Even for someone whose occupation includes handing off, this one was special.
“It was awesome,’’ Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
That’s saying something, as Rivers stuck the football in LaDainian Tomlinson’s midsection during the Chargers’ salad days.
“But this was a special feeling,’’ Rivers said.
That Rivers’ milestone distribution came in May is a head-scratcher. That the person on the receiving end was a stranger is even, well, stranger.
“We passed Pete off and it kind of just opened up,’’ Rivers said, the smile etched across his face as evident as his Southern twang.
Dadgumit, enough with the tease — what’s the tale?
Before the Chargers reach the preseason’s midpoint with Thursday’s game in Chicago, we present a story for the ages.
To know Rivers, is to appreciate his faith. A devout Roman Catholic, Rivers is as true to his religion as he is to the Chargers.
So when traveling to Italy this offseason, a visit to the Vatican was as appropriate as Rivers seeking Antonio Gates on an underneath route.
If Tuesday is connected to Belgium, then if Rivers is at the Vatican on Wednesday, it must be for the Pope’s weekly appearance. Rivers was there when Pope Francis appeared before a massive crowd, you know, like the ones that once packed Qualcomm Stadium.
Now the Chargers worry about blackouts. On this day, Rivers fretted about a shutout.
Rivers wanted to get his youngest son, Pete, near his holiness.
“We were close, but not that close,’’ Rivers said. “We were, shoot, probably 5 yards away from him.’’
Rivers has converted from that distance before, so he called an audible. Don’t keen quarterbacks always improvise?
“When the Pope came around and did his meet-and-greet, we were still 5 yards away and we knew we couldn’t get close enough,’’ Rivers said. “So we passed Pete off.’’
From there the little guy crowd surfed and caught Pope Francis’ eye. Retelling the story almost makes No. 17 misty, which illustrates Rivers’ love for family and religion.
Pope Francis didn’t signal for a first down, but gave a wave that presented a fresh series of memories.
“He kind of motioned for him,’’ Rivers said, with Pope Francis now holding the 1-year-old Pete and blessing him with a holy kiss. “It was such a special feeling and definitely the highlight of the trip.’’
So Rivers wins the Chargers’ version of “what-did-you-do-on-vacation?’’
Chargers fans are curious if more highlights are on the horizon. Can Rivers rebound from two sub-par years and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009?
“We haven’t had the type of seasons we wanted the last few years,’’ Rivers admitted.
The team’s first losing campaign since 2003 cost head coach Norv Turner his entrance code for Chargers Park. Now it’s rookie coach Mike McCoy’s hands on the wheel, trying, along with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, to get Rivers on course.
If the subject is miracles, where does this one rate: McCoy directing the Broncos’ offense to a playoff win over the Steelers with Tim Tebow at quarterback. And Whisenhunt’s X and O’s landing two teams in the season’s final game with Roman Numerals.
“Wiz is a ball guy, all the way,’’ Rivers said. “It’s been a ton of fun learning from him. You know his background and what success he’s had, but he came in here and had a great deal of respect for what we’ve done in the past.
“Early on when thinking about the change, it is a little tough. But the more you get to know these guys and know what they are doing, it’s been great.”
The Chargers’ training camp presented days sprinkled with that, but nearly as many not-so-great. But Rivers is reciting the new formations and terminology with more ease, which has him upbeat.
“We’re on the right track,’’ he said. “But there are things that come up in every practice that we need to correct, need to tweak. While you want things to go perfect, if you make those mistakes, you just don’t want to make them again.
“You can make them now, recover, and not do it on a Monday night or a Sunday in Philadelphia — whatever it is. We’ve got to keep on progressing.’’
The man preaching this fresh gospel, said Rivers, is all ears.
“He’s bought in what we’re trying to do,’’ McCoy said, “and doing exactly what we have asked from day one.’’
Maybe Rivers produces a day that rivals that one in May. Anyone for Rivers smooching the Vince Lombardi Trophy, like Pope Francis did to Rivers’ son?
For Pete’s sake, that’s a picture every member of the Chargers congregation would cherish.
Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on Monday and Friday mornings on 1090 AM. He can be contacted at [email protected]