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Rivera: Madden was an 'icon' who 'offered his time, wisdom and coaching insight'

Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden is carried from the field by his players after his team defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 at Super Bowl Xl in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 9, 1977. (AP Photo)
Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden is carried from the field by his players after his team defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 at Super Bowl Xl in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 9, 1977. (AP Photo)

Like many others in the NFL, it's difficult for head coach Ron Rivera to pinpoint his favorite memory of John Madden; there's just too many to pick from. 

There is one that has stuck with Rivera throughout the years, though, and it goes all the way back to the start of his and the now-late Hall of Fame coach's talks about being a head coach.

It was the first time Rivera had visited Madden at his office in California. By that time, he had already been a head coach for two seasons, so he had some understanding of what it was like to lead a franchise. Madden, known for his colorful descriptions, handed Rivera a simple piece of advice: "Don't ever forget; you are the head coach. Everything will stop and start with you, and everything will come across your desk."

That, along with several other influences from Madden, has guided Rivera ever since.

"Just having him put it to me in those terms, it was very direct, very blunt, very straightforward…I think really helped galvanize my attitude and my feeling about being the head coach," Rivera said Wednesday.

It was hardly the first time Rivera had spoken with Madden. Their first interaction actually came when Rivera was a 15-year-old sophomore in 1977, and over the years, their conversations changed from speaking to a boy who grew up loving the Raiders to a budding mentorship once Rivera joined the NFL.

The shadows of Madden's style are cast everywhere in Rivera's style. His three rules of being on time, paying attention and playing like hell were adopted by Rivera with the Carolina Panthers. His belief in letting players be who they are, rather than fitting into a mold, can be traced back to Madden as well.

No matter what Madden said, Rivera knew it was coming from personal experience. As someone who believes in the saying, "Don't draw me a map unless you've been there," that's something Rivera can appreciate.

"His knowledge of it wasn't him just guessing or telling you," Rivera said. "His knowledge was actual practical experience. I mean he had gone through these things."

Even the "Riverboat Ron" moniker was one that Madden encouraged Rivera to embrace. In his first two seasons as a head coach, Rivera was 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer, partly because of his conservative decision making.

Once again, Rivera went to Madden to see what he was doing wrong.

"Ron, you've played enough football, you've coached enough football, to know what's right or wrong," Rivera remembers Madden telling him in 2013. "If you go with what you feel is best for your team, you have a good chance. Rely on those things."

Rivera has continued to follow his gut instincts. Sometimes it has worked; other times, it hasn't. Either way, Rivera made those choices because he felt it was the right one.

"I will go by my gut. I will go by the feel. I'm going to draw on my experience. I've been fortunate enough to be in this league for 35 years. So, as I go through it, I'm going to make decisions based on what I think, first of all, is best for us."

Rivera wasn't the only person that Madden helped in his life. Like the memories he created, there are simply too many to count. But as the masses continue to flood social media with love for Madden, it's clear that no matter how many relationships he built, he made everyone feel like their interactions with him were unique.

"Coach John Madden was an NFL icon, who played, coached and gave his name to a video game," Rivera said via Twitter. "But to me, he offered his time, wisdom and coaching insight. I was truly blessed to have him as a mentor!"

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