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Steelers Gabe Rivera enjoys his return to area

Monday, November 20, 2000

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 22, 2000) Former Steelers defensive lineman Gabe Rivera has been a paraplegic since injuring his spine in an auto accident on Babcock Boulevard in Ross on Oct. 20, 1983. The location of the crash was incorrectly identified in an article in Monday's editions.

The wheelchair that Gabe Rivera pulled onto the field at Three Rivers Stadium last night holds good memories for him.

It's how he met his wife, Nancy. Rivera, a former Steelers first-round pick, was at the San Antonio Zoo when he accidentally ran over her foot. The two were married a year ago.

"She said if it weren't for the accident, we wouldn't have met," he said.

Rivera went from a 300-pound defensive lineman to a paraplegic on the night of Oct. 20, 1983, when he was thrown through the back of his sports car in a one-car accident on Babcock Boulevard.

The Steelers selected him with the 21st overall choice, passing up Dan Marino to do so. Some thought Rivera, who played at Texas Tech, would become the next Joe Greene.

Last night, Rivera joined tackle Larry Brown, linebacker Bryan Hinkle and cornerback J.T. Thomas as Steelers honorary captains for the coin flip.

It was Rivera's first visit to Pittsburgh since he left 15 years ago to return to Texas. It was his first time on the stadium floor since the Steelers' 44-17 victory against Cleveland Oct. 16, 1983.

He thoroughly enjoyed the visit. He was given a warm ovation from the fans, many of whom have not forgotten him.

"Even when I came into town, people remembered me," said Rivera, who arrived Friday with his wife.

Fans came up to him and his wife at their hotel, the Marriott City Center, and when they made a trip to Ross Park Mall.

"It's very good, I'm very excited," Rivera said.

Now 39, Rivera tutors middle school students in his hometown of San Antonio. He lives there with Nancy and her two teen-age daughters. His son, Timothy, is a high school junior living with his mother, Rivera's former wife, in Fort Worth. Timothy Rivera was born here shortly after Rivera's accident.

Rivera said his health is good and he does not think much about what might have been for a pro football career that ended shortly after it had begun. He receives money from his NFL pension.

He had no flashbacks as he returned to the city where his football career ended.

He remains a Steelers fan, listening to them on the Internet.

"I listen to Myron Cope on the radio. I still remember him."

And that Steelers defense?

"They looked pretty good for a while there, until those last couple of seconds" against Philadelphia, he said.

After the coin flip at midfield, his wife pushed him in his wheelchair back to the Steelers' sideline, Rivera smiling the entire way.

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