On Aug. 20, 2020, Ron Rivera announced that he had squamous cell cancer. On Tuesday, the Washington Football Team's head coach received a biopsy confirming he is still cancer-free.
To say that the past year has been difficult for Rivera would be a drastic understatement. He underwent long, grueling hours of treatment during the first portion of the season while coaching the team from a 1-5 start to a playoff appearance. His determination and perseverance in a battle for his life did not go unnoticed by the organization.
In honor of Rivera's victory over the deadly disease, his players surprised him with a "Rivera Strong" decal featuring the bell he rang after his final treatment that will be worn for this Sunday's "Crucial Catch" game against the Atlanta Falcons.
The team also presented Rivera with a $25,500 donation to the St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center.
"As a coach, you always wonder if you get a chance to reach out to the players and touch them," said an emotional Rivera after watching a video announcing the decal in a team meeting. "This was awesome, man. Thank you."
"Seeing him overcome each and every obstacle is just an incredible feeling," Brandon Scherff said. "We're proud to represent him."
Rivera first spoke with ESPN's Adam Schefter to announce his diagnosis. He admitted he was "stunned" when his doctors first informed him because he felt like "I'm in the best shape I've been in."
Rivera was also assured by his doctors the cancer was "very treatable and very curable."
"I'm very fortunate," he told Senior Vice President of Content and Media Julie Donaldson. "There's been a very high success rate, and so I fall into that category. There's an opportunity for us to take care of this and be able to go forward."
Rivera has continued to coach throughout his treatment, which was recommended by his doctors. He was told to work at "a smart pace" and follow the protocols.
"To see somebody go through what he was going through and still show up on an everyday basis and bring the energy that he was bringing...watching film, giving us tips to help us on Sundays and be able to play fast and go out there and make plays," Jon Bostic said, "it really spoke volumes."
Rivera has had unwavering support from the team throughout his treatment. He only missed two practices and was on the sideline for every game. His fight was a constant inspiration for his players.
"I was at a loss for words, just seeing how Coach Rivera never complained," Chase Young said. "He came to work every day. He gave me more energy to say, 'Okay, Coach Rivera is going through what he's going through. He's still coming to work. We've gotta pick this up for Coach Rivera.'"
The fact that Rivera has been cancer-free for a year shows Deshazor Everett "how much of a warrior he is." Not only did he work through his treatment, but he also provided support for Everett and his teammates. Rivera's fight served as a constant example of the messages he preaches to his team.
"To see him go through that," Everett said, "it makes us fight that much harder."
On Oct. 26, 2020, a video was released of Rivera proclaiming his final treatment was complete by ringing a bell, a common act for those receiving treatment for cancer. There was still a long road ahead, but it was a monumental step.
"I think everyone would agree that he had the right...to be able to complain and feel bad for himself and nobody would have even thought twice about it. But he didn't," Jonathan Allen said. "He pushed through it, he worked hard. He controlled his actions, his attitude. I just think he's a shining example for what we should strive to be on and off the field."
Montez Sweat said Rivera's journey "lit a fire" under his and the rest of the team and pushed them to give more effort in everything they did.
"It was definitely a motivation for the whole team," Sweat said. "It was just an inspiration for somebody like that, our leader, to go through something like that and actually make it out the other side."
The decal worn by the players is a symbol to honor Rivera, but it's a way to raise awareness for other survivors and others fighting cancer.
"It's a sign of strength to see all that Coach Rivera went through, to know that we may not understand all that he went through and other cancer survivors, but that bell represents a big milestone in the fact that he finished his treatments and he's doing a lot better than he was then," said Terry McLaurin.
There's another message the players want to send to Rivera with the decals. They want to thank him for being the man he is and how he handled himself during his treatment.
"You were still the pillar that we could rely on," Logan Thomas said. "So congratulations, and thank you."