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San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has had many pivotal moments in North Carolina, but never one as a professional football player.
He was a star in college while quarterbacking N.C. State from 2000-03, leading the Wolfpack to a Gator Bowl victory over Notre Dame during his junior year and earning ACC MVP honors his senior year.
His entire family moved to North Carolina from Alabama when he was in college. He got married in North Carolina and had his first daughter in Raleigh.
“(It) will always be a special place,” he said this week on a conference call.
But the only time he was actually in North Carolina as a pro was in 2004 – when he was a third-string player behind Drew Brees and Doug Flutie.
“You don’t remember much if you weren’t playing,” he laughed, when asked if he could recall that particular game.
Rivers went from standing on the sidelines to a 10-year starter with San Diego.
But he still has not been back to North Carolina for an NFL game – the Panthers visited the Chargers twice in the past eight years (Carolina won both contests, in 2008 and 2012).
That doesn’t mean the team has lost familiarity with the quarterback. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Chargers from 2007-10, and to hear him tell it, Rivers is a hard personality to forget.
Rivera said he remembers pulling into a gas station next to Rivers after a particularly frustrating loss. Rivers was on the phone with his father, screaming. Rivera said Rivers, long after the team had finished the game, was analyzing his play with his dad – and loudly offering what he could have done better.
“His will to want to win and the verbiage he uses, ‘Gosh, golly, doggone,’ that’s pretty impressive. But that’s Philip. He wants to win in the worst way.”
Sunday, Rivera will see Rivers again on the field for the first time since 2012.
“I know he’s a little bit older than the last time I saw him,” Rivera joked this week. “But I still respect his ability to play football.
“He’s still playing at such a high level. I mean, you watch him and watch his ability to read defenses and attack, he still makes great decisions and he delivers a great football. He’s got a good feel for the game. He’s a tremendous competitor as well.”
Veteran linebacker Thomas Davis, who has been around almost as long as Rivers, has seen that competitiveness – or, more specifically, heard it.
“I’ve faced him before,” said Davis. “Phillip is a very competitive player. You look at him on the field, and he talks a lot of trash. Probably more trash than most quarterbacks. ... That’s just who he is. That’s his personality, he likes to have fun.”
That included some chatter directed at Davis. But was it a ‘gosh, golly, doggone’ type of trash-talking?
Thomas laughed and shrugged.
“Um, yeah,” he said. “I’m going to stick to what (Rivera) said.”