After two years of patiently waiting for his chance as the understudy, Rivers will become the Chargers' starting quarterback next season, as the team declined to bring back Drew Brees.
Rivers, who was acquired from the New York Giants in a draft-day trade, has the credentials to be an NFL standout. He was the fourth overall pick after being the MVP of all five bowl games he played in at North Carolina State.
But he has only 30 NFL passes to his credit, and some think the Chargers are whacky for turning over a team which is so close to the playoffs to such an inexperienced player.
General manager A.J. Smith, who made the decision to cut ties with Brees, is hopeful Rivers will be the player he envisions.
"I feel the same way with his ability except that he's never played in the National Football League except a dabble in it," Smith said. "That's always a concern for all of us.
"Any time that a college player enters the NFL, it starts all over again. There are first-round busts and there are seventh-rounders who go to Honolulu every year. There are free agents that go to the Pro Bowl and in betweens. That's a judgment that we make as personnel people. You do the best job you can. You bring them in and when they cross over into that arena of the NFL, you just hope that you've made the right evaluation and you surround those people with a quality team. You hope for the best.
"I think the judgment is what kind of a player was he in college. You have plenty of examples of it over the years. The thing I always remind myself of, that I think the difference-maker is, not just the talent, but once I know someone has talent and I focus on the character, work ethic, leadership abilities and production -- what have they done and what kind of person are they? The two years that Philip has been in our program, I think if he was ever given and opportunity whenever that comes, I believe that he'll be very, very successful."
The chance is now for Rivers, the young man with the Southern drawl and three-quarter delivery. Many think Rivers arrival as a starter would be less dicey if he had some additional playing time. And there certainly instances last year when the Chargers had commanding leads -- or even in the regular-season finale in which San Diego was already eliminated from the playoffs -- where Rivers could have taken some snaps.
But Smith, who has a less-than-robust relationship with coach Marty Schottenheimer, said those decisions aren't made by him.
"I'll leave that up to Coach Schottenheimer because he's the head coach of the football team," said Smith, who was recently summoned to a meeting with team president Dean Spanos regarding his dealings with Schottenheimer. "He decides who plays, who starts and what the roles are. That's his job.
"What I do is evaluate, make recommendations and study that situation and monitor it. Any comments along that I certainly wouldn't make right now in this form. I've made some to ownership along the way, but you're asking the wrong guy. That's the coach's area to do. That's his job to run that football team and go win a Super Bowl. That's the ultimate goal of all coaches."
The Chargers' immediate goal is to get Rivers up and running as fast as possible.