INDIANAPOLIS – Only time will tell whether 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers retains the physical skills to win in the NFL this season.
But the Indianapolis Colts already are counting on Rivers’ intangibles making a difference on and off the field.
For all the animated on-field celebrations that became a hallmark of the quarterback’s time with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers, he’s well respected by teammates and coaches for his work ethic, leadership and competitive drive.
“I’m really excited for our fan base to get to know Phil as a player and as a person,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said in a hype video released by the team. “He’s a team player first.”
That view was shared by a selection of former teammates interviewed by The Athletic’s Daniel Popper for an article headlined “The Legend of Philip Rivers: Tales from an epic Chargers career” last month.
Among the players sharing their opinions was Nick Hardwick, a former star center at Purdue and Lawrence North who played for the Chargers from 2004-14.
“When it comes to leadership and when it comes to following somebody, and you’ve got a bunch of alpha males in the locker room and everybody is kind of the top dog, you naturally follow the guy who cares the most,” Hardwick told Popper. “And Philip unquestionably cares the most.”
That’s one of two sentiments that came through loud and clear from Rivers’ first conference call with local media Saturday. The other is just how excited he is to be a part of what’s being built in Indianapolis.
There was the requisite time spent on his connection with Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and tight ends coach Jason Michael – each of whom spent time with Rivers in San Diego – and a healthy appreciation for the Colts’ offensive line and the benefits of playing behind it.
But Rivers went deeper than that.
His relationship with Indianapolis fans could best be described as rocky since at least the 2008 AFC Divisional Playoffs when the quarterback punctuated a 28-24 upset victory and a contentious day with the crowd by verbally firing back at Colts fans behind the visitors’ bench in the old RCA Dome.
Still, Rivers professes to have been an admirer of the franchise for quite some time.
“I think you have a heck of a football team,” he said. “We played them last year in the opener, and it was a heck of a game. I certainly have respected the organization from afar for a long time – way back, way back many, many years.”
That respect has only grown in the past few seasons with general manager Chris Ballard in charge. Rivers sees Indianapolis as a team on the verge of great success, and he’s ecstatic for the chance to be a part of it.
He also made it clear he’s here to fit in.
Rivers isn’t looking at himself as some kind of savior, ready to ride in on a white horse and win the day.
He wants to meld into the locker room as quickly as possible and work to build trust and respect with his new teammates. Rivers is focused on building the chemistry to the point where it doesn’t feel like his first day the first time he steps in to command the huddle.
He already has reached out to a few teammates by text, and he’s working to talk with as many of them as possible before the Colts come together whenever the offseason training program might start.
“I think that camaraderie is huge,” Rivers said. “It’s really my favorite part of this game is being a teammate, and I really try to focus on not losing that as I’ve gotten older and there are 22, 21, 23, 24 and 25-year-olds in that locker room.
“I know it’s a young team with the Colts, as well, for the most part. I love being a teammate. I want to be one of the guys. That’s important to me for them to know that right off the bat.”
That’s the player Reich came to know well with the Chargers and the one he can’t wait to introduce at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Even last season, when the Chargers slid to 5-11 and Rivers finished third in the league with 20 interceptions, he played the game with a child-like wonder.
This is a quarterback who loves what he does, and it’s evident in every part of his game – from practice habits to game day mentality.
That is something that doesn’t seem to have been dulled by age.
“Philip just brings a passion,” Reich said. “Our fans get excited. When they step into Lucas Oil and we get things rocking and rolling, you’ll know he’s on the field. Just both from the way he plays, but you’ll feel his presence on the sideline, into the game, and I think the fans’ll feed off of that.”