Hometown matchup headlines Colts-Chargers
Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers has always been a fan of Philip Rivers.
Actually, he didn't have a choice until now. Powers grew up in Decatur, Ala., a small city where Rivers was the high-profile son of a popular football coach and the biggest local football name in town.
Rivers remains the celebrity, and Powers is trying to reach that level, too. He could if he wins Sunday night's first head-to-head Decatur Derby.
''It's a toss-up,'' Decatur High School coach Jere Adcock said when asked who the residents want. ''And whenever the game's over, they'll have good things to say about both guys.''
Powers and Rivers are hardly rivals.
Rivers went to school in the city of about 56,000 for eight years before moving to nearby Athens. There, playing for his father, Rivers earned the scholarship to North Carolina State that allowed him to become one of the nation's top college quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, back in Decatur, Powers was a rising prep prospect with a keen eye for NFL talent. He rooted for receivers such as Torry Holt and Randy Moss and, yes, even Rivers.
Living up to Rivers' standards in his town was a tall order.
Rivers' roots run deep. Adcock, Powers' coach, was hired at Decatur High by Rivers' father. Rivers' future wife used to baby-sit Adcock's children. So when Rivers became the fourth pick of the NFL draft in 2004, well, the whole town embraced him, including Powers.
But Sunday's game will be the first time the two have ever met - on or off the field.
''I was supposed to meet him at an event, but I never got to. He's friends with some of my bestest friends,'' Powers said. ''But it will be just like playing any other guy in the NFL.''
Except that Rivers is not just some other guy and this isn't just some other game.
The Chargers (5-5) are one of the hottest teams in football. They've won three straight to climb back into the AFC West title chase, and Rivers, who leads the AFC with a 105 passer rating and the NFL with 23 touchdowns, is the biggest reason.
But the Chargers have also been one of the Colts' biggest nemeses.
Since 2003, four teams have beaten Indy in the postseason. Only two teams have done it twice - the Patriots and the Chargers - and the memories of Rivers' mouth stand out in Indy almost as much as the losses.
''I don't know that I chatted that much then, but I think that particular game (the 2007 playoffs) got a lot of particular play for that,'' Rivers recalled. ''But there's a string of games that I haven't spoken in, and that's all in fun.''
For Manning and the Colts (6-4), the series has been pure misery.
In 2005, the Chargers ruined the Colts' perfect season. In 2007, at San Diego, Manning threw a career-high six interceptions, Adam Vinatieri missed a potential winning field goal and Dwight Freeney sustained a season-ending foot injury. Two months later, the Chargers eliminated Indy from the playoffs.
The next January, the Chargers beat the Colts in overtime to knock them out of the playoffs again.
Some call it the Manning Hex, a reference to the 2-4 mark he has against San Diego since the Chargers took his brother Eli with the No. 1 pick before trading Eli to the Giants.
The numbers also show Indy has had more trouble with San Diego than with New England.
''It's probably been a little more one-sided to tell you the truth,'' Manning said when asked to compare the rivalries. ''They have won a majority of the games, as of recent.''
At last count, it was four of five.
But all that happened before Indy took Powers in the third round of the 2009 draft. All he did was win the starting job as a rookie and help the Colts reach one destination Rivers has not been to - the Super Bowl.
Now the hometown debate can begin in earnest.
''I don't think there's ever been anything like this in Decatur,'' Adcock said. ''The closest would be when Jerraud played at Auburn and Rolando (McClain) played at Alabama and they actually faced each other one or two years.''
So what will the local fans be doing after waiting all day for Sunday night?
Tuning in, of course.
''It's not too often you get two guys from the same town in North Alabama on the same NFL field, so it should be fun,'' Rivers said.
And easy traveling in the city whose streets might just be empty.
''Everybody who's a football fan here will be glued to the TV,'' Adcock said. ''When you come into school on Monday, some of the teachers will say Jerraud played well, and others will say Philip had a good game. Those two guys get talked about a lot down here.''