Gabe Rivera, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1983
Hi Gabe – first off, thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us. Can you let readers know about your work with Eddie Canales and Gridiron Heroes? How did you get involved – and how can readers help the Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation?
I met and heard about this in 2005 during The San Antonio Hall of Fame Inductee Banquet. I been going through a battle with infection. I went into the hospital and had many operations during the next couple of months. I never got involved but heard many good things about The Gridiron Heros. I volunteer at Inner-City Development where I am a board member, where I am involved with the summer program for kids between five to eighteen years old. During the year we have a food pantry and clothing for individuals and families that need assistance. Plus other activities.
If people are interested here’s the website: http://innercitydevelopment.org/home.html
How has the NFL helped you since your injury – and do you think the NFL does enough to help players who are suffering from injuries/ailments after football? What more can/should they do?
It was the combination between the NFL and the players union. They both should do more for the players after football in helping them receive some kind of health insurance that all former, present and future players and their families could get and be covered.
There also should have a simple process in being eligible for those injuries that developed later from their involvement if the NFL.
How exciting was it to get drafted by a team like the Steelers – a team with such a big legacy for developing dominating defensive lineman?
It was very exciting to be drafted by the Steelers and knowing that the building block of their defense started with having a good defensive lineman. Knowing I was picked for that position was an exciting period of my life.
Was it intimidating playing alongside guys like Lambert and Blount and opposite a HOF center like Webster? How did you handle playing with those guys?
Mostly I just went out there and did what my job was to do. It was a good feeling of playing with those guys and trying to learn from their experience.
Who took you under their wing as a rookie – who mentored you as a rookie and how did they do so?
I didn’t have any one person that took me under their wing. It was just listening and observing what the defensive lineman were doing.
After your injury, how did the team – players and front office – rally to support and help you? Any examples?
They knew how things were going to be for me and just knowing that the other players were supportive of my recovery was helpful. The whole Steelers Family treated me and my Family with great support. I remember that my mom would go to Church with The Chief most mornings. The Steelers took very good care of my Family during those difficult times.
After my rehab was over I would go to the locker room and visit the players. I also started doing some exercise there by going up the ramps. I went to most of the home games and visited the locker room after the game. It was a good feeling. Then when I moved back home to San Antonio I had the opportunity to see games in Houston and sometimes in Dallas.
Are you in touch at all with any of those former players and coaches?
The short time I was there and moving back the most I visited with any one person was a brief time. I mostly talk with Joe Gordon, Tony Parisi and others whenever I am up In Pittsburgh.
You’ve managed to make the most of your experiences in terms of helping kids who have experienced the same football-caused issues. Have you found the psychological or physical issues to be the most difficult to overcome – and how have you managed to overcome them?
It is a very hard thing to explain at first, but when we meet each other it is a bit more easy to talk about since we have gone through the same difficulties and feelings during those early stages. Both were difficult but the psychological part is most difficult to overcome. There are things you want to do but you are limited in those areas. I try to have a good and happy feeling when I start my day off and keep throughout the day.
The hard thing that I tell them is that you will know who are your friends by the one that stay with you during this difficult times.
Do you watch the NFL today? If so, what do you think of the changes made to the game – more emphasis on player safety and the passing game? Is the league going to far – or not far enough?
Yes I do watch the NFL games. I think that most of these changes will help the players protect themselves from a lot of injuries in the long run for most of their life.
For one the size and quickness these players have today. Plus the less physical contact during the week and training camp will help their bodies recuperate from them pounding each other physically.
Any other thoughts for readers?
I would just like to thank them for their prayers and being behind me through the rest of my life . May their lives be blessed.