Numbers vs. Rings – Is Philip Rivers a Hall of Fame Quarterback?

Numbers vs. Rings – Is Philip Rivers a Hall of Fame Quarterback?

In the Super Bowl era, only five quarterbacks have been enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame without winning a championship: Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, and Fran Tarkenton.  Marino lost one; Tarkenton lost three; and Kelly lost a remarkable four Super Bowls, four years in a row.  But the individual performances of these five quarterbacks were too great to deny.

It seems as though, more than any other individual position in sports, the “no ring” stigma that follows a quarterback throughout his career is the biggest knock on a final resumé – especially when it comes to evaluating whether said quarterback is a Hall-of-Famer.  It is nearly essential – hence why there are only five names that have gotten over that hump.  Esiason, McNabb, Cunningham, Testaverde, and Ken Anderson are among the very talented QBs still on the outside, looking in.  Those names do not strike me as Hall of Famers anyways but whatever.

Regardless, the point is that, for the most part, if you don’t get a ring, you don’t get in.  More so than any other major American professional sports hall of fame.

With that foundation set, let’s look at the modern NFL, in which the quarterback position has completely changed.  The once-legendary 4,000 passing-yards-in-a-season mark (which was surpassed for the first time by Dan Fouts), for example, was achieved by 12 quarterbacks last season alone – eight of which played for teams that finished the season with a .500 record or worse.  So this stat is not even a feat that is indicative of a successful year.  The game is wide open, running backs have become a dispensable commodity while teams throw 50+ times a game, and no longer are the days in which calling a quarterback a “game manager” serves as a compliment for one’s career (take a look at the career stat line of recently enshrined Ken Stabler and compare it to current quarterbacks).

What effect does the state of the current offensive onslaught have on how we evaluate a quarterback’s career in the future?  I have no idea – I cannot see into the future.  But it is a question worth pondering, considering a statistic like 4,000 passing yards in a season is now watered down.

So we have now laid out the Hall of Fame chances of non-winners and the inflated statistics of the modern-day quarterback.  Enter Philip Rivers, stage right.

What do we make of Rivers’ career?  It has been the highest of highs (well, except for that “no Super Bowl” thing I mentioned), and it has been the lowest of lows.  There have been five seasons of playoff appearances, and six seasons of having to listen to Norv Turner.  There was time spent with Antonio Gates, Ladanian Tomlinson, Malcom Floyd, and Vincent Jackson.  And there were times with… well with people that are not named those four names (and maybe add Keenan Allen).

Perhaps my favorite Philip Rivers statistic is the fact that throughout his tumultuous career, the man has never missed a start.  Literally, never.  He took over the starting job for San Diego in 2006 when Drew Brees left for New Orleans, and he has not sat down since.  Remarkable.  Also – fun fact that you learn when you research all of this stuff: the Miami Dolphins were competing with New Orleans to sign Drew Brees and they decided that Brees’ shoulder was a question mark, so they chose to sign Daunte Culpepper instead.  Yup, that happened.

But consecutive-start streaks do not reserve a place for a quarterback in the Hall of Fame.  It takes much more.  And here is where Philip Rivers has trouble.  I am all over the place in this piece but stick with me.  Let’s go back to the fact that the current NFL is stacked with talent at quarterback talent.

Tom Brady, (recently retired) Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning.  This is the current top-tier of quarterbacks, in terms of a Hall of Fame resumé.  They all belong.  If anyone disagrees with that statement, I live in Hartford, Connecticut and I bench like 5 reps of 185 pounds over 3 sets.   Come fight me.

Does Philip Rivers belong in this class?

Well, that depends on how voters treat that aforementioned influx in quarterback statistics.  But there is still the one thing that each of those quarterbacks I listed has that Philip Rivers does not.  Yup.  That damned ring.

What’s worse – Philip Rivers is arguably the third-best quarterback in his own draft class, let alone the third-best in the NFL.  But recently posted a piece this summer that showed that, despite those rings, Rivers actually surpasses Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger in passer rating, passing yards per season, completion percentage, and TD/interception ratio over the span of their career.  The only main statistic he trails behind these two in is career passing yards.  But again, he sat behind Drew Brees for two whole seasons.  The other two had a two-year head start.  Statistically, Rivers is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

Rivers is currently 14th all-time in passing yards, 11th in passing touchdowns, and 8th in quarterback rating.  And these numbers will only rise.  Rivers is 34-years old and is obviously durable, given the 160-game streak of consecutive starts.  He also recently signed a 4-year, $83 million contract extension with San Diego that also keeps his job secure, pending some sort of disaster.  Who knows – he could also go for a Brett Favre-type run of a million different teams in his 40s, although I doubt it.  Almost no one has dedicated themselves to such a losing team like Rivers has, other than maybe Tony Gwynn’s 19-year career with the Padres of the same city.  Wow, I’m so sorry, San Diego.  At least you get 75-degree days from January to December.

What helps Philip Rivers’ Hall of Fame case in my eyes, other than the solid career statistics, is simply just the way you watch Philip Rivers play football.  He just passes a Hall of Famer eye test.  I don’t know what it is.  He is the penultimate gamer.  Arguing for Rivers to be enshrined forever in Canton is an uphill battle, but I just cannot picture the NFL in the 21st century without the Baron in the Bolo Tie (just came up with that.  That is Shaun’s trademark).

All of those career rankings I previously mentioned place him just behind quarterbacks that are already in the Hall, or are in that class of current top-tier players.  The only names that Rivers trails who are not in the mix for a place in the Hall are names like Drew Bledsoe and Vinny Testaverde (passing yards) and Tony Romo and Russell Wilson (quarterback rating).

Essentially, the one title that Philip Rivers undoubtedly can carry with him is “Best quarterback in NFL history to never appear in a Super Bowl.”

But he probably needs more.  And with that sweet paycheck that he received with his contract extension, comes a team in disarray, in a division that includes three teams that are one, two, or maybe even three echelons above San Diego.  Rivers just cannot catch a break.

Rivers always manages to come through, individually, however.  Last year is a perfect example – a 4-12 record for the Chargers while Rivers finished second in the NFL in passing yards.  This is the paradox of his career.  How do you evaluate a quarterback in comparison to his team?  Sure, Roethlisberger won his first Super Bowl as a rookie, but it was on the back of his defense and he was part of the supporting cast.  But that does not discredit him one bit.  Rivers, on the other hand, exceeds expectations consistently while he plays on a terrible team and he gets thrown to the back of the pack.  Football is viewed as the ultimate “team game” so it has its pros and cons when a player is compared to the other 21 starters on his roster.

Sources (my Dad and brother) tell me that there is no way Rivers is a Hall of Famer.  They cannot get past the “no championship” stigma.  But those same sources (my Dad and brother) were quick to immediately admit that Rivers is certainly a better quarterback than Fouts, Kelly, Moon, and Tarkenton.  Marino is a different argument.  So once again, here we are, stuck in the middle: there is no way he should make it, but he is definitely better than those who made it without a ring.  My only response to that is a shrug of the shoulders.  Why not add Rivers to the conversation?


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