Members of Eugenio Rivera’s family in Puerto Rico are planning parties and scouting out venues to watch Super Bowl 50.
There’s pride in the Hispanic community swelling for Eugenio’s son, Ron Rivera, who’s coaching the Carolina Panthers in the sport’s biggest game.
Rivera, who’s half Puerto Rican, half Mexican, has the opportunity to become the second coach of Hispanic descent to win a Super Bowl.
How much pride would he take from that distinction?
“Personally a tremendous amount,” Rivera said. “I really appreciate my heritage growing up the way I did and the family I had.”
The first Hispanic coach to win the Super Bowl is Tom Flores, who guided the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories in the 1980s.
While times have changed since then, Flores still knows the impact his victories had on the Hispanic community, and what a Rivera victory would do now.
In a phone interview this week, Flores recalled touring the country as Super Bowl champions and having Hispanics come up to him and share their pride in the title.
“I’m very proud of what I did and what I accomplished, but at the time it wasn’t an issue,” Flores said. “I never felt I was there because of my ethnic background. I was there because I earned there right to be there as a good football coach. That in itself was a great motivator for me. And the fact that I was Hispanic later was an issue, but at that time, to me, it wasn’t.
“You don’t really appreciate what you’ve done until it’s all over. When it was all over for me we were holding the trophy, and hopefully Ron will be able to do that.”
Flores, who still lives in the Bay Area, followed Rivera’s career when he was an All-America linebacker at Cal and through Rivera’s time with the Chicago Bears.
The two met in July at Lake Tahoe at a golf tournament held in memory of the late Gene Upshaw, a former Raider and executive director of the NFL Players Association.
“We did talk and visit a little bit and most of it was not even about football,” Flores said. “It was just about general things. That was kind of fun in a way. it was fun because most of the time when with a bunch of athletes getting together, all you talk about is your sport.”
Along with baseball legend Roberto Clemente, Flores was one of Rivera’s idols growing up. So was Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett, who’s the only Mexican-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
There aren’t many Hispanic players or coaches to look up to in football, though. When the Panthers hired Rivera in 2011, he was the first coach of Hispanic descent to be a head coach since 1995.
And according to the Racial and Gender Report Card by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, there were only 19 Hispanic/Latino NFL players out of 2,877 in 2014, making up 0.7 percent of the league.
That in 2016 we’re still talking about minority distinctions in coaching didn’t bother Rivera, he said.
“And in the same vein, and whether it’s about Hispanic heritage or African-American or Asian or whatever, I think that there’s merit that we need to think about,” Rivera said. “As you do things and you’re successful at the things you do, you should warrant opportunities. I think it’s about earning it more than anything else.”
Flores won’t attend the Super Bowl, but some media members are trying to get him together with Rivera for a photoshoot (so long as it doesn’t interfere with Rivera’s game preparation.)
But that doesn’t mean Flores will be donning a Panthers jersey and dabbing when Carolina faces the Denver Broncos.
“This is a hard one. Generally I always root for the (AFC),” Flores said. “I’m an old AFL guy and when an original AFL team gets there I usually root for them. But because of Ron I have mixed emotions.
“I’d like to see (Carolina) win. At this point I’d like to see Peyton go out as a winner. So I have mixed emotions about it. I don’t really like Denver. Of all the eight teams in the AFL, Denver was my least favorite. I’ve never known why.
“But I’m split.”