NFL Coach of the Year contender Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers are expected to have the support of the Hispanic community when they play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday.
Rivera is Hispanic, raised by a mother of Mexican descent and a father whose family still calls Puerto Rico home.
With Rivera now in his fifth year at the helm, the Panthers’ popularity has become so widespread in the Hispanic community they now employ their own broadcast team to call their games in Spanish.
Rivera knows he isn’t the first Hispanic to coach in a Super Bowl — Tom Flores won two championships with the Oakland Raiders — but jokes he still feels like a “trail blazer.”
“For the most part it’s usually baseball and soccer [that are popular] there,” Rivera said. “But football is trying to become a world sport. … So it’s neat to see that kind of support, and because of my parents’ heritage, there is a tremendous amount of pride.”
Randall Alexander Varnum, 29, from Mexico City, will tune in to watch the Super Bowl to root on Carolina. He’s been a lifelong fan of the Panthers. He even lived in Charlotte, N.C., for a while and attended some games.
“The fact they have Ron Rivera could be a factor for some fans to pay attention to the game, even if they’re not fans of either team,” Varnum said.
Esteban Rivera, 30, the sports editor for GFR Media in Puerto Rico, said there hasn’t been overwhelming support for the Panthers yet, but he expects that could change once more people learn of Rivera’s heritage.
“Puerto Ricans usually support their own in sports, so Ron Rivera and the Panthers will be the favorites on the island,” he said.
Every week during team meetings, the 56-year-old Rivera chooses one pivotal play from the previous week’s game and plays the Spanish broadcast version for his players. Most don’t have a clue what the broadcasters are screaming about, but they holler in delight upon hearing the call.
If the Panthers win the Super Bowl, Rivera is hoping it will generate even more interest in football within the Hispanic community, and maybe even convince some to play — or even coach.
“I tell people you can do anything you want,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.”