SAN DIEGO — The time has come, dadgummit.
The man whose good-natured hollering was as renowned as his highly unorthodox and highly effective throws is hanging up his helmet to put on a different hat.
Philip Rivers, who came to San Diego in a draft-day trade in 2004 and played quarterback for the Chargers all but his final season in the NFL, announced his retirement Wednesday.
“It’s just time,” Rivers told the Union-Tribune late Tuesday night from his home in Indianapolis, where earlier this month he completed his only season with the Colts. “It’s just right.”
Rivers, who wore No. 17 throughout his 17 seasons, played in 244 regular-season games, starting the final 240 of those without interruption. That streak is the second longest ever by an NFL quarterback behind Brett Favre’s 297.
His retirement comes 13 years to the day since Rivers played in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots just six days after undergoing surgery to remove the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It is a day that has long been dear to the devout Catholic, as Jan. 20 is the Roman Catholic Church’s St. Sebastian feast day. Sebastian is often referred to as the patron saint of athletes.
Rivers, 39, finishes his career ranked fifth all time with 63,440 passing yards and 421 touchdown passes.
“I can sit here and say, ‘I can still throw it. I love to play,’ ” Rivers said. “But that’s always going to be there. I’m excited to go coach high school football.”
Rivers’ hiring as the head football coach at St. Michael Catholic High School in Fairhope, Ala., effective when he retired, was announced last May. He spoke Tuesday night of being on campus in time to get to know his players before spring football.
“What has helped me come to this (decision) is the growing desire to coach high school football,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been growing. I can’t wait.”
Rivers’ father, Steve, coached him in high school. Rivers’ eldest son, Gunner, is in seventh grade.
Rivers helped lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and playoff berth this season, topping 4,000 passing yards for the eighth straight season and 12th time in his career. His final pass was a Hail Mary in Buffalo that fell short of the end zone in the Colts’ 27-24 loss to the Bills in an AFC wild-card game.
It was the seventh playoff trip as a starting quarterback for Rivers, who never made it to a Super Bowl. He assumed the starting job in 2006 and went to the playoffs with the Chargers six times, including every year from ’06-09 and again in ’13 while the team was in San Diego.
From 2008 to 2010, Rivers led the NFL in passer rating (103.8), yards per attempt (8.9) and yards per completion (13.2). That was ahead of future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
Several players from around the league offered praise for Rivers on Twitter, including the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt.
“It was awesome,” Rivers said of his career. “A young kid from Northern Alabama who grew up wanting to play pro ball. I got to do it.”
While he said he is “100 percent at peace” with his decision, Rivers knows he will miss the camaraderie of a locker room and the huddle, matching wits and exchanging words (always G-rated on his end) with defenses and little things like banging helmets with his offensive linemen before the first series of a game.
“I’ve never been around a better leader, a guy who cared more and guy who gave more of himself to teammates and coaches and staff and to the game,” said Nick Hardwick, the Chargers’ center from 2004-14. “He gave everything he had every single day. There was never a question about his effort intensity, his care level.”
Rivers spoke fondly of San Diego, where the family lived when eight of his nine children were born. Even after the Chargers moved to Los Angeles in 2017, Rivers commuted to practice and home games from his home in North County.
“I would have never picked San Diego,” he said. “Not because I didn’t like it. I didn’t know it. I’m thankful. God put us there.”
What Rivers sees as divine direction came in the form of a trade that sent Eli Manning to the New York Giants after the Chargers had selected him first overall.
It was prayer, contemplation and conversation since the end of the season that convinced Rivers the time had come.
“This is the first year I felt like the ending was real,” he said. “We talked about it other years, but we knew we weren’t doing it. This year felt different. … It just seemed right.”