by Marty Caswell
He’ll have to find someone else to throw them to for the first four games of the 2015 season after Gates was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Gates, who led the Chargers with 12 touchdowns in 2014, will miss games versus the Lions, Vikings, Bengals and Browns to start the season, and on Monday afternoon, Rivers joined The Darren Smith Show to discuss his reaction to his suspension.
“I knew it was coming, I had talked to him beforehand. It’s really tough, you mention our relationship in different ways as a teammate, as a captain of the team and as a friend so you have different emotions for every different one of those roles. First, from a team standpoint, obviously it’s tough. Anytime you lose one of the top tight ends to every play and one of our best players for four games, it certainly is going to have an effect. Then you immediately go, ‘all right, Ladarius. John Phillips, DJ, (David Johnson) let’s go. We gotta go.’ So you shift in that mode but really as a friend, you just hate it for him.”
“I feel for him, I really do because, and there’s no reason for me to rehash his statement of what happened exactly because I don’t know exactly but you hate it for him because of peer perception and what thoughts people are going to have of him that you can’t really change their mind on it. And me knowing him the way I know him, and the type of guy he is and the player he is, I know, I know it was without knowing that he was doing that. He’s just, he’s first class in every way so it’s tough knowing that he’s going to have that tagged to him in some way and some people will always think something about it, why he played so well, why he’s been able to do it for so long. When the guys that know him, his family and his friends know that shoot, it was an accident and he made a mistake. And I think he’s handled that in his comments, first class. That doesn’t make it go away but I know all of his teammates, I know myself I’m behind him.”
Listen to Rivers full interview with Darren HERE
“I’m disappointed because we’re going to miss him those four games but I’m on his side and we’ll be anxious to get him back there week five.”
Rivers reiterated that his main disappointment was with the stigma and questions that would follow Gates (the first day of training camp will certainly be interesting) throughout the remainder of his career and that the Chargers, who missed the playoffs by one game last season, will be without their top offensive weapon for the first quarter of the season.
“I think more disappointed in how it happened. I’m not disappointed in him necessarily because I know it was unintentional. But then I know someone would say shouldn’t you be responsible for everything you take or whatever you put in your body and he’s owned up to that. It’s not like I’m sitting here disappointed in a fatherly way by any means but just disappointed that it’s happened to him. You feel for him and then you’re disappointed it how it’s going to affect our team because shoot, you’re losing arguably your, our best weapon and been a top player and pass catcher and receiver and tight end in this league for 10-12 years. So I think disappointed in that way but I’m by no means mad at him. You hate it to happen. He’s handled it the right way and I know it’s been hard on him. It’s been hard on him but he’ll bounce back from it and we’ll bounce back from it. We’ll battle those four weeks and go and play like has injured, like he got hurt in training camp and he’s going to miss four games. And then when we get him back, we’ll roll from there.”
Gates released a statement last Thursday, saying “In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails. I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them. As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me.”
It’s extraordinarily rare to hear a player from any sport to knowingly admit to taking PED’s when they test positive. Colts Robert Mathis said he was given incorrect information from his doctor when seeking assistance for fertility treatment. Rodney Harrison admitted to taking HGH as a player with the Patriots but said it was to help him recover quickly from surgery. The last prominent Chargers to test positive for PED’s was Shawne Merriman and in his ensuing press conference declared it was due to a tainted supplement. So naturally, it’s easy to be skeptical of Antonio Gates’ excuse, regardless of how classy he’s been throughout his Chargers career, and there aren’t many in San Diego sports history who have been held in such high regard by fans, teammates and the media.
Rivers, who spoke on the phone with Gates shortly before his suspension became public, explained why he has trust in the explanation.
“I know because of the relationship we’ve had over 12 years. Our friendship and the trust we’ve built leads me to be believe and to be confident in saying that I know. Can I 100 percent say that? I mean I don’t know that I can but I just feel like that our relationship is such that if it was intentional, he’d of said ‘I messed up, I’ve been doing this, I made a mistake,’ I feel like he would say that to me. That’s why I say I know and that’s the only reason I can say it. Could I be wrong? Shoot, I guess. I don’t think so. I don’t think so. The trust, the relationship and the friendship that we’ve built over 12 years, he’d have no reason not to tell me anything but the truth. He didn’t have to sway me in any way, I would love him regardless. So that’s why I say I know that it was an accident and that’s what makes it even harder because he’s having to deal with the repercussions. He will deal with it. He’s a strong enough guy, he’s been through many, many things and he can handle this.”
“He said it about as matter of fact as you can say it. If he had told me that verbatim, that would have been enough for me. As teammates, in a sense you owe one another that but at the same time he doesn’t owe me anything. But I appreciated the honesty and him feeling like he wanted to tell me before it was all out and deal with in that way and that’s the relationship we have. I stick with him no matter what and I think I speak for the guys in that locker room, certainly the guys who have been with him and through so much with him as a teammate and all we’ve been through as a team, I know the guys that know him well, I say pretty confidently, would feel the same way I do.”
“He’s a sincere, real guy. It bothers him and I know it bothers him because he takes great pride in being the best, in doing things right, in being a pro and being there for his guys, all those things so I know it’s tough on him.”
“I want to be clear, I’m behind him, I support him. Shoot, you don’t support a failed drug test but I support what I know happened to him and I feel for him. And that’s why I go shoot, we’re dealt some adversity early on. I feel like we will battle through it and like I said, my approach is going to be like, shoot, he got a high ankle sprain or pulled a hammy in camp. And we’re going to go forward without him and get him back and be full go and maybe we’ll be better for it in the long run.”
It’s not going to be easy to replace the production of Gates, whose 60 touchdown passes from Rivers are the most by a quarterback/tight end tandem in NFL history.
Rivers said preparing for the season without Gates will mean additional training camp and pre-season reps for players like Ladarius Green, David Johnson and John Phillips, who combined for 21 catches, 231 yards and zero TD’s as well as the wide receivers stepping up. But he referenced a column by Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, that declared the Chargers season dead without Gates.
“I think we’re far from dead. All due respect to how much we’ll miss a future Hall of Famer, we’re far from dead. We’re far from head. We’ll battle for four weeks and go from there. I do get a little fired up when you see your football team called dead before we’ve even trotted out there in week one. We’ve been through worse. We’ve gone through tougher things and it’ll be tough but I believe we’ll be fine.”
“I hate it for our football team to have to deal with missing arguably our best offensive player but I hate it more for him. I hate it more for him and what he’s gonna have to deal with, the questions he’ll have to continue to answer and the fact it will be tagged to him in some sense for the long haul and I do think his professionalism, the way he handles it and his track record will outweigh this little mark on his record.”