The Real Life Philip Rivers

As Philip Rivers retires, I do not want to talk football accolades or debate his Hall of Fame credentials. I'd rather describe the real person that he is and how special he is behind the scenes.

As the head team physician, I was lucky enough to be present in the 2004 draft room when the famous Eli Manning trade went down and the San Diego Chargers acquired Rivers. I have therefore known him since his first few moments with the team, and I have witnessed a unique side of him away from the public eye. When I left the team, he paid me the ultimate compliment, saying that I was more than a team doctor but "a Charger all the way." Our relationship continued to grow over the years, and his retirement didn't surprise me.

Here are the top five aspects of Rivers and his character that I want to share. I believe each one makes him truly special:

1. Football and family
This is what his life is about. Though his time in the NFL is over, these two pillars of his life will continue. I don't believe he will miss the NFL, as football will still be a big part of his life. Inside the team facilities, we all knew that this son of a high school coach would always want to coach high school football some day, and he will attack this new adventure with the same vigor as he did the NFL.

He is well known for his large family. He and his wife have nine kids, many of whom are home schooled. I remember one particular moment with Rivers that showed me just how good a father he is. Rivers came in for Saturday morning treatment with some of his kids in tow, and they were like soldier ducklings following quietly in order from large to small behind him. He came into the training room fidgeting and standing in an awkward way, with one foot on top of the other. I asked him if he was hurt or something was wrong, but he assured me he was fine. However, his daughters had painted his toenails red and he didn't want the guys to see it.

2. No swearing - it's not an act
Rivers is well known for using clean banter during games, causing some opponents to dislike him. John Lynch once asked me if "squeaky clean" Rivers is for real or an act, and I explained to him he couldn't be more authentic. One time, the boys in the locker room were giving him some grief about using a four-letter word during the game the night before. His teammates were just teasing him since he certainly would never drop the "F-bomb." I was brought in as a neutral "witness" for the "kangaroo court," and I honestly thought I heard him say "sh*t." Rivers vehemently denied it, saying he said "shoot." In fact, it bothered Rivers enough that throughout the day, he texted me three separate times saying I misheard him. We even recounted that episode on my podcast last year, where he still denied saying it.

My Twitter header picture is of the two of us walking to the locker room during the last game ever in the RCA Dome in 2007. Rivers had torn his ACL and was rumored to be cursing at fans. The truth was the fans yelled expletives at us, but all Rivers shouted back was, "Don't you worry, I'll be back."

3. ACL tear and 240-game streak
Yes, Rivers played in the 2008 AFC Championship Game six days after knee surgery on a torn ACL. On the way back from the victory over the Colts, he demanded we do everything we could to allow him to play the following week. We had a knee MRI set up that night at my office as soon as we landed late Sunday evening. As we returned to the Chargers facility, a crowd of several thousand fans gathered to welcome the team, and one bus at a time pulled up to allow a "red carpet" walk for the fans. The first player bus (third in line) was held back up the hill so that one bus could unload at a time. If the throng of fans had but turned around at this moment, they would have seen a determined Rivers get off the bus with his bags and limp straight to the parking area to go get his MRI as soon as possible.

I later suggested to the young Rivers that we do the right thing and not risk his knee long term for short-term gain. He said he wanted to take the chance since "you never know when one might get another chance to play to go to the Super Bowl." It turned out to be his only Championship Game.

To the surprise of no one, he returned to practice a record 100 days after ACL surgery and went on to a career high quarterback rating of 105.5 the following season, thanks to his hard work at rehab. Throughout his career, he played through many other undisclosed injuries, including multiple rib fractures, foot injuries, knee injuries, back issues and more to set the consecutive regular season games started streak at 240. He literally started every game for 15 years. 

4. Loyalty to fans and the city
When the Chargers decided to leave San Diego for greener pastures in Los Angeles, Rivers kept his family in town and commuted. He customized an SUV to serve as his mobile film room to study tape as he was driven daily in traffic. More importantly, he made overtures to reach out and connect with the old city after the difficult departure, and he did so all on his own. At a 2019 San Diego awards dinner, years after the team moved, he insisted on attending the dinner in person and gave an amazing and heartfelt speech that I doubt anyone, especially San Diegans, can watch without swelling up with emotion. He even remained loyal to his main San Diego Chargers beat reporter and allowed Kevin Acee to break the story of his retirement yesterday. 

5. Going above and beyond

I have one final story that shows what kind of guy he is. In 2018, Rivers texted me out of the blue and said, "10 years ago today ACL...thanks for taking care of me... then and many other times." He is the only player ever to remark upon a surgery anniversary like that. This message was unprompted and heartfelt. I have heard other similar anecdotes of his kindness, but such stories are not mine to tell. The ones given here are mine.

Rivers is a Hall of Famer in life, and I can't wait to see him inducted into Canton. Enjoy retirement, Philip. You deserve it. I know you'll never stop enjoying football and family.

Written by
David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.