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.


lv_jhwk 10 years, 5 months ago

And your point is... ?

Sorry, but that is far from the top of my list of what it would take for me to hold any grudge against him. Besides, the weight of all that he did for the program and university during his time on campus far outweighs whatever ill-conceived notions you might have.

burnmu 10 years, 5 months ago

I'd take that one step forward and say that what Mangino did for KU FB was more impressive than what any men's BB coach has done for our school (besides Naismith). I'm so very thankful for Weis, but firing Mangino was a (no pun intended) HUGE mistake.

Andy Hess 10 years, 5 months ago

If you take the side of that fat sack of crap over someone who shed sweat and blood for Kansas, maybe you should just go to Norman be a Mangino fan instead of a Kansas fan.

Cora Smith 10 years, 5 months ago

Are you really a KU grad or just a wannabe? Every member of my immediate family, including my daughters-in-law have bachelors or advanced degrees. I bleed crimson and blue and anyone, and I mean anyone who piled on with old news trying to bring down the coach is on my list.

Jeffery Barrett 10 years, 5 months ago

There are alot of things I would say to you in person that I can't say on this site. So I'll just say you are the same fat sack that swishy mentioned above!

Andy Hess 10 years, 5 months ago

To answer your question, yes I am an alumnus as well as a friend to many of those who played significant minutes during the final three Mangino years.

Cmill1221 10 years, 5 months ago

That "Fat Sack" did more for the football program than any other coach in our history. Sorry he wasn't a Terry Allen or Turner Gill nice guy. And what does his weight have to do with anything? Do you not like HCCW? You could consider him a "FAT SACK". I mean he has already been abusive to some of our players. Like brock bruglund, publicly slamming him. That wasn't very nice of him :-( Give me a break. I had friends who played for Mangino and they said he could be a jerk. Big deal. I played Highschool football @ blue valley and my coach was a jerk. GET OVER IT!! It's football. If you don't want to follow the rules or be punished for your actions then play intramural football or go to liberty. These poor kids had a mean coach, cry me a river they had a free education and the players who didn't were there by choice. I'm so sick of this stupid argument. When did the world go and turn into a bunch of wussies ?

Jeffery Barrett 10 years, 5 months ago

Blah, blah, blah......we've heard this many times from you mangino lovers........


Cmill1221 10 years, 5 months ago

Yeah b/c you gill lovers and Mangino haters never gets old. But the sad thing is you don't really have anything to come back with. Other than he was mean. But let me ask you if he had won his last 7 in a row instead of losing them would he have been fired? So STFU about how he was abusive and a "FAT TUB". We have a "FAT TUB" As a coach now, hopefully he will be as good as our last "FAT TUB"

Jeffery Barrett 10 years, 5 months ago

You will not find "loving" things from me written about coach Gill. And Coach Weis will have a FAR better overall AND conference record than mangino.

BTW, 'other than he was mean'?! How about conference record!?

See kugrad93s' comment at the end of the article. 'Nuff said!

jhox 10 years, 5 months ago

While I won't forget getting to watch my team in the Orange Bowl,and I'm grateful Mangino and company gave me that opportunity, I also won't forget losing something like 6 in a row Mangino's last season. I can't understand why people don't realize it was not the treatment of players that got him fired. It was the fact that the program was at the front end of a huge slide. Recruiting had gone to crap. Mangino clearly wasn't working very hard on the recruiting trail. The player treatment issues were just an excuse to try to stop the slide.

Curtis Stutz 10 years, 5 months ago

jhox that's absurd (I think it was 7 by the way, 'cause I believe they started 5-0 and then didn't make a bowl game), but to think that slide had nothing to do with players knowing the coach was under investigation is to not think at all I don't care how people feel about Mangino, if you don't believe we lost the overall head to head with Missery because he was fired you're fooling yourself, and that to me is the most frustrating part of the whole ordeal

At the same time fourbagger, Perkins is gone, Gill is gone, no reason to hold any grudges against former KU athletes

741hawk 10 years, 5 months ago

Had a GREAT time at the Orange Bowl, too. KU got there because Lew was a bully. He was NOT a leader or administrator.

