Before we get into the meat of the article, let’s get one thing out of the way right now: Philip Rivers is a Hall of Famer…today. He doesn't need to throw another pass. A championship would be most welcomed, but it should not be necessary for enshrinement. I know giving you the conclusion of the article up-front takes away from any suspense that making it an exclamation point at the end would have provided, but that would have just given credence to the idea that this should be a debate in the first place. It shouldn’t. Read on and I will explain why.
Since Rivers burst onto the scene in 2006 by leading the then San Diego Chargers to a 14-2 record, he has been in a relentless pursuit of his first title. A pursuit that, based upon his immediate success, many expected to be short-lived. It is the failure to win that first title that causes some to doubt his worthiness of a place in Canton. That is the best (and only) argument against Rivers making it to the Hall. The biggest problem with that argument is that it seems to only apply to Philip Rivers.
Of the 18 Hall of Fame quarterbacks who spent a significant portion of their careers within the Super Bowl era, five (or 28%) of them never won a Lombardi:
- Dan Marino
- Dan Fouts
- Warren Moon
- Jim Kelly
- Fran Tarkenton
Since these five quarterbacks all share the same blemish on their careers, they represent the most apples-to-apples comparison to Philip Rivers. If Rivers proves more worthy than any one of those five, the case has been made. You can argue that it was a mistake for one (or all) of the above making into the Hall, but I guarantee none of them are giving up their gold jacket. So, the standard has been set, and that is the standard we must apply when considering Phillip Rivers' place in the Hall of Fame.
So, let's take a look at the six quarterbacks by their numbers:
It's a safe bet that, by the time Rivers retires, he will lead this group in each of these categories (as well as many not included). I grant you that he came into the league on the tailwind of changing rules and philosophies that lead to never-before-seen passing numbers. So, we can't simply compare numbers and base our assessment on that. Otherwise, we could end up with someone like Andy Dalton in the Hall of Fame (career 88.8 passer rating). So, it's important to take into consideration how each quarterback compared to his peers at the time. The best way I can think to succinctly make this comparison would be to take a look at Pro-Bowls and first-team All-Pro selections. Here's what that looks like for each. The Pro-Bowl column shows the relation of Pro-Bowl selections to years they were a starter.
This chart could represent more fodder for the Philip Rivers nay-sayers who could claim that the lack of an All-Pro selection proves he was never the top quarterback in his era, and should therefore not be considered amongst the greatest of all-time. This argument completely disregards the unprecedented competition that Rivers has been up against. Rivers played in an era with 3 (perhaps 4 if you count Aaron Rodgers) all-time greats. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees may very well be 3 of the top 5 quarterbacks of all-time. So, when playing in an era with those guys, there are very few All-Pros to go around. They account for 8 of the 13 All-Pros during Rivers' career as a starter, and Rodgers has another 2. If we compared all current HOF quarterbacks to Manning, Brady, and Brees, we may need to ask for some jackets back.
The fact that Rivers, in a conference with both Brady and Manning, has been a mainstay in the Pro-Bowl (62%) during his tenure is telling. In addition to that:
- He has thrown for 4,000 or more yards every year since 2008
- He has thrown for 26 touchdowns or more in every year since 2008 and has never been below 21
- He has never completed fewer than 60% of his passes in a year
Now, let's go back to our list of 5 Hall of Fame quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl. Where would rank Philip Rivers amongst those 5? Based upon his consistently high performance, both in relation to historic and contemporary comparisons, I'd have him ranked second behind Dan Marino. He also shows no signs of slowing down with 2018 being, perhaps, his finest as a pro.
The caveat to all of this is that this article is based upon the assumption that the Hall of Fame argument for Philip Rivers must be made without a championship. I am not certain that will be the case. The supporting cast around Rivers this year is, in my opinion, the best he has ever had, and he's never been in a better position to get that monkey off his back than he is in 2019.
What do you think? Does Philip Rivers belong in the Hall of Fame? Does he need a championship first? You now know my thoughts. Feel free to change my mind.