Colts quarterback Philip Rivers retires

Joel A. Erickson
Indianapolis Star
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INDIANAPOLIS — Philip Rivers always told himself that he didn’t want to be one of those NFL stars who hangs on simply for the sake of hanging on, trying to squeeze one more year out of his career even though he obviously can’t play anymore.

And he won’t be.

Rivers has decided to retire after 17 seasons in the NFL, a source confirmed to IndyStar on Wednesday, the first 16 with the Chargers in San Diego and Los Angeles, and the final season reuniting with Frank Reich in Indianapolis to get the Colts back to the playoffs with an 11-5 record.

“It’s just time,” Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported the news. "It's just right." 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) calls out to teammates during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Rivers initially left the door open to return for his second season in a Colts uniform this offseason. When Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal to come to Indianapolis last March, both the quarterback and the team said they hoped Rivers would be in Indianapolis for more than one season, and the way the 39-year-old played in his final season left the door wide open.

Brought in to get the Colts back in contention after Andrew Luck’s retirement sent a playoff team spiraling to 7-9 in 2019, Rivers played better than just about anybody expected. Back with Reich, who’d coached him for three seasons in San Diego, Rivers completed 68 percent of his throws for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.

Rivers played well in the Colts’ wild card loss to the Buffalo Bills, too, completing 27 of 46 throws for 309 yards and two touchdowns, although he wasn’t able to complete a furious Indianapolis comeback in a 27-24 defeat that went down to the final seconds.

“I can't overstate the importance of Philip's leadership for us, both on and off the field, this past season," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said in a statement. "In one of the more unique years this league has seen, Philip's veteran presence guided our team and played a major role in helping us reach the postseason." 

The emotions flowed for Rivers after the playoff loss in Buffalo, although he didn’t let on whether or not he’d played his final game.

“It was a heck of a fun season,” Rivers said at the time. “There is zero regret. Moving to Indiana and playing for this franchise and having a chance to meet a bunch of new guys I will keep relationships with. We fell short today, but I walk out of here with head held high, for sure.”

The Colts gave Rivers a month to decide.

“What I told Philip was we need to take a month and decide on what direction we want to go,” Ballard said. “This is after he said ‘Chris, I’m not 100 percent sure.’ Well, you need somebody to be 100 percent sure, and so we’ll go that way. Do we want Philip back? Yes. I’ll tell you that, yes. But I told Philip we’ve got to go through the process. I’ve got to do my job.”

Ultimately, Rivers didn’t need a month.

The long-time Chargers legend has always held Jan. 20th — St. Sebastian’s Feast Day (the patron saint of athletes, the date he played in an AFC Championship Game on a torn ACL) — as special, and he decided to announce his retirement on that day.

“I am grateful to the Chargers for 16 seasons and to the Colts for the 17th season,” Rivers said in a public statement he released. “Thank you to all my coaches that helped me grow as a player and a person, thanks to the support staff.”

Rivers also referenced his famous on-field personality, the pugnacious way he went after opposing defenders and referees in a matchup he clearly relished.

“I appreciate the opposing defenses making it challenging physically and mentally every week. … I also enjoyed the banter,” Rivers wrote. “I appreciate the referees for putting up with all of my fussing. I think I was right most of the time, dadgummit.”

Rivers thanked his teammates, his wife Tiffany and the couple’s nine children: Halle, Caroline, Grace, Gunner, Sarah, Peter, Rebecca, Clare and Anna.

Then he closed with his signature phrase, the Latin phrase “Nunc Coepi,” meaning “Now I Begin.”

Rivers will begin again on a high school football field in Alabama; he’s already been hired as the head football coach at St. Michael Catholic in Fairhope, a suburb of Mobile, and he plans to follow in his father’s footsteps as a high school coach.

The long-time Chargers legend, a player likely to be strongly considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after five years have expired, retires with a laundry list of accolades. Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowler, ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time lists in passing yards (63,440) and touchdown passes (421), and his 240 consecutive regular-season starts place him in a tie with Minnesota center Mick Tinglehoff for third all-time, trailing only Packers legend Brett Favre and Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall.

"Without question, Philip Rivers is one of the greatest, and no doubt one of the toughest, players to ever play this game," Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. "For 16 years wearing Charger blue, Philip gave the Colts fits, but he was a wonder to watch because of his skill at the quarterback position, as well as his undeniable love of the game. Even though he wore the Horseshoe for only one season, it was a season to remember." 

Rivers’ decision leaves the Colts in a bit of a bind, likely searching for their fourth different starting quarterback in four years, a cycle that was started by Luck’s shocking retirement.

The 4,169 yards Rivers compiled in his final season is the second-most by a quarterback in their final season. The most? Luck's 4,593 yards in 2018. 

“We’re going to have to find a way to fix the problem and find a long-term solution as we go along,” Ballard said last week. “We’ll see what the future holds and what we’re able to do.”

In other words, in the wake of Rivers’ retirement decision, the Colts now need to begin again.

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