Philip Rivers announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending an NFL career that began in 2004 when he was selected fourth overall by the Giants. He was swiftly traded to the Chargers as part of the package that brought Eli Manning to New York.
A year ago, Manning retired by quoting Wellington Mara: "Once a Giant, always a Giant," he said. "For me, it’s only a Giant."
Now, Rivers could, if he wants to, say something similar: Once a Giant, always a Giant . . . but never a Giant.
It’s sort of a strange asterisk to Rivers’ career that he never played for the team that drafted him in the first round, but he wasn’t the first in Giants history. In fact, there is a long list of players taken in the first round by the team who never once wore the uniform.
The first was George Karamatic, a running back from Gonzaga, who was drafted in 1938 and wound up playing just one year in the NFL . . . for Washington.
In the 10 years between the 1944 and 1953 drafts, the Giants made six first-round picks that never played for the team, including one future Pro Football Hall of Famer. George Connor played two years at Holy Cross before serving in World War II, and when he returned the Giants took him in 1946. Connor decided to go back to college, though, and enrolled at Notre Dame. In 1948, he signed with the Bears and played eight seasons for them, was named All-Pro five times, and in 1975 was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1951, the Giants drafted Jim Spavital, who never played for the Giants but, like Rivers, played a large roll in their history. He had played for the Baltimore Colts of the NFL in 1950, but that team folded and the Giants took him the following year. Unfortunately for them, so did the United States Army, who called the Airborne reservist into action for the Korean War. Spavital could have played part of the 1951 season for the Giants before reporting for service, but instead decided to play a full season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. He never played after returning from war, but went on to have a career as a coach and general manager in the CFL, NFL, WFL and USFL. His place in Giants lore? In his one season with the Colts he had an impressive 246 rushing yards and 238 receiving yards. His 96-yard rush against the Packers on Nov. 5, 1950, is the fourth-longest run from scrimmage in NFL history. Had he put up those kinds of numbers for the Giants in 1951, they might not have gone into the 1952 draft in need of a halfback. When they did, they selected Frank Gifford.
Other Not-Quite-Giants first-round picks during that decade of misses included Billy Hillenbrand (1944), who instead signed with the Chicago Rockets in the rival AAFC; Vic Schwall (1947), who played four seasons for the Chicago Cardinals; and Paul Page (1949), who signed with the Colts in the AAFC. The last player before Rivers to be a Giants first-rounder without playing for the Giants was Bobby Marlow in 1953. He decided to play in the CFL in Canada and spent eight years there.
Rivers, though, remains the only player the Giants ever selected in the first round who they probably hoped would not play for them. They picked him with the trade for Manning with the Chargers in mind. Had the Giants been unconvinced such a deal was imminent they likely would have selected a different quarterback with that fourth overall pick in 2004 to actually play for them: Ben Roethlisberger.