Looking Back: When the Chargers had two MVP caliber quarterbacks on their roster

A revisit of a training camp when the Chargers featured two MVP quarterbacks on their roster at the same time in Philip Rivers (left) and Drew Brees.
A revisit of a training camp when the Chargers featured two MVP quarterbacks on their roster at the same time in Philip Rivers (left) and Drew Brees. AP
With the NFL regular season over, now is a fun time to look back at the beginning of the 2005 season when the Chargers were in San Diego, and had two legit MVPs as quarterbacks.

That fall, I went to San Diego to talk to ex-TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson but thought I may as well interview Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, if possible.

Two things stood out that August day, other than the outstanding San Diego weather: 1) The two men could have not have been any more professional, or agreeable, as they talked about the elephant in the room: Each other. 2) The lack of interest from the media, and fans, for that team was memorable, and explained so much.

Today, Brees is established as a Hall of Famer for his career in New Orleans, and Rivers is a borderline HOFer with the Chargers. The team is in L.A. and a case can be made that either of these guys should be named the NFL’s MVP this season.

This is a fun look back at a surreal training camp when Drew Brees was the starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, and Philip Rivers was entering his second year with the team after it acquired him in an ‘04 draft day deal that sent No. 1 pick Eli Manning to the New York Giants.

This was the last season Drew Brees was a Charger, and last time Rivers would ride a bench.


Chargers quarterback Drew Brees was acutely aware of his lame-duck status, what with San Diego dealing for Philip Rivers, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft. But he called a team meeting anyway at the start of the ’04 training camp.

“I’m the quarterback of this team, and I’m going to play my [butt] off,” Brees told his teammates.

One year later, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer marvels at the nerve of a player whose job was all but guaranteed to Rivers, the Savior du Jour.

“I’m sure there were any number of players saying, ‘Who the heck is this guy talking? He’s not even going to be here,’” Schottenheimer said.

Be it fate — or Rivers’ greed — Brees extended his stay with the Chargers because he played his butt off. But with Rivers and his $40.5 million contract sitting on the bench, Brees is the NFL’s only Pro Bowl quarterback looking over his shoulder.

He wasn’t guaranteed the job going into camp, though he won it and is the starter for the Chargers’ opener Sunday against the Cowboys.

“I can’t think of, in past history, of any situation like this,” said Brees.

After leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record and their first playoff appearance since 1995, he signed a one-year, $8 million contract this off-season.

“Of course, I wanted a long-term contract. I wanted the Chargers to commit to me, and the Chargers to say, ‘You are our guy, and you are our guy for the long term,’” Brees said.

But the Chargers can’t say that. When it comes to Brees, the Chargers’ money is on Rivers. They might pay lip service with a “Of course we knew Drew could do it,” but they never expected Brees to win the 2004 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, or throw for 3,159 yards and 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

They never expected their starting quarterback to play the final 12 games of the regular season with a separated left shoulder and end as the NFL’s third-ranked passer behind Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper.

They expected to sign Rivers and for Rivers to replace Brees a few games into yet another rebuilding season. That scenario could have happened had Rivers not held out until late August last season.

“I’ve wondered what would have happened, but never in a regretful way,” said Rivers, whom the Chargers acquired when they dealt the rights to Eli Manning to the New York Giants on draft day. “I would have approached it the same way but hoped it wouldn’t have turned out that way. I hated it ended that way, and that was essentially the domino effect. Drew worked his butt off, and that’s why I don’t play.”

The Chargers thought they drafted a franchise quarterback only to discover they already had one. But nothing Brees did in his first three pro seasons suggested he was going to be another Dan Fouts, the club’s Hall of Fame quarterback.

In his first three years, Brees was 10-18 as a starter, 2-13 in his final 15 starts before ’04.

Regardless of the numbers, Brees knew at some point, somewhere, it would work.

After being ignored by every Division I-A college in Texas at the end of a brilliant high school career at Austin Westlake, Brees signed and found success with Purdue. He figured it was only a matter of time before it worked in the NFL.

“At some point it was going to all come together,” Brees said. “I’ve been presented challenges for a reason.”

It would be too simple, and incorrect, to suggest the impetus for Brees’ collegiate success was being dissed by all of Texas. It would be too simple, and incorrect, to suggest the impetus for Brees’ professional success was the Rivers holdout.

Rivers’ holdout just allowed Brees the chance to demonstrate that the first 28 NFL games of his career served a purpose, not proof that he was a human clipboard.

“He deserves everything because he’s earned everything,” Chargers guard Mike Goff said. “A lot of people were writing him off, and his true character showed how persistent he was to be a great quarterback.”

But being great one year and rewarded with a one-year contract means Brees needs to be great again. If Brees is great again, perhaps the Chargers will make the commitment he desires and deal Rivers. Miami, Chicago, Arizona and a handful of other teams need a Brees.

The Chargers have theirs.
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