NFL Teams
Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer 69d

NFL ironmen Philip Rivers and Eli Manning put durability on display



COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Rub some dirt on it.

According to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, that was the remedy handed down by his high school football coach, dad Steve Rivers, when it came to dealing with injuries.

The sage advice from his father has served Rivers well. He has not missed a start in his NFL career: 180 and counting.

Rivers ranks second among active players to the quarterback who will be on the opposite sideline Sunday: Eli Manning, who’s at 203 consecutive games as the New York Giants' starter.

Brett Favre, known for living by the words that availability is your best ability, is the career leader with 298 consecutive games started.

Still, it’s an impressive showing by these two quarterbacks, who were traded for each other atop the 2004 draft class and might both one day wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Rivers, who turns 36 in December, says he hasn’t missed a game in any sport -- youth football, basketball or Little League -- since he started playing as a youngster.

“I’m just thankful I’ve been able to be out there,” said Rivers, who played with a torn ACL in his right knee in an AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots after the 2007 season. “Everyone wants to say it’s because I’m tougher than other guys, and I don’t think that’s true. There’s an element of that, though, just from growing up.

“My dad used to always say, ‘Don’t lay out there on the field; if you have any kind of injury, get up unless you can’t walk.’ Those were the kinds of things I heard early on. You want the guys to know you’ll do anything to be out there. And that helps them feel the same way.”

While Rivers and Manning have played through pain and injuries, both have tinkered with offseason workouts to help build stamina and maintain flexibility as they’ve gotten older.

“You’ve got to be able to move in the pocket, slide, buy a little extra time and find windows,” said Manning, who turns 37 in January. “And so that’s just something you’re just always working in the offseason and practicing quick movement. If you’ve got to get out of the pocket and extend the play, you’ve got to do that as well and work on that in practice. Make sure guys are working to the ball and do those things correctly.

“You’ve got to be mobile, but as you get older you’ve got to understand, 'I’m not the most mobile, I don’t want to run 10 times in a game.' You want to find your completions, know where your checkdowns are, get in and out of plays and be smart.”

Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt worked with another product of the 2004 draft, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, early in his career.

Whisenhunt also coached Kurt Warner while with the Arizona Cardinals late in Warner's career. Warner was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. So Whisenhunt understands how quarterbacks long in the tooth have to compensate for diminishing physical skills.

“Over the course of time, both of those guys have been really good football players,” Whisenhunt said. “I can’t speak for Eli, but from having been around Philip, the way they prepare, study, take care of themselves, that’s all a part of it as far as the longevity goes.

“When you go against guys like that, or you’re with guys like that, there’s not a lot they haven’t seen. But it is important that you don’t get bored with it, that you continue to study and push it. Both of those guys are such high-level competitors and really good players, that’s the way they’re wired.”

Rivers said despite the fact that he’s in the midst of his 14th NFL season, there’s not much he could do early in his career that he can’t do now.

“There was probably a time if we just did a long-ball competition, I could probably throw it a little further,” Rivers said. “Probably not a lot. Things like that. I don’t know that there’s, ‘Oh, I could’ve made that throw five years ago but I can’t make it now.’ I don’t think I’ve hit that point yet.

“I think I’m better mentally. I think each game you grow as a player, see more and more looks and more things. It doesn’t always translate every Sunday, but you feel better equipped. You have more tools for how you can handle the attacks of coverage.”

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