Gabe Rivera Was A Once-In-A-Lifetime Talent

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 18: A general view of Jones AT
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 18: A general view of Jones AT /

Monday, former Texas Tech defensive lineman Gabe Rivera, arguably the most talented Texas Tech football player in program history, passed away in his hometown of San Antonio.

When listing the greatest players to ever play for the Texas Tech football program, one will not get far before the name of Gabe Rivera comes up.  In fact, an argument could be made that he is the best to every play for the Red Raiders, regardless of position or era.

From 1979-1982, Rivera terrorized Southwest Conference offenses during a career that would warrant induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.  Two years later, he joined Dave Parks, Donny Anderson and E.J. Holub as the initial members of the Jones AT&T Ring of Honor.

And though an entire generation of Texas Tech fans have only heard stories and seen highlights of his time in Lubbock, virtually everyone agrees that Rivera was a talent the likes of which we may never see again.

Recruited as a tight end, Rivera grew from 230 to 300-pounds but retained his speed and athleticism as he found a starring role on the Texas Tech defensive line.  In fact, legend holds that he was clocked at 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash, something that would have been unheard of for a man of that size in the 1980’s and would still be a freakish time for a 300-pound player in today’s game.

"“Just the most outstanding athlete that I was ever blessed to coach,” former Tech defensive line coach Dean Slayton told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, “and I coached a lot of awful good ones. But Gabe was exceptional.”"

Rivera earned honorable mention All-American honors as a sophomore in 1980.  He would become a consensus All-American by the end of his senior year, one of only 12 Red Raiders to ever earn such honors.

But stats aside, nothing can compare to the highlights Rivera put up while in Lubbock.  The video below shows how he could run as fast as a running back while displaying the power of a dominant defensive tackle.

Unfortunately, Rivera’s story took a tragic turn in 1983 when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in which he was driving intoxicated.  The injury cut short his professional football career after just six games with the Pittsburgh Steelers who selected Rivera with the 21st overall pick in the 1983 draft.

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But following his accident, Rivera became an inspiration to countless people, especially in his native San Antonio.

"“He had that moment of craziness where he changed his life course,” Wallene Leek, wife of Rivera’s head coach at Texas Tech, Rex Dockery, told the Avalanche-Journal. “But where most people would have been so depressed and thrown in the towel, he lived with that and he was such a great example of how to take life’s worst curves and make a great life from it.”"

Rivera became a staple of the community in his hometown woking with inner-city students as a tutor for the past fifteen years.  After a moment that could have negatively defined his life forever, Rivera continued to do as the Texas Tech school song implores as he found other ways to “strive for honor”.

And throughout his life, Rivera always maintained a special relationship with his alma mater.

And it was because of his inspirational spirit, even more so that his on-field heroics, that he became a vital member of the Texas Tech family as an ambassador for the university and the personification of kindness, hope and perseverance.

"“After he got done with his career and a little adjustment time with his disability, he always made time to come back and be a part of things.” Rivera’s former quarterback and Director of the Double-T Varsity Club Ron Reeves told the Avalanche-Journal.  “I think that’s something everybody looked forward to.“Every Hall of Honor banquet or whatever, one of the first questions was, ‘Is Gabe coming back?’ And he did for most of them.  So I admired the way he hung tough and continued to appear to have a really good attitude about his situation.”"

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Born April 7th, 1961 in Crystal City, Texas, Rivera is survived by his wife Nancy and his children Timothy and Rae.  He was 57-years-old.  Monday, Rivera was honored at Jones Stadium with his photo on the video board and his name will eternally be synonymous with Texas Tech football.  His spirit will forever be an inspiration to Red Raiders everywhere as an example of what it means to be a “Fearless Champion”.