The Mangino Slide should be called the "Perkins-induced-Slide." It started the day he had a players only meeting. Mangino's authority was immediately undercut. (We had started the season just fine, thank you.)

Perkins never met with Mangino to help him or help improve the program. (Documented) Perkins aways worked with others to communicate with Mangino. How absurd. He had longed looked for a reason to fire him . . . and the Orange Bowl really got in the way!

Remember, Perkins' actions ruined Mangino's last season. Perkins then hired TURNER GILL!

Ben Kane 10 years, 5 months ago

don't really want to get all up in this fight.... but,

it was perkins who got us that orange bowl berth instead of misery. it was a very underhanded political maneuver but i'm glad he did it. not only did i have a great time down there at the game but we got to stick the knife and twist it in mizery's face.

741hawk 10 years, 5 months ago

Agree. I will never fail to give Perkins credit for that.

Cmill1221 10 years, 5 months ago

Kansas got the orange bowl because we are a bigger draw. Kansas is a national name b/c of our basketball team and yes that plays into the equation. Kansas is more of a product as a whole than Missouri. That means more tickets and more viewers. People can argue that MU has KC and STL good for them. Kansas is a national name and that's why they were in the orange bowl. That and MU had 2 losses on the season. If they would have beat OU either time they would not have been crying. But they didn't. That's why we were in the Orange bowl. It was all about money and you can make more money with Kansas than Missouri.

Andy Smith 10 years, 5 months ago

Easy now, before you bow at the Perkins altar. The Orange Bowl commitee statement was clear. They did not want the loser of the Big 12 Championship game. Perkins nearly broke his own arm as he patted himself on the back for getting KU into the Orangr Bowl. Sure, he made a few calls. Other athletic directors did the same. There was nothing underhanded, no political maneuvering. The Orange Bowl chose Kansas because they wanted Kansas. Kansas was 11-1 prior to being chosen. This underhanded political crap was started by KKK on his radio call in show. Nonsense!

Ron Prichard 10 years, 5 months ago

I'll side with Rivera over Mangino any day. I'm thankful for Mangino's contribution to KU football and there is no denying he was a good coach, but you can't ignore all the crap and BS he brought to the program as well. And for the record, I have two degrees from KU, so don't question my loyalty.

Cora Smith 10 years, 5 months ago

I believe my loyalty was called into question first.

Jeffery Barrett 10 years, 5 months ago

Waaaaah!!! Me first!!! Don't forget about me! Grow up, you punk.

Bangkok_Jayhawk 10 years, 5 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.

Andy Tweedy 10 years, 5 months ago

So how did you end up in Bangkok? When I walked down the Hill, I thought finding a job somewhere like Florida would have been pretty exotic!

Bangkok_Jayhawk 10 years, 5 months ago

Me too Rockchalk1990! Basically I wanted a little adventure. Also, the job prospects were not great in the states so I decided it would be a good idea to move to Asia where the situation is much better. Must fun I have ever had.

Might have to change my name to Dubai_Jayhawk soon. Could have a new location by July.

Cora Smith 10 years, 5 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.

escaped_labrat 10 years, 5 months ago

I admit, Mangino was and always will be one of my favorite coaches. Rivera was and always will be a KU Jayhawk. Fire Turner Gill! Go Charlie Weis! ... Yes, I earned my BSJ from KU. Any questions? Great, as you were.

Ron Prichard 10 years, 5 months ago

Fourbagger, your argument is flawed. One doesn't have to pick sides between Gill and Mangino. Mangino helped KU football when it was down. He also was a disciplinarian. Many people, not just football players, spoke up and it is clear that many times, Mangino crossed the line between discipline and inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, Gill clearly did not have the motivation or discipline to be a head football coach in the Big XII. He was a good person, but clearly soft on the players and there was no accountability. Now we have Weis, who has been a D1 head coach before. All indications are that he has the ability to be a disciplinarian but not treat the players like crap. He is clearly holding them accountable, but also appears to be treating them with respect.

