Marco Rivera has started on the Packers O-Line Since 1998
In the 2001 NFL, Marco Rivera is an interesting mix. He's a little bit old school, a little bit new school, but all Green Bay Packer.
You want old school? Rivera is from the same New York City borough (Brooklyn) that legendary coach Vince Lombardi hailed from. The lineman, a Penn State alumnus, had to fight his way onto the roster and after years of hard work has won over the coaching staff and fans to become one of the more well respected offensive guards in the league. Does that commitment to succeed remind you of a former Alabama quarterback who led this organization to five world championships?
Next on the menu is all that new school talk. Picture a deep state of mediation combined with rigorous stretching exercise and you'll see Rivera taking part in Yoga classes with his wife Michelle in the offseason. Since we're dealing with the nitty gritty of football players here in offensive linemen, maybe we should be careful about the secrets we spill to his teammates. But if you really think about it, participating in the classes is part of a modernization of offseason preparation. We'll let you convince his fellow 300-pound linemen that it is the chic thing to do.
So that leaves the all-Green Bay Packer part of his personality. He's the latest in a distinguished line of standout Packer linemen, a list that includes Cal Hubbard, Mike Michalske, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, Tiny Engebretsen, Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo. And, during the offseason, when several players leave for another residence, Rivera stays home, in Green Bay. He's made this town his permanent home. He spends all year here either playing for the Packers or diligently preparing for the next season. No question, this guy eats, sleeps and breathes Packers football.
Being an offensive lineman, Rivera is not going to get as much media attention as "skill" players, like the star quarterback or running back. The offensive front is the group that does all the Packers' dirty work, to get things done right.
We'll give you the scoop on what path it took for Rivera to become the most seasoned veteran on this year's offensive line. It's kind of like one of those A&E Biography stories except there won't be a 30-minute video presentation following the article (we couldn't get our hands on any pictures of Rivera playing football on the concrete streets of Brooklyn as a kid).
Rivera first played organized football in ninth grade, when his family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island. After garnering All-America honorable mention from USA Today and Super Prep he went on to win four letters on Joe Paterno's Penn State squad, a team that played in the Outback, Rose and Blockbuster bowls over his collegiate career.
Fast forward to April 1996 and the sixth round of the NFL draft, when the Packers selected Rivera. Now remember (as if you could forget) the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl that year so it was much harder to earn a roster spot on the team than say with the Panthers or Jaguars, who were second-year expansion franchises at the time. He silenced naysayers and beat out his training-camp competition to stay in Green Bay.
Although he was on a Super Bowl winning team, Rivera was inactive for every game that season. On the recommendation of Tom Lovat, the offensive line coach at the time, Rivera set out to polish his skills in the World League (now known as NFL Europe) playing for the Scottish Claymores.
"Being a sixth rounder coming into this league, you feel like you have to fight for everything you've got," Rivera said. "I ended up going in the World League and trying to prove myself. That worked out for me because I went out there with a mission to get better and to show everybody that I could play football and belonged in the NFL.
Rivera's perseverance paid off because at the end of the 1997 season he was activated for the final two regular-season games, and all three playoff contests including Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego.
In 1998 he started 15 of the team's 16 regular-season games, including the NFC Wild Card playoff in San Francisco. Since then he has been firmly entrenched as the starter anchoring the right guard position.
That should bring you up to speed. Right now his newest challenge is being the veteran field leader for the offensive line. An even greater task is to help keep one of the better, young offensive line units in the NFL functioning as a cohesive group.
With veteran back-ups Earl Dotson and Frank Winters in the locker room, this task is a little less daunting. Rivera and his teammates still participate in a tradition that was started when Dotson and Winters were plowing the way for the beginning of the Packers' mid-90s playoff run. Every Thursday during the season the linemen go out to eat, with a different guy picking up the check.
"That is something that was started back, I believe, in '95 or '94 and it just kept growing," Rivera said. "Now Thursdays come and everyone is out to dinner on the offensive line. It just helps with chemistry and getting to know the guys. It's something special because when I was a rookie it gave me a chance to find out who these guys were."
This group has certainly gelled, but Rivera is quick to praise his position coach Larry Beightol. He credits the coach with fueling the group's precise production. He believes that this specific group of linemen is more committed to playing hard than any other group in his six years here.
So now you have the lowdown on what Rivera has done on the field to this point in his career and an inkling of life outside the locker room, but there's still more to the story. As if battling hulking defensive lineman everyday in practice and on game day isn't enough, Rivera has a 22-month old son, Dante, at home waiting for him. Sometimes, his dedication during the football season has gotten him the proverbial "get out of jail free" card, in terms of changing diapers and waking up to a crying baby at 3 a.m. Rivera spends plenty of extra time outside of the Lambeau Field headquarters studying tapes and his playbook. So he praises his wife for all the hard work she has put in during the season in terms of taking care of Dante. Ah, but there's always a catch.
"It takes a lot of time, but I try to commit as much time as I can to him [Dante]," Rivera said. "During the offseason I know she's going to get me back. I know she's going to disappear for a few weeks and leave me to fend for myself."
Rivera is a true family man and he hasn't forgotten his roots, either. His mother is a native of Puerto Rico and for the past four years, Rivera has conducted a youth football camp there. Last year more than 450 kids participated and Rivera's teammates Mike Flanagan, K.D. Williams and David Bowens came down to help with instruction.
It truly is a unique experience for him. On the relatively small island of Puerto Rico, Rivera is impressed with how far reaching the game of football is. Every year the number of participants in his camp has increased and Rivera doesn't expect the allure of the camp to wear off any time soon. He is content working to share his NFL experience with the children who might not have as much access to the NFL game, but a desire that does not waver.
"That's where my heritage is," Rivera said. "I have a bunch of family still out there. I wanted to do something different. I just didn't want to come here [Green Bay] and say we'll have another camp here. There are thousands of camps in the states and I wanted to go somewhere there are no camps, but kids play football and they have never seen pro athletes come in and put on a camp. That's what we've done for the last four years and they just love it."
Rivera has also become an important member of the Packer family. With the constant desire to succeed in the NFL and the right work ethic and attitude to go with it, Rivera should be on the starting line for the Green and Gold for years to come.
Editors Note: This article appeared in the Green Bay Packers Gameday Magazine during the 2001 season.