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Saturday, June 10, 2006 | It’s quite a story line: The star quarterback and top draft pick, Eli Manning, refuses to play for the Chargers, forcing them to trade him for another quarterback – Philip Rivers. He’s to be the future of the franchise, though not the one the team eyed to begin with. But then he and the team can’t agree on a contract right away and starts his career by missing crucial practices.

In that time, the guy Rivers was supposed to replace – Drew Brees – steps in and revitalizes what looks like a moribund career. Now, two years later, thanks to a freak injury at the end of a pointless game last season, Brees is a New Orleans Saint and a talented team’s hopes rest on the shoulders of an untested pro.

The region’s – and nation’s – eyes will be on Rivers this summer and fall as he prepares to take over a team that last year fell well short of its Super Bowl goal. But he’s probably more mature than most 24 year olds preparing to start their first NFL game. He married his wife, Tiffany, who he’s known since middle school, in 2001. She’s due to have their third daughter in four weeks.

We recently grabbed him after practice to talk about his path to Chargers quarterback, pressure of the NFL, fatherhood and those powder blue Chargers uniforms.

You just stepped off the practice field, how do you evaluate your performance and confidence at this point?

It’s going well. I would say that progress is on schedule. You know, obviously, you do some good things, and you do some things not so good, and you try to keep diminishing those things that aren’t so good everyday and get better, and that way we’ll be ready to roll.

You’ve been married since 2001, first child in 2002, you started four years in college, now you’ve got two years on the sidelines, you’re finally getting a chance to start. When do you think you were ready to start in the NFL?

I mean obviously, any competitor that’s playing so much, and played every game in college, I came here ready to play right away, and that was the goal. And for all the different circumstances – all of that’s behind us – but it didn’t work out. I had two years to try to accept the role and…be in a different role than I’d had in the past. So it’s been different for me, but I think I got a lot out of it and I’m definitely more ready now that I was when I got here two years ago.

What was that like raising a child while you’re in college on a football team when I imagine a lot of the other teammates are off…having a good, crazy old time?

It was good for me. I’d known my wife since middle school, so I’d known her a long time. But for me it was time, and you know we were ready. As that whole sort of life-changing experience happened, it was never a really big shock. Obviously you make adjustments and learn new things because it is a different life, but it was one that I was excited about and I’m glad it happened the way it did.

And now you’re ready to have another kid right now?

Yeah, well I have two. The third one’s due in about four weeks. So, yeah, three girls, so it will be fun.

How do your kids like San Diego?

Oh they love it. How can you not like it? The weather’s so great, lot to do, you’ve got Sea World and stuff to do occasionally and so the whole family’s really enjoyed it.

What…do you do when you’re not playing football?

I find some time occasionally for some golf, that’s probably the hobby I enjoy most outside of football, and then it’s really just a lot of family time. The kids love to swim.

You guys have a lot of talent coming back. It seems like the only major change is you. Probably – fairly or not – the team’s success is going to be judged on a pretty high level on how you play. Are you ready for that?

Everybody’s asking if it’s added pressure. And I don’t see that there’s any added pressure. I think that being a quarterback in the NFL, that’s what it is. It’s not any different pressure than you should expect and it’s what – that’s a part about being a quarterback that’s exciting. You’re going to get the snap on every play. Obviously, it’s not all on my shoulders. We’ve got a great team, and we’ve got guys on the team that are the best in their position in the whole NFL, you know, so I don’t have to do too much. I think that’s going to be key for me: don’t try to do too much and everything will fall into place.

You had two other high-profile quarterbacks in [the 2004 draft], Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger (who) had a lot of time to play so far. Are you jealous of that or are you happy with the way circumstances turned out?

No, I think it’s kind of interesting, we’ve all three started on different paths. You know, Eli got in there midway through the first year, maybe fourth or fifth game, and had some success and did some good things, and then of course Ben now has already won a Super Bowl in his second year and has been playing since game one due to Tommy Maddox getting hurt. We kind of all started on a different path and I think all of us are going to have successful careers – we just started off in different ways.

And speaking of Eli Manning, what do you think of the fact that he refused to play here?

Yeah, well you never know…what all happened, if that whole thing got blown out of proportion. But I’m excited I did get the opportunity to play here and I hope I’m here for a long time.

The team itself is engaged in negotiations about new stadiums…At the end of the year, the team could actually be negotiating with cities outside of San Diego. Is that stuff that gets talked about by the players or by management to you guys at all?

That’s something we can’t control as players and our job is to perform on the field and – but speaking of San Diego, I love it here, and I think all the players would say the same thing. We’re hopeful we’ll be here for a long time, but obviously that’s something that’s out of our hands.

Having spent a lot of times on the sidelines the last two years – that’s something that you’re not accustomed to – what went through your head while you were sitting on the sidelines, did you day dream at all?

I would be lying not to say it wasn’t tough, but it was a good two years. I got to be behind the guy – Drew Brees. And if I had to pick a guy to be behind, he would be the one, the way he handled things and you know he’s truly a pro. So I learned a lot from him from a preparation standpoint and many things, so I got to get a lot of experience – lot of the things you do on the field that are good, things that you make mistakes on, preparation during the week, I made the best of it. It wasn’t a role I was used to, and not one you satisfy for, but one that I accepted and made the best of.

What jerseys do like better, the traditional ones or the powder blue?

I like them both. I think I have to say the powder blues are fun to go back to. I think if we wore those as our normal uniform…you wouldn’t get as excited to wear them, you know, because you would just wear them so much. But going back and wearing those once or twice a year is just good.

Interview by ANDREW DONOHUE

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