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Former Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was a North County fixture for many years. He recently announced his retirement. Photo via Twitter
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Sports Talk: Rivers brought touch of South to North County

Philip Rivers was noted for his Sunday drives, the ones that led the Chargers, and briefly the Indianapolis Colts, to numerous victories.

But it was Rivers’ weekday drives, the ones from North County to Costa Mesa, that enhanced his local popularity. Rivers, a longtime Santaluz resident, didn’t move to Los Angeles after the Chargers fled San Diego following the 2016 season.

Instead Rivers was content to plop his backside into a customized van to make the 90-minute commute to the team’s facility in Orange County.

While in transit Rivers would study tape instead of tailgates, pursing his passion for football but not at the expense of uprooting his family that included nine kids.

Rivers, 39, retired recently, ending a 17-year career in which he spent all but his last season with the Chargers. With the Bolts, Rivers was a North County fixture, spotted at youth sports games, church or by just being present and polite.

I was a Chargers beat writer for the North County Times when Rivers arrived in 2004, a hotshot quarterback from North Carolina State.

First he was drafted by the New York Giants and then peddled to the Chargers in a blockbuster trade orchestrated by then-San Diego general manager A. J. Smith, a Del Mar resident.

Rivers checked in with a funny throwing motion and an aw-shucks demeanor. The Alabama native was as country as a dirt road and Rivers wore that persona as comfortably as the T-shirts he sported.

When one read “Piggly Wiggly” reporters scratched their heads of its meaning while I reached for my phone. My cousin, Toebuck King, worked at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Iuka, Miss., for four decades.

My connection with Rivers was a Southern one: my Mom is from Mississippi and that background helped me translate Rivers to others.

When Rivers said, “dadgumit,” that was the equivalent of him cussing. When Rivers said, “fixin’ to” that meant he was about to do something. A “purt-near ready” meant something was close to happening.

Once there was a Jim’s Southern BBQ in Encinitas that intrigued Rivers, especially when he learned it carried his beverage of choice.

“They got any Peach Nehi there?” asked Rivers, then a backup to Drew Brees. “I love Peach Nehi.”

I would slip him Peach Nehi on occasion and it never failed to produce a smile.

But my relationship with Rivers wasn’t an aberration. He was exceedingly gracious with all media, a rare occurrence from an NFL quarterback of Rivers’ pedigree.

Rivers was homespun and his remarks seldom came with a period. If asked a question Rivers would unleash a tsunami of quotes that would string together numerous thoughts and reflections.

What Rivers never did was criticize a teammate or coach. What he always did, as they say down South, was to “spread the sugar around” in giving praise to others.

Rivers is a Hall of Fame Southern gentleman and he could be bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When Rivers tapped out, he was No. 5 all-time in the NFL in completions (5,277), passing yards (63,440) and touchdown passes (421).

Instead of numbers, we celebrate what Rivers meant to the Chargers, North County and countless others.

Years ago Rivers was the keynote speaker at religious program in Phoenix. But a blanket of morning fog canceled Rivers’ flight. Instead of sending regrets and an autographed football, Rivers hopped in his car.

He made the five-hour trek, gave a 90-minute talk, and then pointed his vehicle back toward North County.

It was yet another drive that underscored Rivers’ commitment to others.

There’s a Southern compliment for that and it fits, as Rivers was never “too big for his britches.”

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.

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