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Panthers' 'Riverboat' Ron Rivera gets a photoshopped makeover courtesy of N.C. State grad

“Riverboat” Ron Rivera now has his own photoshopped image, courtesy of a freelance graphic designer from Raleigh who said he was inspired by watching Carolina’s 10-9 win against San Francisco on Sunday.

Jim Kennedy used Adobe Photoshop to create an unofficial poster of the Panthers coach looking like a riverboat gambler, with playing cards in one hand and a cigar in the other. Rivera is wearing dark sunglasses and a fancy black-and-blue suit and hat that Kennedy said he had to “colorize” to make it look like a team uniform.

Kennedy put the image online Tuesday night in several places, and it became such an instant hit among Panthers fans that Rivera’s daughter Courtney, among many others, called attention to it in various corners of the Internet. She put it on Instagram.

“She did?” Rivera said, laughing, when informed Wednesday of his college-aged daughter’s online action. “Oh, that’s not fair. I’m going to talk to her.”

Rivera was statistically among the most conservative coaches in the NFL through his first 34 NFL games on fourth-and-short – the only coach who went for it on fourth down less was Denver’s John Fox.

He has found religion in the past few games on fourth-and-1 after a critical decision not to go for it against Buffalo in Week 2 contributed to a one-point Panthers loss. Rivera’s gambles have helped push the Panthers to early leads in several games. They have also morphed into one of the themes of the current five-game winning streak heading into Monday night’s game against one of the NFL’s most well-known fourth-down gamblers – New England coach Bill Belichick.

A longtime defensive coordinator and former NFL linebacker, Rivera has said that going for it on fourth-and-1 was originally against his nature and something he’s had to grow into as a third-year NFL head coach.

He has had some fun with his nickname of several weeks, joking Monday during his news conference that the only thing he tells offensive coordinator Mike Shula on the headphones during the game is: “Hey, this is Riverboat Ron. Let’s go for it.”

Kennedy, a 2008 N.C. State graduate, said he is a casual Panthers fan and heard the nickname Sunday for the first time when a friend told him about it while they were watching the game. After the Panthers’ one-point win – which didn’t include any fourth-down attempts but did feature the Panthers throwing the ball late in an effort to get a first down and run out the clock – he went home and whipped out the image in “an hour or two.”

“I was excited after the big win,” Kennedy said. “I just had that image in my mind, and I wanted to create it and share it with folks. But I sure didn’t expect all this. The interest in it has really exploded.”

Rivera isn’t really that fond of the nickname. He takes pains to say each call stands on his own and he’s not going to go for it every time. Some players have adopted the nickname regardless. Offensive tackle Jordan Gross called the coach “Riverboat Ron” in the weight room Wednesday.

“I love it,” Gross said. “I think it’s funny. He loves football. It’s been hard for him going through those first two seasons. I’m as happy for him as I am for anybody else because he works hard and all the players really respect him. And it almost makes him blush when you say it.”

Younger players don’t have the same comfort level.

“I don’t think we want to tease our head coach,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “That’s not a good method of flattery. I think you’d be getting a letter or memo (from) Mr. Dave Gettleman (the Panthers’ general manager).”

As for Rivera, he can do without the nickname or the photoshopped picture. What he does like about all this fuss is that his offensive players have bought into the fact that he believes in them.

“The thing I really like,” Rivera said, “is the guys have said to me that they appreciate me showing faith in who we are as a football team.”

If that faith ends up creating a few laughs on the side, so much the better. With a series of taut games looming, a little comic relief is always welcome.

And if that picture doesn’t make it into the “Monday Night Football” broadcast or pregame show, I will be really surprised.