Thursday, January 22, 2009 by Nick Canepa Through the window of opportunity blows a putrid, ad nauseam wind. Window of opportunity? Bah. That's all we hear. And mostly it comes from those who think small, about now not later, and who have the vision of warthogs. The much-discussed Chargers' window of opportunity has been open for years now, so it must be closing soon. No? Well, let me tell you. It's not. The breeze is coming through, ruffling the curtains. “I'm tired of windows of opportunity,” groans Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith, who still tries to abide by the words of business guru Tom Peters: “When the window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade.” Have the Colts pulled it down? The Patriots? The Steelers? Hardly. There must be a reason. And there is. Those teams don't reach every September with the same players. And yet they remain threats. Why is that? Simple. They have quarterbacks of championship caliber. And it's now safe to say that the Chargers have a tough, playoff-tested, elite quarterback of their own in Philip Rivers. And it matters. Quarterbacks are the Windows of Opportunity. Period. The Arizona Cardinals, who haven't had a window since the Truman administration, have a healthy championship quarterback in Kurt Warner. He has been to Super Bowls, winning one, and twice has been league MVP. He has the Cardinals in the upcoming Super Bowl against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who, while not Otto Graham, is plenty good enough to have a ring of his own and very easily could be getting another. The Patriots won 11 games in 2008 without the game's best quarterback, Tom Brady, but they didn't make the playoffs. I think they would have with him and might be playing Feb. 1. There aren't many teams that play into January without a quarterback who isn't either: a) terrific, or b) at least good enough not to screw things up. Baltimore and Atlanta made it this year with the latter, rookie quarterbacks with skill, but the jury remains sequestered on how their future windows fare. The Chargers have made the playoffs the past three seasons despite injuries to Pro Bowl-caliber players such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Gates, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus McNeill, Nick Hardwick and Jamal Williams. In the end, there was too much to overcome, but there has been one constant: Rivers has been the starter all three of those seasons. “The quarterback is the key,” Smith says. “You've got to have a quarterback, and I think we have an elite quarterback. I think we have a guy who can take us. I believe Philip Rivers can carry a team. Special ones don't come around very often, and if we can get a quarterback to carry a team, we'd better make a move.” It doesn't mean you're going to win a Super Bowl every year, or in some cases, make the playoffs every year. What having a thoroughbred back there means is that you have a chance. “That is true,” Smith says. When you think about it, most teams don't have a chance at all. They may get it all together every so often, but it's not going to happen consistently. Baltimore and Tampa Bay won Super Bowls with great defenses and average quarterbacks, but they couldn't keep it going. It's pretty obvious. I've seen it firsthand, when the Chargers had no defense to speak of. They had Dan Fouts, and as long as he was standing, you always had the feeling they never were out of a game. Maybe you can notice it now. No matter how poorly San Diego is playing, how often is it really, totally out of it? Rarely. The talk about the Chargers now centers on LT, and whether he'll be back next year, and partner Darren Sproles, who is an unrestricted free agent, and whether he'll return. But the Chargers are starting to talk contract with Rivers, whose deal expires after the 2009 season. And if they don't get him signed, they can have 10 running backs and it isn't likely to matter. Smith has some tough decisions to make. Rivers might be one – if Smith didn't have a brain, and he does. Think he would have allowed Drew Brees to walk if he didn't have Rivers around? “You think I wouldn't like to have Michael Turner around or Darren Sproles tied up for six years?” Smith says. “It's like I'm penalized for drafting. I try to sign guys to keep the window going, but sometimes an agent is going to say, 'Let's look around.' Kris Dielman did. I was sick. But he eventually signed back with us. “I'm not looking forward to the things I have to do. I know bullets and shells are coming. It goes with the job. I'm aware of the community. I know what the pulse is, and I'm not afraid of it. I know I'm not 100 percent right. I'm not good at community relations. I know they're going to hate me. Nothing I can do about it. “We're not good enough yet. I have to do a better job. We'll probably miss the playoffs along the way. That's how it is. It's on me.” It's on him, all right. To keep Philip Rivers salaried – and standing upright.