Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Big-game experience: Former Jayhawk Mike Rivera relishes second chance

Mike Rivera

Mike Rivera


Former Kansas University linebacker Mike Rivera had one close call with the Super Bowl and feared it might be his last.

He never expected a second chance.

A year ago, Rivera, a 2008 KU graduate and current member of the New England Patriots’ practice squad, was with the Green Bay Packers for all but one game of the regular season. He left because the Miami Dolphins had activated him, which meant that he would suit up for the Dolphins’ final game of the 2010 regular season. The move was a no-brainer for Rivera, still trying to make it at the NFL level. But once that game ended, the Shawnee native sat back and watched his former teammates roll their way to a Super Bowl championship, one he would have been a part of had it not been for the call from Miami.

Now, just one year later, the pain and disappointment of that missed opportunity is gone, as Rivera finds himself making Super Bowl plans with the Patriots, who will take on the New York Giants on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI.

“It’s unbelievable,” Rivera said by phone. “Who would’ve thought after going to Miami and going through camp there and then getting released, that I’d be in this position?”

Rivera was the last one who saw it coming. In fact, Super Bowl dreams aside, Rivera said he thought being cut by Miami might have ended his pro career.

“I’ve definitely had some ups and downs, and I wasn’t sure if things were going to be over,” said the three-year NFL pro, who has been with five teams in that time. “When I got released from Miami, I really thought I may not get another chance, and I was looking into other options.”

So convinced was Rivera that his dream might have ended that he actually returned to KU and enrolled in graduate classes and started thinking about what career he would turn to next.

“Then, about halfway through the season, I got a few workouts and ended up getting picked up by the Patriots,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to be a part of all this. Being a part of the Green Bay program was amazing, too. And they went and won it, and I wasn’t there, but the next year, to have it happen again, it’s unbelievable.”

Although Rivera has not appeared in any games for the Patriots, he said he felt like a part of the team, a part of the Patriot family, immediately. New England is known for having one of the best-run organizations in sports, and Rivera said he realized right away why the franchise had been so successful.

“It didn’t take long at all,” he said. “You come in and work hard and pay attention, and you learn, and you’re accountable for your actions. That’s just the way it goes. You don’t even have to say it, it’s just kind of understood.”

Rivera said those expectations and the superb treatment of the franchise’s players easily extended to the guys on the practice squad.

“You do everything that everybody else does, you just don’t get to play in the games,” Rivera said. “But we had plenty of guys on practice squad this year who contributed on the field at some point. I want to be on the field, too, but I do my part to contribute, and they definitely make you feel like part of the team. You’re part of the family.”

Although the Patriots are making their fifth trip to the Super Bowl in the past 10 years, Rivera said you’d never know it from looking around the locker room.

“I think it means more than anything to these guys,” he said. “They put their hearts and souls into what they do, and they work harder than anybody. And I don’t think anybody here takes it lightly. It’s definitely something that’s appreciated.”

While that certainly holds true for guys like quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft, the opportunity means just as much to guys like Rivera.

“Getting a chance to go to the Super Bowl ... I couldn’t imagine anything better in the sports world,” Rivera said.

With plenty of work still to do before game day, Rivera is more concerned with soaking up the Super Bowl experience and is not worried about his NFL future. That includes all talk about getting a ring if the Patriots win the big game.

“I’m pretty sure. I mean, I don’t want to ... but I think I’ll definitely get one,” said Rivera, hoping not to jinx things. “As for my future with the team, I really don’t know yet. I guess that’s something we’ll deal with once the season comes to an end. It’s just amazing to be a part of this and to be in this position.”

Weis still loved in New England

Rivera said the KU football program still was near and dear to his heart, and that’s what made the first couple of weeks in December so special.

In the days that followed KU’s hiring of former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, several players and members of the Patriots organization sought out Rivera to tell him stories about his alma mater’s new head coach.

“It’s pretty cool,” Rivera said. “And it’s interesting because I’m here, and I’m hearing all about how he was, and it’s just neat that he’s at KU now. Everybody still likes him up here, and when he first got hired, they were talking about him a lot.”

Harris named to all-rookie team

Denver Broncos defensive back Chris Harris, a first-year, undrafted free agent and 2011 KU graduate, has been named to Pro Football Weekly’s all-rookie team.

Harris, who finished fourth among NFL rookies in tackles this season, with 72, played in all 16 games for the Broncos and made four starts at nickelback. Sixty-two of Harris’ tackles were solo stops, and he added six pass break-ups and one interception to his stat line while helping the Broncos advance to the second round of the playoffs.


Kit Duncan 2 years, 2 months ago

Ultimately it wasn't Mike Rivera or Arist Wright or any of the other former Kansas players that got Mark Mangino fired. The blame should be on an article written by Joe Schad for ESPN. After that article came out and all the dirty laundry was aired, Lew had no choice but to fire Mangino.

Why, you ask? If you were a highly recruited kid from any high school or junior college in America and spent every waking minute learning all you could about the coaches who were recruiting you, would you want to come to Kansas and play for Mark Mangino and staff after reading this article?


Greg Ledom 2 years, 2 months ago

Such hate fellas during exciting times in KU football. Let it go, and focus on the now, on the future, and the good times that lay ahead. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!


hawkcat 2 years, 2 months ago

Rivera was one heck of a good player here for Mangino, but haven't heard much about him in he pros.


Lance Cheney 2 years, 2 months ago

So, essentially what they're saying is, Mike Rivera is the key to making it to Super Bowls.


Dirk Medema 2 years, 2 months ago

Yeah Chris Harris!!!

Undrafted to All-Rookie team.


danmoore 2 years, 2 months ago

I wish Rivera nothing but the best and I think Mangino is the best coach we've ever had. I don’t have a problem with either.

Mangino may have made some mistakes that cost him his job but they would have been overlooked during a winning season, just like they would at any school. We should have went bowling that year but we could not hold onto the ball.


63Jayhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Mangino was a disgrace to the Jayhawk nation. As an alum, I was embarrassed to have him as a representative of our Great University. I like Turner Gill's demeanor and wish him well in his new endeavor. At this point, Charlie Weis appears to also be a person of good character.

Now, who was this guy, Mangino?

Go Jayhawks!


KGphoto 2 years, 2 months ago

Mike must have the Quan. First Green Bay, now the Pats. Kansas City should get him on their practice squad stat.

Go Pats! Get Mike a ring!!


hawken 2 years, 2 months ago

Whether Mangino was a good coach or not, or whether he was popular or not, is not the question. He has no one to blame but himself for getting fired (certainly not any of the players). Like all the rest of us, he is accountable for his actions.


Tom Richmond 2 years, 2 months ago

"It was their fat, little girlfriends".


Dave Coen 2 years, 2 months ago

Mike Rivera is a class act and a great Jayhawk! I am a Patriots fan in this Super Bowl only to support Mike. GO PATRIOTS! I am proud of Mike.


Cora Smith 2 years, 2 months ago

Interesting. You are all by-products of the process that eliminated Mangino. You have done nothing but complain about Turner Gill. I am not a Mangino lover but the process that forced him out was a travesty. Rivera did not have any new information that was up-to-date and pertinent but chose to dredge up old information in an attempt to force him out. The national damage done to the University is not going away in the blink of an eye. You can say I am not forward thinking but if you think the fall out is over, it is not and will linger for quite some time.


Bangkok_Jayhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Had the pleasure of getting know Mike Rivera, Jeff Foster, Adrian Mayes, and Joe Mortensen while I was at KU. All of them were great guys and it is great to see a guy like Rivera getting to experience this.


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