He's a worthy successor to Drew Brees as quarterback of the Chargers and now has the chance to prove himself the equal of 2004 draft classmates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger if he matches their Super Bowl wins, but San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers knows he faces one more obstacle to gain NFL-wide respect - his own reputation as a shoot-from-the-lip trash talker.
"I think it's a perception that's been created that's not 100 percent accurate," Rivers said Wednesday in a conference call with New York media. "I mean, I do like to have fun and interact out there with the guys on the opposing team, but to call it trash-talking is probably a big overstatement. I just like to play the game with a lot of passion and enthusiasm . . . I don't go into games with scripts to interact with opposing defenses."
Rivers compared it to the friendly kidding that went on in backyard basketball games when he was growing up in Athens, Ala. Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who attended Phillips High in Birmingham and faced Rivers in football and basketball before they attended North Carolina State together, has seen Rivers from both sides.
"Off the field, he's one of the coolest guys you could ever be around," Cotchery said. Referring to their video game competition, he added, "We played 'Madden' all day long. He talks trash in 'Madden' now. But he's cool. He's a family guy. You always hear him talking about his family.
"On the field, I'm seeing the same things from high school all the way to now. We've always talked about his accuracy and him being a leader and just having an understanding of the game. The only thing is he's just getting older."
Rivers' cocky attitude when he arrived in the NFL was humbled during his first two seasons riding the bench behind Brees before the trade that sent him to New Orleans. But he used that time to gain respect where it mattered most - inside his locker room.
"The two years where I didn't play and was able to sit and learn, I benefited and appreciate those now," Rivers said. "It was tough at the time, but I tried to develop those relationships even in years one and two. I was able to ease in there and make the transition a lot smoother."
Ultimately, respect is earned on Sundays, and Rivers now ranks among the NFL's elite quarterbacks. Ask him about the Jets' No. 1-ranked defense and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, and Rivers gives plenty of respect to a defense that allowed only eight touchdown passes. He threw for 28 TDs and a mere nine interceptions.
As much as he loves going deep to wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, Rivers might slow the Jets' rush with the short passing game to tight end Antonio Gates and running back Darren Sproles. "One thing we do is we get the ball out," Rivers said. "We push it down the field, but I try not to stand back there holding onto the ball very long. You look at the Jets' blitz schemes, and it usually doesn't take them very long to get there. It'll be the toughest test we've faced since playing Baltimore and the Eagles, who do similar things"
Of course, Rivers' respect for the Jets' defense might go out the window in San Diego's huddle on Sunday. "He plays with a lot of fierceness," the Chargers' Jackson said. "He has a little swagger to him. That's one of the things I love about him. When you get in that huddle, he believes each and every time we're going to score. It's fun playing with a guy like that."
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