Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | They come to work every day wanting the same job. These are two competitive guys accustomed to achieving what they set their sights on. In their business, No. 2 isn’t something to accept for long.

At this time a year ago, Drew Brees was a struggling Chargers quarterback expected to be replaced by Philip Rivers, the first-round draft pick acquired by San Diego. They went through offseason workouts and training camp competing for the starting job under the glare of constant media questions. But Brees won the job and led the Chargers to the AFC West title while also making his first Pro Bowl.

The Brees/Rivers competition is about to enter its second year, with the Chargers having wrapped up mini camp Sunday and the start of training camp set for July 26 at Chargers Park. In the real world, people change with circumstances or situations, so patience could have grown thin by now. An awkward situation could have turned tense and then ugly.

Not so in the Chargers’ locker room. We should all be so lucky to have a colleague like Drew Brees or Philip Rivers working in the cubicle next to us.

Rivers says he doesn’t know what the formula is for keeping their competition healthy, but I’d say it’s because neither player wants the job at the expense of the other.

“He knows I didn’t come to San Diego saying I was going to beat out Drew Brees, and he didn’t say things about how he wasn’t going to let me come in here and ruin his career,” Rivers said. “The last thing I wanted was my success to come from his failure. He wasn’t a bad player, and he’s shown that.”

Maybe you remember what happened not long ago in Buffalo. Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson were quarterbacks vying for the same job in a divided locker room. Johnson publicly accused Flutie of undermining his position on the team. In basketball, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant couldn’t get along, and they don’t even play the same position.

But a year later Brees and Rivers still come to the office and work together. They help each other improve physically on the practice field and mentally in meeting rooms. Sometimes they laugh together. Sometimes they play golf together.

“Philip has a long, bright future ahead of him just like I feel I have a long bright future ahead of me,” Brees said. “We’re on the field helping each other, but we’re still competing. He wants to be better than me and I want to be better than him, but in the end we’re competing against ourselves.”

Brees is only 26, so it’s not like the 23-year-old Rivers can wait for time to run its course until he inherits the job. He’ll be Old Man Rivers by then.

“We were both put here by chance,” Rivers said. “We both have the mindset that we want to be starters in the league for along time, and I think ultimately that will happen.”

Brees, who was drafted as the Chargers quarterback of the future in the second round in 2001, was once in competition with Flutie, but Flutie was the veteran who came to San Diego in 2001 to hold the job until the rookie was ready to replace him.

Brees said he never asked Flutie, now with New England since the Chargers released him as their No. 3 quarterback after last season, what happened between him and Johnson.

“All I know is the way Doug treated me, and that was first class,” Brees said. “He really helped me develop as a player and I’ll forever be thankful to Doug for that. He was a veteran that could have looked at me as a threat, but he was a true professional and he should be remembered for that.”

Brees and Rivers have worked together with the same professionalism and respect for the other’s career.

“I saw the way Doug treated me, and that’s the way I wanted to be with younger guys, even if they were coming in here to take my position,” Brees said. “First and foremost I’m trying to win the job, but I don’t want to win the job by being a bad person. I want to win the job by being the person I am and a true professional.”

Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). His features on high school athletes and coaches can be seen on the cable television show “School and Sports Stars” on the San Diego County Office of Education’s ITV Channel.

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