You can be a tough football coach and still be a good person. Mangino was a tough football coach but all accounts indicate he was not always a very good person. Gill was always a good person--probably a great person--but he was not a good, or tough, football coach. From the early returns here as well as his track record elsewhere, Weis appears to have figured out the right mix of toughness, accountability, and compassion.

Cora Smith 10 years, 5 months ago

I concur. My main complaint about Rivera is that he did not make feelings known at the time he was playing but saw an opportunity after things were already going badly. I know that Perkins deserves a majority of the blame and I think the Chancellor was slow to squelch the public infighting. Unfortunately, we became a soap opera on a national stage and I think we have a reputation among a lot of coaches as a place that is unstable.

Rivethead 10 years, 5 months ago

"all accounts indicate he was not always a very good person"

Who is perfect? Are you?

It absolutely amazes me that Jayhawks can be so naive. All we have ever heard is ONE side of the story. And it was pretty evident from the start that it was a side of the story with an agenda.

I always ask myself this: if Mark Mangino was such a mean abuser of kids, why was he allowed to be around the kids at the local Catholic preschool in Lawrence (his first "job" after being fired)? What do they Catholics know that the rest of the world must have just missed?

Dirk Medema 10 years, 5 months ago

"the process that forced him out was"

the same process that forced him out of his first HC position. It was the way he conducted his life. There were blind eyes to it while he was winning, but it was still as you put it "a travesty".

Dave Coen 10 years, 5 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.

Ken Tomberlin 10 years, 5 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.

KGphoto 10 years, 5 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!!

63Jayhawk 10 years, 5 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!

Cora Smith 10 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, it seems we have had a lot of disgraces in the athletic department recently. Thank goodness for the new athletic director and Bill Self.

741hawk 10 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for your comments, gournbagger. Well said.

danmoore 10 years, 5 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.

Dirk Medema 10 years, 5 months ago

Yeah Chris Harris!!!

Undrafted to All-Rookie team.

Jeffery Barrett 10 years, 5 months ago

Glad someone finally brought up that part of the story. Bravo, dagger!

Congrats to Chris Harris!

Lance Cheney 10 years, 5 months ago

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

hawkcat 10 years, 5 months ago

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

Greg Ledom 10 years, 5 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!

Kit Duncan 10 years, 5 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?

kugrad93 10 years, 5 months ago

Actually, the blame is on Mangino for treating people like garbage for eight years. Perhaps you didn't notice that his coaching staff had a revolving door, and unless you were in the building you probably didn't notice that he ran off a fair amount of support staff. It's one thing to be tough on football players and have discipline. It's another thing to be a complete jerk to people who are trying to help you do your job. I had never seen an assistant coach quit midseason for reasons other than health concerns, but it happened to Mangino.

Aside from being a difficult person, Mangino failed miserably to capitalize on the Orange Bowl. His last two teams were 8-5 and 5-7. He never beat UT or Texas Tech, and Bill Snyder owned him. He had one great season in which he benefited from a unbelievably weak schedule (Colorado, KSU and Nebraska were all down, and KU didn't have to play UT or OU).

Mike Rivera and other players and former players were asked about their experience with Mangino. The fact that there were plenty of negative things to say is no one's fault but Mangino's. Glen Mason was extremely tough on players, and he had his fair share of guys quit or transfer, but I don't remember anyone burning their hands off on the turf.

Mike Leach and Jim Leavitt both got fired around the same time as Mangino for alleged misconduct. Both of those guys have resumed their careers. Last I heard, Mangino was still unemployed. Why do you think that is? Is it because of Joe Schad, Lew Perkins or Mike Rivera? Or is it because ADs have heard from people who have worked or played for Mangino that he's a mean, difficult person with a horrific temper?

KU has a new coach -- again. It's time to get over Mangino.

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