If the San Francisco 49ers made their way to Super Bowl LVII last season, they were prepared to call former star quarterback Philip Rivers out of retirement to suit up for the one game as they dealt with several injuries at the position.
Rivers, 41, was set to join the team if it defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed to reporters Thursday.
“He was prepared to [come out of retirement],” Shanahan said. “Now that’s stuff we talked about throughout the whole year. We would’ve had to have seen how that was for the Super Bowl, but that was the plan most of the year.”
Rivers, a 17-year quarterback, was over two years removed from his final NFL snap at that point. He last played with the Indianapolis Colts in 2020, helping them reach the playoffs that season as he threw for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Even though Rivers announced his retirement just over a week after the Colts’ playoff loss in 2020, there has been ample speculation about him making a return since then. As Rivers has been coaching a high school football team in Alabama since his retirement, he’s let interested teams know that “the ship has sailed” on him playing again.
“I heard from a couple of teams just kind of checking in,” Rivers told AL.com in March. “I didn’t contact anyone, and I’m not going anywhere. I think maybe some teams, with some guys going down, may have been just looking for a contingency plan, but nothing came of it.”
Former NFL players and FOX Sports analysts Antonio Cromartie and Plaxico Burress had a similar view on trying to come out of retirement for just one game.
“There’s no way I can sit up here and say, ‘I want to go out there’ when I’ve done no football training,” Cromartie said on a recent episode of “The Carton Show.” “It doesn’t matter [that I’m an athlete]. It’s not that easy.
“You’ve got to go out there for two weeks to try and knock off all of this rust. I’m not going out there to tear a hamstring as soon as I try to run. Or pop an Achilles. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Playing in [the Super Bowl] is hard enough playing the whole season,” Burress, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, added. “Playing the whole season and being in tip-top shape, I couldn’t imagine walking off the sideline and walking onto the field on Super Bowl Sunday.”
Shanahan initially revealed that the thought of possibly signing Rivers came to mind during the NFC Championship Game in an interview with The Athletic in July. Starter Brock Purdy suffered a complete tear of the UCL ligament in his throwing elbow early in the game, which caused him to briefly hand the reins over to Josh Johnson. After Johnson suffered a concussion early in the second half, Purdy returned to the game but only threw two passes due to the injury.
As Shanahan watched his offense mostly have to operate on the ground, he had one thought in mind as he hoped his team pulled off a miracle.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Man, I hope Brock’s not as bad as they’re saying, and what’s going to be our Plan B? We’re going to have to go get Philip Rivers, someone like that, for the Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “That’s what I’m thinking because I didn’t think Jimmy [Garoppolo] was going to be ready.
“And all I’m thinking is, ‘Man, I hope Brock’s not as bad as they’re saying, and I hope someone like Philip Rivers is working out and ready to go here in two weeks because that’s still our plan.’ And when I accepted reality, it took me a while to get over.”
Shanahan admitted to The Athletic that at around the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, with his team trailing 31-7, that his team was finished.
If the 49ers pulled off the miracle over the Eagles, there was some reported hope at that time that at least Garoppolo could return from his while Trey Lance was out for the year due to an ankle fracture. Garoppolo went down with a foot injury in early December with a possible return for Super Bowl LVII in mind if the 49ers made it there.
However, we’ve since learned that Garoppolo needed surgery to repair the foot injury as he initially didn’t pass his physical with the Las Vegas Raiders when he signed with them in March.
“I was doing my thing, trying to get my foot ready,” Garoppolo told reporters Thursday on his hopes of returning to play last season, as his new team is holding joint practices with his old team this week. “It didn’t work out how I wished it would have.”
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