Throwback Thursday Podcast: Mike Rivera

The voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, will periodically catch-up with former Kansas student-athletes and staff members as part of his Throwback Thursday podcast. Take a stroll down memory lane with Hanni as he’s joined this week by former Kansas linebacker Mike Rivera. 

Brian Hanni (BH): Well today on the Throwback Thursday podcast, I’m pleased to be joined by former Kansas Jayhawk Linebacking stand out Mike Rivera talking about the Orange Bowl team and what he has been up to post-Kansas football. First off, great to see you back in town. I know you’re fired up for Saturday and the season opener. Catch us up to speed on what you’ve been doing with life after football.

Mike Rivera (MR): Yeah. It’s good to chat with you too and catch up. Life after football once I ended with the New England Patriots in 2013 has just been getting involved in the real estate industry in Kansas City and commercial real estate. I recently got married and had our one year anniversary at the end of June. Now I’m just working and enjoying being married and also getting out to see some KU, keeping up with the KU football guys.

BH: Good for you. I want to talk to you about your thoughts on this current team here in just a bit, but first off take us through your pursuit of football as a profession. You mentioned finishing up with the Patriots but you bounced around several stops so walk us through that experience.

MR: You know I think I have nothing but gratitude and I’m thankful and I just feel so blessed to make the rounds of so many teams. It was definitely tough bouncing from team to team but I did get to spend a few years at several teams and got to be a part of several different coaching staffs and really great coaches and great players. For me the experience is irreplaceable and I always just cherish those moments looking back. I always have some fun memories to reflect on.

BH: Compare and contrast Mark Mangino to Bill Belichick.

MR: Oh that’s a loaded question. There’s a lot of comparisons we could do there. I mean overall just the hard working mentality. Just doing what you’re told and doing what you’re suppose to do is pretty much the common theme I think with both coaches. And, just getting guys who want to play football and work hard and have that mentality of they’re going to go out there and perform every week.

BH: What were you’re memories of a younger David Beaty back in the day?

MR: David Beaty was just a high energy guy. I remember one of my favorite memories was I use to joke around with him about trying to get on the receiving corps. And he’s like the only reason you would come on the receiving corps is to help us block, it’s not to catch. So I always had a good time with that. You know I’m glad to see that things are going pretty well and he’s brought a lot of fire back. I just remember his energy and how much passion he had for the game and how much his players liked him.    

BH: Mike, as we take a look back on your Kansas playing career, obviously the Orange Bowl the high water mark, but you were part of a couple bowl teams and really a part of the resurgence of Kansas football that had KU go to its first consecutive bowls in program history. Is that something you’re most proud of and what else would you say when you look back on your Kansas time are things your most proud of?

MR: I think the bowl games were always important for our teams through those years. The thing that I’m most proud of is the fact that the guys that I played with we all still stay in contact, we still join up for a game or two ever year. We can share those experiences of all the hard work from the winter conditionings and the summer runnings and all those things that led up to those things like the Orange Bowl and Insight Bowl and Fort Worth Bowl and the successes we had. I mean just the thing I’m most proud of is being able to continue on with those guys that were in my years but also connect with the older generation players and hear their stories. They’re all the same stories just different years. You get the same goof balls players and you got the guys who are out there having fun and just to share that you can pick up with any generation and have some shared stories.

BH: Let me take you back to the summer of 2007 and hoping that this is the season where you punch your ticket for bowl eligibility, but when did you realize that you might truly have something special? Because I don’t think you set out to think about twelve wins necessarily. Everybody says that, coaches say we show up to win every game, but at what point did you think wow we could blow the doors of the expectations, we might go down as the greatest team in Kansas history?

MR: You know I think it really started pretty early for one having that fire of not having such a good year, but the combination of the different position groups having people that held each other accountable. We didn’t want to let each other down and at the end of the day we all wanted to win games and everybody had a different routine of how they wanted to do it workout-wise and all those things. We wanted everybody to be there all the time to pursue one goal which was to win football games, be tough, go out there and be hard nosed. And I think once through the conditioning, through the different parts of the year we really realized we had a group of guys that held each other accountable and made sure that no one slipped under the rug and got by without doing everything they should, and that’s what I kind of think led to a lot of the success later on down the road.

