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SportsPulse: Believe it or not the 2020 NFL season is here. Our experts predict who’s going to surprise, disappoint and ultimately win it all in the league’s most unprecedented season.

USA TODAY

INDIANAPOLIS — Boy meets girl.

The boy, a year ahead of the girl and the son of a football coach, follows his dad to a different high school nearby. He blossoms into a star, heads off to college. The girl follows a year later, lives with the boy’s parents in his college town.

They get married after the boy’s freshman year.

The boy, Philip Rivers, is going to college and playing football. Sometimes he gets to sleep in, stay in the bed until 10 a.m. The girl, his wife Tiffany, is making the money, working at a day care, getting up early even after getting pregnant with their first child.

They decide they’re not going to put a number on how many kids they might have. Philip and Tiffany both come from families of three kids, but Philip’s family tree is full of big, heavy branches. Both his mom and his grandfather came from families of nine: seven girls, two boys.

“I think really, it was just whatever God’s will was,” Rivers said. “We were just open. Certainly didn’t have a number on it. Still don’t.”

The number, so far, is nine.

Seven girls. Two boys.

The boy, Philip, and the girl, Tiffany, happily have their house and their hands full.

“Our relationship is key, too, in raising a big family, because we were best friends first,” Rivers said. “My wife, she always says I’m the head and she’s the heart.”

Rivers has always believed the most important thing a parent can give their children is time.

There are two distinct seasons in the Rivers household: the offseason, when Rivers is home a lot, picking up the kids from school and coaching Little League teams, and the NFL season, when his job commands a lot of his attention and Tiffany’s remarkable strength and perspective amaze her husband even more than they normally do.

“It’s funny, because I don’t feel the stress, but mentally, physically, it can be wearing on the whole house, in general,” Rivers said. “I always go, ‘Football season’s here, it’s great!’ and Tiffany’s like, ‘It is great, you’re just in a different mode.’”

A mode that still includes the entire family.

Even as Rivers the quarterback is in his element — few people love the sport of football more than him, a 38-year-old who still seems as excited as a sixth-grader to get on the practice field — Rivers the father is still intent on giving his kids the most important thing. The Rivers family tries to eat together on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the season, around 6:30 or 7 p.m., and when he’s home, Rivers tries to be as present as possible: listening to their stories, reading a book to the younger ones, playing in the yard, finding time to be silly. He likes to talk things through with his kids, thoroughly explore their hearts.

Philip, the head, is the one who pushes his kids a little bit, who challenges them to overcome the obstacle. The one who teaches them to swim, to ride a bike, to attack the math worksheet and figure it out. The one who sees the ball bounce off his kid’s head in the yard and tries the old parent’s trick, telling them they’re OK, trying to teach them to overcome the setback and keep going.

Tiffany, the heart, is the one more likely to comfort when it’s something a little more serious, when they can’t just bounce right back. She’s also the one who sees the world a little differently, who can bring a different perspective to her husband in the middle of the football season, who helps him see what’s happening on the field a different way.

“I think you need that balance,” Rivers said.

The boy, Philip, and the girl, Tiffany, teach certain principles, essential principles, to every one of their kids. A devout Catholic family, they’re raising their children to know, love and serve God, and to love others. To love their family. To lead their siblings, to look out for them.

But as every parent knows, each one of the kids has his or her own personality,own spark, own identity.

“One in college, one in high school, and then an eighth-grader, sixth-grader, fifth-grader, third-grader, first-grader, preschooler, the little baby, the dynamics are different with all of them,” Rivers said. “They’re all awesome in their own unique way.”

HALLE, 18

The oldest, born while Rivers was still at North Carolina State, is 18 now, headed off to college and remarkably mature, a young woman who plays tennis, loves to sit and visit, to grab a cup of coffee and read.

Quiet and strong, a leader for the rest of the kids.

“She reminds me, big-time, of her mom, which is a big compliment,” Rivers said. “The biggest compliment I can probably give.”

Halle has always felt for others, feels the highs and lows of her father’s career more than anybody else. When she was 7 or 8, Rivers and the Chargers lost a divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh, and when he called home, Halle was inconsolable.

“’I know Dad wanted to go to the Super Bowl so bad,’” Rivers remembers Halle telling her mother. “So she kind of takes it in, takes on those emotions.”

CAROLINE, 15

Rivers and his second-oldest see the world differently. They catch every oddity, every detail. If the family’s in the car, flying down the highway and a farmer’s off in a field half a mile away picking a strawberry, Caroline sees it with crystal clarity, then throws it back to her dad.

“We are a lot alike,” Rivers said.

Now that she’s in high school, it means her parents can’t get away with a stumble in the kitchen or wearing the wrong shirt. Her eyes catch everything.

“She doesn’t let anything slide,” Rivers said. 

Always ready with a joke or a laugh, Caroline has the wit to make the barbs sting a little.

And when she wants something, she’s not about to let go of the idea easily.

“Caroline is very strong-willed, and I say that as a huge compliment,” Rivers said. “She’s kind of a go-getter in that regard.”

GRACE, 14

They used to call her Combo.

Grace is like a blend of her mother and her father, capable of fitting in almost anywhere, ready for anything.

“She goes with the flow,” Rivers said.

A tennis player like her older sisters and a basketball player like Caroline, Grace is comfortable playing Wiffle Ball in the yard with the boys, comfortable heading off to shop with the girls, fully invested with the younger kids when they’re playing house and ready to stay up late with her dad watching a game.

“Grace, to me, is so versatile,” Rivers said.

