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If Aaron Rodgers is MJ, then who the heck is Philip Rivers?

October 18, 2015

"If you're Michael, then I'm Kobe." "Okay?"
Earlier this week I posted at Baller Ball about theabsurd trend of comparing Aaron Rodgers to NBA players. As a huge Green Bay fan, I get it: Aaron Rodgers plays quarterback in a way that stylistically separates him from his peers. While Tom Brady might have more Super Bowl wins, Tom Brady cannot move the way Aaron Rodgers moves. While Peyton Manning maybe Steve Jobs’ most precise invention, Aaron Rodgers is a living organism. I get it. And the more I get it, the more I understand the need to go in search of accurate Rodgers comparisons.


The most obvious one probably requires going no further than Green Bay’s own history. His back foot throws and joyful spontaneity clearly mime and mimic the man he once watched from the sideline. There is a lot of Brett Favre in Aaron Rodgers. Then again, Rodgers plays like some next generation model of Favre. While Favre was a man of his times, he now seems somewhat obsolete in light of Rodgers’ more technical footwork and talent for not throwing interceptions. Favre was great. But Aaron is better.

In this sense, the search for Aaron Rodgers analogues ends up moving beyond the rectangular dimensions of the football field and towards the basketball court. While Brady is a cerebral genius in his own right, his achievements fall more in line with a Tim Duncan than a Michael Jordan. Brady doesn’t come across so much as the system itself but as the glue holding everything together. More accurately, this is Brady (or Duncan) as membrane. He and his coach have irrevocably merged and everything that is New England is within and without them.

In some ways, this makes both Duncan and Brady somewhat like Magic Johnson. Players age and retire. Stars are born, and stars die. But as long as the membrane exists—whether it be Duncan’s consistency, Brady’s arm, or Magic’s vision—other players will be sucked into the symbiotic system.

If this comparison seems somewhat feasible, then allow me to play with the idea that Peyton Manning is Larry Bird. (Actually, you could probably make the argument that Brady is Bird and Manning is Magic if you want. I’m not all that particular.) His individual talent is perhaps unrivaled. Everything relies on precision and accuracy. Nothing is really beyond him, but his athleticism is uniquely his own, unless one is willing to compare him with Toy Story’s Woody. Larry Bird and Peyton Manning also share the gloom of having won fewer championships than their staunchest rivals, Magic Johnson and Tom Brady.

If Manning and Brady are the football equivalent of Bird and Magic, then Favre individual brilliance—and somewhat mixed results—take on the place and shape of Julius Erving. Play around with whom Troy Aikman and Steve Young might be, and anyone before Joe Montana is from an age that can barely be compared to today’s NFL. For example, Bart Starr might be the sport’s Bill Russell.

"You know Philip Rivers is a lot like Isaiah Thomas." "Totally, but with no rings, LOL!" "Type LOL. Never say it, Tom."
Anyway, what might be more fun to discuss or debate is what to do with Phillip Rivers. At age 33, he’s not quite as old as Manning and Brady, nor is he quite as accomplished. He also isn’t quite as young as Rodgers, and neither is quite as accomplished. One could argue that outside of Manning, Brady, and Rodgers that Rivers is the next best thing at the quarterback position, if not currently, then at least over the course of his career, except that the space seems rather crowded and incongruous.

Eli Manning is 34. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings. Which of these men is more like Clyde Drexler? Maybe Rivers is the Glide in Portland, and Eli is the Glide in Houston. This debatable comparison is also interesting because of the draft day history between Eli and Philip.

Phillips Rivers supplanted Drew Brees in San Diego. Is Drew Brees more Julius Erving in Philly or Xavier McDaniel in Seattle? (I know, Favre was supposed to have already laid claim to the Erving comparison.) I guess it depends on whether you believe Rivers to be more like a trade bait Charles Barkley in need of exile or a loudmouthed Gary Payton who has outlived the usefulness of his Shawn Kemp (Antonio Gates or LT).

What is he in relation to Big Ben and Michael Vick or even a Carson Palmer? Is Carson Palmer a Danny Manning? Is Michael Vick a Vin Baker?  

Who is Philip Rivers? Is he a Sam Cassell who never found his way onto the ’94 and ’95 Rockets? Or, is he Patrick Ewing? Once so full of so much championship certainty and now aimlessly drifting towards Los Angeles and retirement. Is he John Stockton or Karl Malone? Is he John Starks? Could he possibly dunk in Jordan’s grill today?

Who the hell knows?

And Philip Rivers was all like hell no, Michael. And then time moved on.
What we do know is that Philip Rivers has been one heckuva quarterback for quite a while, and when tomorrow’s fathers tell their sons, “No, son, you’re making the wrong comparison—dude totally plays like Philip Rivers.” The sons will probably respond, “Who is Philip Rivers? You’re always talking about guys no one knows about.” And wise, old dad will say, “Son, that’s what YouTube! is for.” And son will say, “What the hell is YouTube!, dad.” And it will start all over again. “Well, son, it’s like—"


This post is sort of a continuation of: "Who He Play Like: A Study of Aaron Rodgers Comparisons." Bryan Harvey tweets @LawnChairBoys.

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