BH: When I think back to the roster of that 2007 Kansas football team that won the ’08 Orange Bowl so many great personalities and hall of fame names from Reesing to Meier, Briscoe, Talib, Stuckey, McAnderson and yourself – such an amazing group. Were there any untold stories from some of those great Jayhawk names of the glory days that fans have not yet heard to this day?

MR: You know we did have a lot of personalities on that team. I mean just in that linebacking corps alone, between James Holt and Joe Morenson there’s about a hundred different stories there. Maybe some untold stories were the fact that we use to try to race Chris Dawson, our old strength coach, to the weight room and this guy use to get there at 3:30 a.m. and we use to have competitions to see who could get there earlier. Not everyday just periodically to see what it was like. I think guys with stories like that, we were just pushing the envelope and pushing the limit on each other. There was almost a competition to see who could do more but yeah that’s just kind of a story from way back.

BH: At 3:30 in the morning, when were you going to sleep?

MR: Well I don’t know if we ever went to sleep. We were staying up and going in a little early and I’m sure there are guys in the past that have done that. But you know at the end of the day it didn’t matter what the work out was, we would just go out there and try and have fun with it and just accomplish whatever we could out there.

BH: Do you ever get nostalgic? Do you ever wish you could go back in time and hop in the DeLorean with Doc and go Back to the Future?

MR: Oh absolutely. I think that’s one of the greatest things about coming back every year. You know I’m a little older now and I’m sure everyone as they get older feels a little different but when you come out there that day you wonder if you could still run on the field and get after it and still play a little bit. I think when you come back for the game you feel like, ‘hey, I could do it if I needed to,’ even though I definitely couldn’t. But definitely getting nostalgic you get to see the traditions of the Hill and get to see all the crimson and blue and everyone out there cheering even though things have been a little rough lately. But still you reflect back to those days where you had a lot of fun and you worked hard and all that.

BH: You’ve seen this program at its highest, you’ve seen this fan base with their most rabid enthusiasm. Obviously we want to see it back on that path and we believe David Beaty is the guy to get there, but when you saw Kansas football in the 2007-2008 stretch truly at its best compared to other Big 12 venues you would go to – some places have bigger stadiums, but do they have as passionate of fans – my point I’m getting at is where do you put Kansas football when things are rolling at an optimum level in terms of a place to play, a place to build yourself as a football player, and build yourself as a young man.

MR: I think KU as a place to play is just incredible. I mean once you get a few wins under your belt, the community really rallies around, I mean they love their Jayhawks. They have some of the greatest support. I mean the facilities, there’s always going to be an arms race, there’s going to be schools that have more money and are building the next latest and greatest but at the end of the day KU has some beautiful facilities and great places to play and practice. And not only that but to just getting an education, it’s a great university. I think the big thing that we were a part of that building process and we kind of came and worked through some facilities that were not as nice. We thought they were nice at the time but compared to some other places there’s always better. Through those times there was instilled in this in our mentality that hey we have what we need to be strong in the weight room and we have the right coaching staff in place and we might not have the top of the line iPads and all these things, but hey we can still play football with anybody and we have all we need at the University of Kansas.

BH: And now you’re going to come back and be able to see the new players’ lounge and locker room, probably this weekend I’m guessing, and can you take any pride and satisfaction in knowing you helped lay the ground work so they can get donations for stuff like that at a later time?

MR: Yeah, I mean that is just a huge shout out to our donors and Williams Fund of getting that put together and spending that money to make our facility even more elite. It’s just a wonderful thing. I hope that the guys that are there now, if I was to say one thing to them, is just enjoy every moment and appreciate what you have and know that you have something that is amazing and just really enjoy those new facilities.

BH: I know you have great confidence that David Beaty is the right man for this job. You referenced what he was like as a young receivers coach earlier. Tell me why you’re so convinced he’s going to get this job done.

MR: Well I think what he’s done is taken a program that was pretty much in shambles and it’s taken a long time to kind of build out of that. I think that at any university it takes time to put your program in place and build out of kind of how you want to do things. So there’s little victories within the bad records that have happened with in the last couple of years. And I think that getting some better talent and things like that, they are just on track. But at the end of the day, you have to have a passionate leader who has that vision to lay the pieces together that they need to get better as time goes on.