Comparisons are unavoidable in sports. Players come and players go, but the memories of some of the best from the past remain in our minds. The San Diego Chargers have been hoping for quarterback Philip Rivers to become one of those mental fixtures for fans, but his recent decline has left some wondering if he ever will. That recent decline, however, actually mirrors a former great in Kurt Warner.
Clark Judge at CBS Sports suggested that Rivers is heading down a similar path to Warner. Warner’s career reached a pinnacle with the St. Louis Rams just before the new millennium and into the early portion of the 2000s, but the Rams dealt him to the New York Giants where he was nothing but a place holder for Eli Manning. It seemed the supermarket grocery bagging dream was going to come unraveled and disappear just as quickly as it had arrived, but then a new life happened for Warner.
With the Arizona Cardinals, he learned a new system under then head coach Ken Whisenhunt and resurrected his career, taking Arizona to their first and only Super Bowl appearance. Despite the lack of familiarity, Warner thrived to turn his career around and return to prominence among NFL signal callers.
Oh, and Whisenhunt is now the offensive coordinator in San Diego.
Rivers is learning new verbiage, making new reads, and focusing on new things rather than dwelling in the same old system that had him in the doldrums of his career for the past three seasons. That fresh outlook could be a good thing for him as well as the quarterback told CBS Sports:
“I think it can be a good thing because of the newness of the terminology, the system and the verbiage and the challenge of all that. This offseason was definitely different than I’ve had for awhile for that reason. I knew the other offense because I’d been calling it for nine years. But now it’s kind of like, ‘Man, I’ve got to bear down to call the play, to call the coverage a little bit different just to be able to speak in the meeting room.’ And that’s been good.”
That renewed focus and attention to detail can certainly be a positive thing for the 31 year-old quarterback. Sometimes getting so accustomed to something can make it feel like an inevitability rather than a fundamental exercise. Having been in Norv Turner’s offense for the bulk of his starting tenure, Rivers now has to go back to the basics. He said:
“You get to where you know so much about an offense and where you’ve been around it so long, that you think you can just will everything to happen. But now I can’t say, ‘I’ve had a million reps on this route.’ So you know what? I’m playing it by the book. You go back to the fundamentals and, say, ‘I’m throwing a completion here and a completion here,’ whereas when you really know it you’re like, ‘I thought I could do this and that, and I thought I could get the deep cut.’ Now I think: I’ll get those plays, and that’s what it was like here when we were really rolling. Those plays just happened naturally. But when, all of sudden, you feel like you’re pulling teeth to make them happen, bad things happen, too.”
The self-fulfilling prophecy concept is what last season looked like for Rivers as he tensely scanned the field trying desperately not to make a mistake. This new system will hopefully free him up and allow him to play quarterback again. The position is all about reacting to the things around you, and now he has that renewed vision once again.
The parallels to Warner are undeniable as the restart button has been pressed on Rivers’ career. Of the upcoming season, Whisenhunt said:
“I don’t think this is about proving himself, but it is a new system and he has to handle that. So maybe it is proving himself within that system, because he has to call the plays and do the things he does in a different system – just as Kurt did. Kurt was driven to prove he could do it; that he could be a starter. There were things we asked him to do, and he did them. He was given the opportunity and he took advantage of them. I’m expecting Philip to do the same and have a good year for us.”
Now that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy I can get behind.