SI: Brees injury ends up benefiting two franchises

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA
By Michael Silver

He took a blindside hit from John Lynch, fumbled the football and dove instinctively to recover it in his own end zone, a desperate quarterback in a pile of bodies on a rainy, miserable, meaningless afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium last New Year's Eve. Then Drew Brees felt a crush of Denver Broncos land on top of him and endured a blow to his throwing shoulder that sent a rush of searing pain through his body and caused his spirits to plummet.

Just like that, Brees knew he would no longer be the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers.

"One of the scariest moments of my life," Brees recalls. "My throwing shoulder was dislocated, and I'm thinking, Oh my God -- this cannot be happening. This changes everything.

"I kind of looked around for a split second and said to myself, 'You know what? This might be the last time I ever put on a Charger uniform.'"

Headed for unrestricted free agency after five NFL seasons, three-and-a-half as San Diego's starter, Brees, until that moment, had been a lock to sign a lucrative, multi-year deal with the Chargers. Now, with a torn labrum that would require surgery, he was a risky investment for a franchise with another attractive option stashed in the vault.

Brees did the math, right there on the field. Little did he realize that this was not a zero-sum equation -- that two teams, two quarterbacks and the NFL in general would benefit from the fallout.

It's not a stretch to say that the most significant play thus far of the 2006 season occurred on that final day of 2005. For had Brees not gotten hurt, he almost certainly wouldn't be in New Orleans, where he has helped turn the Saints into the NFL's most pleasant surprise in recent years. And Philip Rivers, the third-year passer who'd spent two years as Brees's understudy, wouldn't be ripping up the league right now for a Chargers team that looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

After throwing for 334 yards and two touchdowns in San Diego's 48-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, Rivers owns the NFL's second-highest passer rating (100.6) and completion percentage (68.8) and has demonstrated his poise and decision-making prowess in leading his team to a 4-1 start. Heading into Sunday's game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Rivers, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft, is suddenly starting to stack up just fine in comparisons with fellow '04 first-rounders Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

Has a transition ever been so seamless?

The crazy thing is, the Chargers players saw this coming.

"I told some people a long time ago, 'He [Rivers] won't miss a beat -- because he has the talent, the willpower and the work ethic,'" says Keenan McCardell, the Chargers' Courvoisier-smooth veteran receiver. "People said this year would be a learning experience, but we felt like he knew the offense from [having spent]those two years watching and waiting, so we expected a lot from him right away.

"We knew what kind of competitor he was -- the guy hates to lose at anything, whether it's cards or whatever -- and how he's striving to be perfect all the time. And we knew that after watching the way Drew worked for those two years, he [Rivers] was going to push himself just as hard. When you have a work ethic like that, it's hard not to be successful."

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