remarkable aversion to swearing (a former coach who’s known Rivers most his life claims he’s never heard him cuss) and why Wednesday is his favorite day of the week. The 38-year-old has played well in his debut season with Indianapolis (which came after a 16-year stint with the Chargers), completing a career-high 69.7 percent of his throws for the 4-2 Colts, who return from their Week 7 bye to face the Lions Sunday in the Motor City.