COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers and Eli Manning will always be linked by the 2004 trade between the then-San Diego Chargers and New York Giants that featured the two top-four draft picks.
Rivers would rather focus on the longevity and durability that both quarterbacks have displayed.
"I think that's just what you'd expect, especially the trade and how it all went down, and then we're both still with the same team. He got a little bit of a head start as far as playing. I think we've both been out there combined, shoot, almost 400 games in a row," Rivers said.
Rivers came close with his guess. Manning will make his 204th straight start Sunday and is only four games away from tying brother Peyton Manning for the second-most consecutive starts by a quarterback in NFL history. Rivers will be playing in his 181st straight game, trailing only Brett Favre and the two Mannings.
The streak is nothing new for Rivers. Before backing up Drew Brees in his first two seasons with the Chargers, his Little League Baseball days might have been the only other time Rivers wasn't playing on a regular basis.
"Other than the two years I watched here, I haven't been on the sideline for many games," Rivers said.
Now in his 12th season as a starter, Rivers understands that luck has played a major part in his availability, but does cite his tenacity in being out there every week. While some of his contemporaries have turned to cutting-edge workout, rehabilitation and nutrition regiments to prolong their careers, Rivers still chooses to "rub a little dirt on it and go," even as it takes his body longer to move past the soreness of the previous game.
"I do have that desire to want to be out there at all costs every week," Rivers said. "Thankfully, I haven't had anything other than the knee deal in that '07 season that has been super, super jeopardizing. Maybe a few other little things that were just uncomfortable, but I'm just thankful that I've been able to be out there."
Rivers credits his father for instilling that attitude at an early age, and believes it can and does filter through to the rest of the locker room. The Los Angeles Chargers will need it as they try to shake off their first 0-4 start since 2003 against the winless and equally desperate Giants.
"If he's going, then I'm going. You hope it has that effect," Rivers said. "You really want to build a culture of that. 'Shoot, that's a gritty, tough, scrappy team that plays when they're a little bit banged up and they just find a way to be out there for one another,' because I do think that can build morale and builds trust, too."
But character alone can't overcome inconsistent play on the field. Rivers ranks in the top seven in attempts, completions and yards passing, but only has six touchdowns against four interceptions this season. It's not an issue of diminishing physical skills, Rivers said. Rather, Rivers cites the occasional lapse in judgment that is keeping the offense from reaching its full potential.
There will be a time when Rivers physically can't play the position at a high level anymore. It's just not this season, he insists.
"I imagine that you just go, 'Golly, I've thrown that in route a million times and what happened?' I think that's how it will probably show up," Rivers said. "Thankfully, other than a handful of poor decisions and our record, nothing's showing up yet. And there's been quite a few plays where I've gone, 'Phew, still hang in there all right.'"
Eventually Rivers and Manning will miss a game, whether it is because of injury, poor play or retirement. Recognizing that inevitability gives this week's meeting of the two stalwarts extra importance, setting aside the draft night deal years ago.
"You're not playing the other quarterback, but this could be the last time we're both out there playing each other," Rivers said.
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