There are some times when the local Pittsburgh media doesn’t do a whole lot more than aggregating press conference quotes, or even players’ social media posts, producing nothing that we don’t also do ourselves. Then there are the seemingly increasingly rare occasions during which they offer something more substantial.
One of those occasions was Ed Bouchette’s recent article on Gabe Rivera, one of the more controversial draft picks in Pittsburgh Steelers history. The team passed over Dan Marino to take him. He then proceeded early in his rookie season to drive drunk, and the end result was an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.
Rivera, the Steelers’ first-round selection in the 1983 NFL Draft, played in six of the team’s first seven games that season, already recording a couple of sacks, as a player that Bouchette says they viewed as the new starting-over point after Joe Greene.
“I don’t know if I would have been a great one. I know I would have been a good one”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter. “I think about it every once in a while, how things would have turned out”, but he tries not to think on it too long.
His defensive coordinator, Woody Widenhofer, said that he too thinks back on what could have been both for Rivera and for his defense. “He was going to be a great player. I believe we made the right choice when we drafted him”, he told Bouchette. “He has a tremendous amount of potential. He wasn’t around long enough to know”.
The 1983 first-round pick is rooting for a different outcome for the Steelers’ 2014 first-round pick, Ryan Shazier, who had an on-field injury in December last year that left him temporarily paralyzed. Shazier has made far more progress in a matter of months than Rivera had ever been able to over decades.
“It seemed like he came through it pretty good”, Rivera said of Shazier’s own experience with paralysis. The latter recently demonstrated that he is capable of walking under his own power to a limited degree by walking to the podium to announce the Steelers’ first-round draft pick a few weeks ago.
“I just hope he’s okay”, Rivera said. And given the circumstances, he does for all intents and purposes seem to be quite okay. Shazier remains a presence around the team as well, which is a major component of his own psychological rehabilitation.
The difference between the two is that Shazier had already gotten the opportunity to prove and live up to his potential by the time he was injured. He went to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. Rivera had just six games.
Yet the end result in both cases might end up being a ‘what could have been’ if Shazier never returns to the football field. That is his stated goal. He still plans on making the Hall of Fame. But at least he’s okay.