AP file photo|
Philip Rivers’ path from North Alabama to San Diego took a turn through North Carolina.
Raleigh, N.C., hasn’t forgotten a favorite son of North Alabama
Editor’s note: On a recent trip to cover Alabama’s basketball win at North Carolina State, Daily sports writer Josh Cooper took time to explore the city in which San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, a native of Athens and Decatur, spent four collegiate seasons.
By Josh Cooper
RALEIGH, N.C. — The trail of Philip Rivers begins as a nine-hour drive from where he grew up in Morgan and Limestone counties.
It goes through east Tennessee over Appalachia, then settles onto a flat bed of highway finally leading toward the “tobacco road” region and Raleigh, N.C.
It was in this city where Philip Rivers went from the down-home, down-to-earth son of North Alabama and became the Philip Rivers known nationally.
It was in this city where Rivers set all kinds of records while starting for North Carolina State. He became the ACC’s all-time leading passer with 13,584 yards, the NCAA’s record-setter for starts by a quarterback with 51 total, and an icon adored by the 1,467,434 inhabitants of the triangle area.
And it was in this city where Rivers made residents of two different states much more aware of N.C. State football.
“I had never really heard of N.C. State until he came here,” said James Newby, a Wolfpack offensive lineman during 2002-06 and an Athens High graduate like Rivers. “The coaches will tell you all the best things in the world about programs, but you don’t really know unless you have a friend up here.”
The trail of Philip Rivers winds down Creedmoor road in Raleigh.
Creedmoor is one of the many streets in North Raleigh that run parallel to one another.
Strip malls adorn each side of the road. Fast food joints and a few shops as well. Several apartments building complexes lay off to the side.
About four miles after exiting the highway the intersection of Millbrook Road and Creedmoor arrives.
On the right is Mariner’s Crossing apartments.
Most of the buildings are red brick with white wood paneling from the outside. Some are typical college apartments, while others have enough room to raise a family.
Inside the management office, the workers say they are not allowed to give information on those who used to live there because it is against the law.
But the Mariner’s Crossing was where Rivers and his wife, Tiffany, lived and began their move into parenthood with their daughter Halle.
The trail of Philip Rivers continues toward the N.C. State campus.
Just outside of downtown Raleigh, the school is almost hidden in its own corner of the city.
On Hillsborough Street is a bar called Playmakers. A sign outside calls it the “saucy sports café.”
Since Rivers entered college still dating his high school sweetheart and married her soon after, he wasn’t known as someone who partied hard. But at Playmakers, you could find him on a Thursday night watching a game, or at any other random time eating wings with his teammates.
Banners of several teams adorn the walls of Playmakers. All the ACC is represented, as are a select few SEC teams and the gratuitous Hartford Whalers logo.
Giant big screen TVs show whatever game might be playing at that time, and several flavors of beer flow off the tap. It is your typical sports bar.
When asked about what she remembered about Philip Rivers, one of the two bartenders who worked at Playmakers during Rivers’ time at N.C. State unglowingly said, “He sat in the corner over there sometimes with his family or his teammates. He didn’t drink.”
The trail of Philip Rivers continues along Hillsborough. After close to a third of a mile, signs pop up for Carter-Finley Stadium on N.C. State’s west campus.
Following a few twists and turns the vast length of parking lot ground signifies that the stadium is near.
Close to the entrance gate on the North end zone side of the stadium is a plaque, which signifies Rivers’ legacy — ACC player of the year, NCAA Division I leader for career games started, the list goes on and on.
On the South side of the stadium rests the Wendell Murphy Football Center.
In the lobby, a visitor will find a museum, which shows the tradition of Wolfpack football. There are photos of Jericho Cotchery making leaping grabs, Torry Holt eluding defenders and Roman Gabriel launching passes into the air.
But among these N.C. State legends, the most photographed player is Rivers.
There are pictures of him with recently fired coach Chuck Amato, and shots of Rivers using his “awkward” throwing motion, as some have called it through the years. And there are photos of Rivers just horsing around with other players.
Underneath a jersey that Rivers wore at N.C. State reads a quote by Caulton Tudor from The Raleigh News and Observer: “Rivers is to football what David Thompson was to State basketball in the 70s.”
Thompson led the school to the 1974 NCAA basketball championship.
“With the way (Philip) was and his contributions to the school, you can say that he had a big part in this building,” Newby said.
Construction on the Murphy Center finished in 2003 and is 103,254 square feet of football training ground.
The trail of Philip Rivers moves onto the 50-yard line.
Up in the stands, next to Torry Holt’s retired No. 81 sits a placard, surrounded by red in white lettering that says Philip Rivers.
His No. 17 is black with a white frame. School officials unveiled it before Rivers played his final regular season collegiate game against Maryland on Nov. 22, 2003.
He played one more game against Kansas in the 2003 Champs Sports Bowl, which means he played in two contests with a retired number.
The trail of Philip Rivers is not over, and instead has led across the country to San Diego.
But as the people of Raleigh, Athens and Decatur know, and the inhabitants of the West Coast are finding out, wherever Rivers goes, he always leaves a mark.
“I think with every big city, there’s a small-town feel somewhere,” Rivers said. “You find your spot, find your grocery store and all those things. We’ve certainly found that here. It feels like home for us.”
Say goodbye to Interstate 65, Highway 72, Highway 31, Interstate 40 and Interstate 540.
The path of Philip Rivers has now reached Interstate 10. Where he will get off is anyone’s guess, but as history has shown, that stretch of road will never be the same.
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