Its rare for Latino’s to be head coaches in the National Football League. There have only been five. It is rarer to win a Super Bowl. Only Tom Flores of the Oakland Raiders (SB 15, 18) has done that. But for Ron Rivera, its just about making a point once more.
Rivera was the first Puerto Rican to play in and win a Super Bowl when his Chicago Bears defeated New England in the twentieth edition of the NFL’s premier event. Now as a coach, Rivera led the Carolina Panthers to an excellent 15-1 regular season and the second Super Bowl berth in its history.
Not bad for a man who saw his house burned to the ground and his brother die during the journey in 2015. The challenges in his personal life would have derailed most men. But his background suggests he has always had examples of strength to draw upon. He was the son of a Puerto Rican commissioned officer in the United States Army. Along with his mother, who is of Mexican heritage, he was what us called an army-brat, always traveling to where the father was stationed.
He was a gifted athlete and won a scholarship to play at the University of California at linebacker. He won the Lombardo Award as the nation’s top lineman in 1983. After nine seasons in the NFL he tried his hand as a TV analyst. But it took eight tries to land his current position.
“I know that somewhere along the line, if I get things in my favor, I think I can be successful.”
Rivera pointed out.
If he needed a reminder of professional and personal excellence in the face of adversity he only had to look to his wife, Stephanie, who served as an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. His brother Mickey, fought cancer for two years before succumbing last year.
As he prepares his team to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, one has to assume that Rivera’s talent and toughness, forged over a lifetime of both victory and defeat, will be able to find a way to make the ultimate point as the first Puerto Rican to coach a Super Bowl champion.