Ron Rivera is a major reason why his team, the Carolina Panthers, easily took care of the Arizona Cardinals to punch a ticket to Super Bowl 50. In the process, he made history after becoming only the second Latino head coach to guide his team to the final game of the season.
One could say that Rivera has been preparing for this feat his entire life. The son of a Puerto Rican member of the U.S. Army and a Mexican immigrant, he has dedicated his career to the game, both as a player and then as a coach. When he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1984, Rivera became the first person of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent to play in the NFL.
The only Latino to previously call the shots at a Super Bowl game was the legendary Tom Flores. Flores not only attended the game, he won it twice, in 1981 and 1984, both with the Raiders (first as an Oakland team, then as a Los Angeles franchise). Flores is also one of two people in the history of the League to win a Super Bowl as a player, an assistant coach, and then as a head coach. He was also the first Latino starting quarterback.
Just like Flores, Rivera had a successful playing career. He played on the Chicago Bears when the team won Super Bowl XX in 1985. He spent nine seasons in the League, never leaving Chicago. Soon after retiring, he launched his coaching career, making his way through different teams and positions. In 2011, he landed the head coach position at Carolina. This year his team was on the verge of a perfect season. Even if that didn’t come true, they were the most successful team in the League and have defeated their postseason competition with ease.
Never a fan of showy headlines, Rivera is a proud Latino. He has cited Roberto Clemente as a childhood idol and has recognized the importance of giving back to the community. He is also a terrific coach and the strategist who smashed the fairy tale ending to Peyton Manning’s career. On February 7, there will be a huge community cheering for him.