There are two quarterbacks who played a majority of their careers in the Super Bowl era, never made a Super Bowl but still made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One was Warren Moon, whose Hall of Fame resume was bolstered by great years in the Canadian Football League and five championships there.
That leaves one player whose HOF candidacy is most like Philip Rivers, who retired Wednesday. And, sadly for Chargers fans, it’s Dan Fouts.
Fouts put up great numbers and was a tremendous leader for a Chargers team that was very good but never got to the Super Bowl. Fouts never won an MVP, but was consistently one of the best quarterbacks of his era. Fouts wasn’t just a Hall of Famer, he got in on the first ballot.
Rivers’ case will be more complicated, but at least there’s a precedent.
Is Philip Rivers a Hall of Famer?
Since 1993, when Fouts was inducted, the focus on quarterback wins and Super Bowl rings for a QB has intensified. It’s not fair, but it’s unavoidable. It’s why Eli Manning has a shot.
Had Rivers won just one Super Bowl, it probably wouldn’t be a discussion. He’d be a lock. He finished fifth in all-time passing yards (63,440) and fifth in passing touchdowns (421). He is 12th in NFL history in passer rating, a few spots ahead of Kurt Warner and Joe Montana. But those two have rings.
The argument against Rivers is clear. He was never the best quarterback in football; he never won MVP or was a first-team All-Pro. He never led the Chargers or Colts to a Super Bowl. (The Chargers’ best playoff win in his time there was 13 years ago at Indianapolis, when Billy Volek took over following Rivers’ torn ACL.)
Rivers led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns once apiece. Fouts led the NFL in passing yards four straight seasons and was the first player with four 4,000-yard seasons. Rivers was never dominating his era like that.
Rivers was very good for a long time. Is that enough for voters?
The best case for Rivers
There’s a good argument for Rivers to get in.
His standing in the top five of passing yards and passing touchdowns will be a selling point, though he will likely move down by the time voters debate him. It could end up being a great class when he’s eligible, especially if Drew Brees, Larry Fitzgerald and Ben Roethlisberger retire. It would be tough for Rivers to crack that group, so he might have to wait.
The longer Rivers waits, the more his stats will be diminished. It’s not like the NFL is going to slow down in passing over the next five years. His career highs (4,792 yards, 34 touchdowns) might not look too impressive in a few years.
Rivers’ toughness is a plus. He started 240 straight games. He played in an AFC championship game with a torn ACL. That will matter.
Rivers also played in an unprecedented era of quarterback greatness. He battled Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning for AFC superiority most of his career, and at the end he had to deal with a new wave like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Then again, it’s fair to argue a Hall of Famer should have bested those players once in a while. Brady, Roethlisberger and Manning were better players, but how much credit should be given to being very good but not at the same level as his contemporaries?
It’s a tough case. If Rivers makes it in, it’ll be with a resume that’s unlike any other quarterback who is in the Hall of Fame. Fouts also didn’t make a Super Bowl, but he was the most productive passer of his era; he finished second to Fran Tarkenton in career passing yards. Then again, if Rivers doesn’t get in he’ll be the most prolific eligible quarterback in terms of career yards and touchdowns who isn’t in, and it won’t be close.
Either way, Rivers will be a unique case, whether he makes it with a very good but maybe not great (and championship-less) resume, or if he’s left out despite being top five in the two highest profile statistical categories for a quarterback. Let the debate begin.
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