Philip Rivers, Drew Brees reunite in Chargers-Saints joint practice
COSTA MESA — There they stood on the same field, totems from the full span of Philip Rivers’ career.
Norm Chow, who was Rivers’ first offensive coordinator at North Carolina State and helped turn him into the ACC Rookie of the Year.
Norv Turner, the former Chargers coach who oversaw some of Rivers’ most prolific professional seasons.
And New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who once kept Rivers on the bench for two years.
“It was good to see him, share a practice field again,” Rivers said of Brees. “It’s been a long time.”
The Chargers hosted the Saints on Thursday in the first of back-to-back joint practices — an event that not only drew extra fans to Jack Hammett Sports Complex, but also a number of football luminaries. None of them, however, were linked as strongly as Rivers and Brees.
Brees was entering his fourth season in San Diego when the Chargers acquired Rivers in a 2004 draft-day deal. But Rivers held out during contract negotiations, and Brees held on to the starting job, eventually passing for 27 touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl.
He played well again the following season, but tore his shoulder in the regular-season finale — a devastating injury many thought could end his career. The Chargers let him walk in free agency, opening the door for Rivers to take over the franchise.
Both have become elder statesmen among the league’s signal-callers: Brees, a Super Bowl champion who is 5,830 passing yards away from setting an NFL record; Rivers, a six-time Pro Bowler who has started 185 consecutive games, the fourth-longest quarterback streak in league history.
The two have kept in touch over the past 12 years, even arranging a flag football game between their sons at a San Diego-area park. Brees still spends much of his offseason in the region, spending time with family members as well as his longtime trainer, Todd Durkin.
But Thursday was still the first time Brees and Rivers practiced on the same field since they were teammates. Rivers didn’t exactly enjoy his time as a backup — a role that limited him to 30 passes across four appearances — but looking back, he now sees it as a formative period. The fiery 35-year-old hasn’t met many people as competitive as he is; Brees is one of the few who can stand toe to toe.
“It was kind of unspoken,” Rivers said. “‘You ain’t getting this spot.’ And it was, ‘Oh yeah, I am.’ And obviously, it played that it was his job those two years. …
“There’s a great deal of respect, I think. We respected each other, but yet, we were going after each other every day. And yet, pulled for each other on Sundays. I pulled for him as hard as I could pull each week.”
They’re not done trying to beat each other out. Brees is 3-0 against his old team, but Rivers looked sharper in Thursday’s practice. After most of their teammates had walked off the field, they then led their fellow quarterbacks in a skills challenge.
The Chargers won, though a rematch is scheduled for Friday. If the Saints tie it up, the quarterbacks may hold a third round during Saturday’s joint walk-through.
“We’ll have to see if we make it a two-out-of-three deal,” Rivers said.
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