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Thursday, March 16, 2006 | Philip Rivers and Drew Brees knew long ago this day was coming. They talked about it as teammates, friends and golf partners. They just wondered, like the rest of us, how it would play out.

Brees, as the Chargers’ starting quarterback, always said Rivers should be a starter in the NFL. And Rivers, a first-round draft pick in 2004 who was forced to sit and watch the last two seasons despite his experience as a four-year starter at North Carolina State, said he understood his role behind his Pro Bowl teammate.

The turning point finally arrived when one of them stood before the cameras, tape recorders and notepads at Chargers Park and described how excited he is to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future. Rivers enjoyed that moment Wednesday, a day after Brees signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m excited, and I’ve broken it into two sides,” said Rivers, his Alabama drawl soon to become more familiar to San Diegans over the airwaves. “On the one side, Drew was a heck of a teammate, a heck of a player for the organization and a lot of fun to be with the last two years and to play golf with. I’m happy for him he got his contract. I wish him a full recovery from his (shoulder) injury; if anybody can recover from it, Drew will.”

“On my side, I’m excited for the opportunity,” he continued. “From day one two years ago and even early in this offseason, I was hoping I would be playing for an NFL team somewhere and hopefully it would be here. That makes it that much more exciting, with the guys on this team we got. We’ve got a bunch of great guys, and I’m looking forward to playing quarterback.”

Although Rivers has only completed 17-of-30 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown with one interception in two seasons, he says the Chargers’ postseason expectations should remain as high as they were coming off the 2004 AFC West title.

“This is not a setback,” Rivers said. “I haven’t played a lot; that’s true. But I’ve had two years of learning and I know the abilities I have. The one thing that’s key to mention is we have a good team. We have a couple of guys as good as any in the league and mixed in with them are a bunch of solid players. It’s important for me to be myself and not try to do too much. We’ll be fine; we’ll get where we want to go.”

Rivers set an NCAA record for career starts with 51 and finished the NCAA’s second-all-time passer with 13,484 yards.

Rivers said he understood his role as No. 2 quarterback and played it with dedication on the scout team, in meetings and on the sidelines. He believes he’s earned his teammates’ respect in those roles and plans to build on that foundation in offseason workouts.

“One of the things you hear is, ‘The guy only threw 30 NFL passes and he doesn’t have a ton of experience,’ ” Rivers said. “But those two years, I didn’t have my eyes closed and ear plugs in. I’ve been watching and learning and preparing and throwing. Those two years are valuable in a different way.”

The two-year wait isn’t something a draft pick would choose entering the NFL, but now that it’s all played out, Rivers said he believes he will gain from the experience. He said the healthy relationship with Brees helped him soak up everything around him. He wanted to be prepared for this moment, whether it was in San Diego or another city, and not be playing catch-up.

“When you have classy guy in front of you like Drew, and we have a close bunch of guys you enjoy being around, it makes it tolerable,” Rivers said. “I don’t’ know if tolerable is the right word, but it helps you manage. It all happened for some reason. I think I’ll look back and say those two years were important and paid off for me in the long run.”

Tom Shanahan is Voice’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at

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