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Green Bay's Marco Rivera helps open door for more Puerto Ricans in NFL

By Gabrielle Paese

May 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

For all its rich sports history, Puerto Rico's page on football is blank. Just mention the NFL variety of the game on the island, and you are obligated to make the distinction between futbol, or soccer, and futbol americano, as the game with touchdowns is called.

"Most parents are afraid their kids will get hurt and they don't want them playing football," admits Green Bay Packers guard Marco Rivera, the first Puerto Rican to see action in the NFL. "I remember when I told my mom I wanted to play football. She said, 'Oh, you mean soccer.' I told her, 'No, football, with the shoulder pads.' She said no way."

One Super Bowl ring and a second-place Super Bowl finish later, Rivera's mom has changed her tune. Her 6-5, 318-pound son is known as the dean of Green Bay's offensive linemen. Yet even after eight consistent seasons in the NFL, all with the Packers, Rivera takes nothing for granted.

"As soon as you get complacent, some younger guy is going to come along and take your spot," said Rivera. "In this sport, you have to work hard all the time."

Rivera was in Puerto Rico last week for the fifth straight year, imparting his work ethic and teaching his football skills to some 500 football players ages 8-18 in the island's Pee Wee Football League. Rivera held his first clinic five years ago in a stadium parking lot for fewer than a hundred kids. This year, Rivera brought five players and two coaches along with him and spread out last Saturday on the fields of Roberto Clemente Sports City, Pee Wee's new permanent home.

"I see such potential here," said Rivera. "They don't have the resources, but there's no shortage of talent."

Rivera grew up in football-fevered Long Island, N.Y., but always kept Puerto Rico, his mother's homeland, close to his heart. He and his wife, Michelle, are building a house in Guayanilla, on the south coast and Rivera's grandmother still lives in Villalba. As part of what is now his annual visit, Rivera, spends most of the week doing charity work. He spends a lot of time answering questions about how he got to be so big ("lots of rice and beans"), all the while donating with grandeur, particularly to San Jorge Children's Hospital in San Juan. The NFL matches Rivera's fund-raising. Big guy, big heart.

During his visit last week, Rivera said he didn't see any reason why more Puerto Ricans couldn't follow in his footsteps. If they could just convince their mothers to let them suit up.


Like father, like son: Third Dalmau joins 5,000-point club

Quebradillas Piratas guard Richie Dalmau, the second of '70s basketball great Raymond Dalmau, became the third Dalmau to score 5,000 Superior Basketball League points last week. Richie joined his older brother, Christian, who completed the feat a week earlier. Christian plays for his father, who coaches the San German Atleticos.

While joining the 5,000-point club is quite a milestone for the career of any SBL player, both sons have far to go to equal their father's record of 11,592 points before his retirement in the early '80s. When asked whether he was up for it, Richie only said "It would be a tough record to beat."

In other SBL news, Santurce Cangrejeros center Jose "Piculin" Ortiz finally returned to action last week after missing the first part of the season with an ankle injury. Ortiz wasted no time showing off his skills. His first night back on the court, he scored the league's first triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 rebound and 11 assists. Santurce beat Caguas, 90-87.


Hobie 16 sailing back in Pan Am Games panorama

Puerto Rico got good news this week for its Pan Am Games potential medal count. Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) president Mario Vazquez Rana reconsidered the organization's decision to remove Hobie 16, Laser and J-24 sailing from the Pan Am Games.

P.R. Olympic Committee president Hector Cardona had appealed to PASO last month after the regional organization announced it would include only events on the Athens Olympics slate. Defending Pan Am Games Hobie 16 gold medallist Enrique "Quique" Figueroa stood to lose out, as did Puerto Rico's J-24 sailor Fraito Lugo and Laser sailors Alejandro Berrios and Pedrin Colon. Cardona's appeal to PASO followed Figueroa's logic: regional games should include events common to the region. Hobie catamaran's, J-24s and Lasers are all common small craft in the Caribbean.

Castellvi favorite to win NCAA tennis tournament

Vilmarie Castellvi, a University of Tennessee senior and the NCAA's No. 1 ranked tennis player, is currently competing in the NCAA individual tennis finals at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Fla. Castellvi, of Guaynabo, helped Puerto Rico move up to Group I in Federation Cup tennis two weeks ago in San Juan. She was a silver medalist at the 2002 Central American-Caribbean Games, losing the gold medal match to teammate Kristina Brandi. She is the top seed at the NCAAs.

Brandi, meanwhile, won a USTA pro circuit tournament this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Previously she had won a WTA Tour event in 1999.

Expos could play in San Juan again in 2004

My sources have been saying it all along, but this week Major League Baseball's chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, finally admitted it's possible: If MLB fails to find a permanent home for the Montreal Expos next year, they could end up playing again in San Juan.

"Throughout the process we have continued to examine temporary solutions, so we don't cut ourselves short," said DuPuy. "Our primary goal is to get it done for next year."

In MLB doublespeak, that means that if neither Washington, D.C., northern Virginia nor Portland, Ore., come up with the cash, San Juan could jump back in and host as many as 40 games.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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