NFL star Philip Rivers is here in Raleigh for N.C. State’s annual football reunion. Sadly, he left his incognito softball disguise in San Diego.
That might have been the only way he could have snuck into Saturday’s alumni flag football game before the Kay Yow Spring Game.
“I didn’t pack it,” Rivers said of his ridiculous trucker cap with a built-in mullet and even more ridiculous polyester short shorts. “It was a good look.”
There’s still a chance Rivers, 34, and heading into his 13th season with the Chargers, might try to sneak out onto the Carter-Finley Stadium field one last time.
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“Maybe they’ll let me throw one more pass to Jerricho,” said Rivers of his former N.C. State teammate and former receiver for the Carolina Panthers, Jerricho Cotchery. “We’ll see.”
It was obvious just watching Philip interact with his teammates, he had a special ability to make everyone around him better.
N.C. State assistant Joe Pate
Rivers, a notorious competitor, resorted to the disguise two years ago in an attempt to go under the radar to play in a suburban San Diego recreational softball league with some of his teammates on the Chargers.
The disguise worked “for about 5 minutes,” Rivers said. His mark at N.C. State has lasted just a bit longer.
Rivers led the Wolfpack to a school-record 11 wins in 2002 and was the ACC Player of the Year in 2003. A four-year starter, he finished his career in 2003 as the second-leading passer in NCAA history (with 13,494 passing yards) and with his No. 17 jersey retired.
Technically the first-round pick of the New York Giants in 2004, No. 4 overall, Rivers was traded on draft day for Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning and has built a hall-of-fame career with the Chargers. His 41,447 passing yards are fifth among active quarterbacks. His 281 touchdown passes rank 11th all-time on the NFL list.
And to think, Rivers, who’s from Athens, Ala., almost never got to N.C. State. Rivers, who looks like he’s straight from central casting for NFL quarterbacks at 6-5 and the son of a football coach, wasn’t recruited by in-state powers Auburn and Alabama to play quarterback.
N.C. State, led by assistant coach Joe Pate, wanted Rivers to play quarterback. Pate, a former high school coach in the state of Alabama, had a good relationship with Rivers’ father, Steve. Pate, who met Rivers when he was in sixth grade, believed in Rivers’ potential at quarterback, not tight end, where Auburn wanted him to play.
“It was obvious just watching Philip interact with his teammates, he had a special ability to make everyone around him better,” Pate said.
The only hitch in the recruiting process was when coach Mike O’Cain was fired the day after Thanksgiving in 1999, and N.C. State had yet to hire his replacement, Chuck Amato.
“I remember being in the car, driving to my grandmother’s house, about 2 hours away and I remember hearing ‘Mike O’Cain fired’ on the radio,” Rivers said. “I can remember thinking, ‘What in the world am I going to do now?’ ”
Pate, who started at N.C. State in 1986 with Dick Sheridan, was consistent with his message to Rivers – hold tight and just wait to see who we hire.
“I was just honest with them; I didn’t know for sure I would be here but regardless of that, I knew it was great opportunity for him to play right away and start for four years,” Pate said.
While Pate held down the fort, and held onto Cotchery, also from Alabama, in the process, Amato sealed the deal. After he was hired, Amato sat down in Steve Rivers’ office at Athens High and made a quick pitch to Rivers.
“Well, so, is there anybody else really in this or are you coming?” Rivers remember Amato asking.
“I said, ‘I’m coming.’ That was it.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Rivers enrolled in January and started his first game, a 38-31 comeback win in overtime over Arkansas State, and every game after for four years.
Rivers started for 51 games, a number he knew off the top of his head on Friday, and led the Wolfpack to 34 wins and four bowl games in four years. The 2002 team, 11-3, is the only to post a double-digit win season in school history.
Rivers had help, notably from Cotchery and a defense that featured linebacker Dantonio Burnette, who is now the head strength and conditioning coach.
The wins and passing numbers might be what everyone remembers about Rivers, Burnette said, but not his teammates.
“He was super competitive,” Burnette said. “That guy will compete at anything – cards, video games you name it.”
Rivers got married after his freshman year at N.C. State. He still found time to sneak out to play the “NCAA football” video game.
“It was so funny, he’d tell Tiffany (his wife) he was going out to get ice cream and he’d come over and play a quick game. He hated losing. It would eat him alive when he lost, but we would make him sleep on a loss.”
Rivers was even competitive with the coaches at N.C. State. He would leave the offensive meetings and jump in the defensive meetings.
Burnette thought it was to get an edge for the game but really it might have been for practice.
“He would call out our coverages in practice,” Burnette said. “One time, in a 2-minute drill, he was moving the ball down the field and tormenting (coach) Manny Diaz. Every first down and big play, he’d give a Ric Flair ‘Woo!’
“Manny was so mad, it was kinda funny.”
That’s why Burnette thinks there’s at least a chance Rivers might try to sneak into the alumni game, even without his softball disguise.
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Burnette said. “That’s just the way he is.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Kay Yow Spring Game
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium
Time: 1 p.m.
The format: Assistants Des Kitchings and George Barlow drafted teams, with quarterbacks Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers split up. Other than special teams, it will be set up like a regular game.
“We’ll see how much football we can play,” coach Dave Doeren said. “We don’t have a lot of depth at some spots, so hopefully we’ll be able to play four quarters.”
Before the current players take the field, there will be an alumni flag football game at 10:45 a.m. One highlight is former Wolfpack and NFL great Torry Holt will play in that game.
The parking lots open at 8 a.m. Admission is free but a minimum $1 donation to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund is suggested.