He finds himself marveling at the way she’s grown up, the way she’s matured. The conversations Rivers can have with Grace — with all three of his oldest, really — are beyond her years, and he can see her following in her older sisters’ footsteps as a leader.

GUNNER, 12

When Gunner was 6 or 7, his dad got up from the Colts game they were watching to go into the kitchen.

“He wouldn’t miss a play at that age, which is rare,” Rivers said.

All of a sudden, Gunner started hollering. Reggie Wayne had just run a sick post-corner. Rivers couldn’t believe a kid so young knew what that route looked like, but when he watched the replay, he had to admit his son knew his stuff.

 The oldest Rivers son is still a mini-SportsCenter, capable of rattling off the NBA scores or the Padres’ record or the next golf major.

 A quarterback with the same weird throwing motion as his dad, Gunner inherited his dad’s love of sports.

But he plays them all — just about every sport imaginable — with his mom’s temperament.

“He’s a lot more even-keel than I am,” Rivers said.

SARAH, 10

She landed smack-dab in the middle. The middle of all those Rivers children. Right between the two boys, in the middle of all of that physicality and energy.

Sarah can hold her own. If there’s a big group in the house, five or six members of the family sitting around and talking, Sarah’s going to be right in the middle of it, the life of the conversation.

“Sarah’s got a big personality, loves to talk,” Rivers said. “She is chatty, and I say that in a good way.”

Up until this summer, Sarah was the only member of the Rivers clan who hadn’t found a sport.

But she started swimming after the family moved to Indianapolis. Won first place in a meet.

“That was really big for her, confidence-wise,” Rivers said. “We were glad to see her find her thing.”

PETER, 8

For an 8-year-old, Peter sure seems to be ahead of his time.

Peter will get up early, get himself dressed, take out the dog and sit down to eat some breakfast. When his dad’s trying to put together some furniture, Peter will be right there trying to help him out, and if he starts to tire out at the end of the day, he’s headed to bed.

“I always say Pete has an old soul,” Rivers said.

Like his older brother, Peter loves sports, but he loves them a little differently. Loves the patience of baseball and golf, likes the outdoors, loves hunting and fishing and throwing a slingshot in the yard.

Gunner’s always been a quarterback, and Peter can throw it, too, but he also likes being on the receiving end.

“He kind of reminds me of a little slot receiver,” Rivers said. “Kind of like a Wes Welker.”

REBECCA, 6

She’s all in on her father’s new team.

“’Hey, Daddy, we don’t like the Chargers anymore,’” Rebecca, or Becca for short, told her father. “Only the Colts.”

Rivers tried to pump the brakes a little bit, tried to tell his daughter she didn’t have to hate the Chargers. Either way, she loves wearing her Colts shirt.

As long as it’s on correctly. If something’s scratching her in her shirt or a sock’s crumpled up between the toes, Becca’s going to make sure it gets fixed and gets fixed soon.

In a family of nine kids, there are going to be some similarities, and Becca reminds her parents of Caroline. Very sweet, but strong-willed.

Not that it’s a problem.

“Sometimes that trait can be deemed a negative, but I think the strong-willed ones usually end up doing awesome things,” Rivers said.

CLARE, 4

Born on the same day as Becca, only two years later, Clare is dead set on following in her older sister’s footsteps, forming the start of another trio of siblings within the larger Rivers family.

“They use the term they’re ‘birthday sisters’,” Rivers said. “They enjoy having the same birthday right now. I don’t know if it will be the same when they’re 12 or 14.”

If Becca’s playing house, Clare’s playing house. If Becca’s playing in the yard, Clare’s close behind.

But Rivers has a sneaking suspicion that Clare has remarkable athleticism running through her veins. Clare has only done gymnastics to this point, but there might be some other sports in her future.

“When she runs, and her build, I don’t know if I’ve seen such fit calves and legs on a 4-year-old,” Rivers said. “When she runs, she runs with intensity.”

ANNA, 1½

The baby of the family didn’t walk until she was 16 months old.

Too many people in the house who wanted to hold her and carry her around. Now a year and a half old, Anna’s already so vibrant that it’s hard to resist the little one.

“She’s so spunky and has such a huge personality,” Rivers said. “Her facial expressions, the way she interacts with all of her siblings and us, she makes us laugh.”

Anna’s into books right now.

Deep into books. She’ll make her dad read “Good Night Moon” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See” a half-dozen times in a row, soaking up the story and the cuddles.

Unless her sisters are on the move.

“If she hears the girls open the door to go outside, she’s reaching to get down and go run after them,” Rivers said.

What makes it all worth it

The boy has turned into a star now, a household name intent on taking the Colts to the mountaintop in the final seasons of his long, productive career.

And there’s a moment in the football season that comes every couple of weeks, a moment he relishes.

Rivers gets off of the plane after a road game, and gets into his car, the wear and tear of the game still fresh, the familiar soreness setting into his body. Win or loss, Rivers heads for home, mind still churning, cycling both backward through the game and forward to the next opponent.

Then he turns onto his street and sees his house, the picture coming into his mind as he pulls into his driveway. Maybe Brett Young’s country song, “Lady,” is on the radio, the song that always reminds Rivers simultaneously of his daughters and his incredible wife, that vocalizes his hope that his daughters will turn out like the amazing woman he married.

Rivers sees chalk on the sidewalk, balls in the yard, scooters and bicycles strewn all over the place.

“I always just kind of smile,” Rivers said. “You know what? Everything’s going to be all right.”

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