Gabe Rivera, the No. 1 selection of the Steelers in 1983, died Monday in Texas at the age of 57. KNES, a San Antonio television station, reported that Rivera’s wife (Nancy) confirmed the former Texas Tech All-American’s death.
Rivera was at a social service function Friday, where he was a volunteer, when he fell ill and had to be hospitalized due to a perforated colon. He died three days later due to complications.
Rivera, known as “Señor Sack” was selected 21st overall in the memorable 1983 NFL Draft. Steeler Head Coach Chuck Noll had tabbed the remarkable DT as the heir to Joe Greene as the leader of a revised Steel Curtain into the next decade. With 321 career tackles, Rivera was the Southwest Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1982 as a senior and named to the SWC’s All-Decade team.
Unfortunately, his memory in Pittsburgh will forever be linked to who he was drafted over and the tragic mistake that limited him to only a six-game NFL career.
Many fans in Pittsburgh objected to No. 69’s selection over Pitt star Dan Marino in the ‘83 draft. However, they were warming up to the pick when Rivera shone in training camp and recorded two sacks in his first six games as a Steeler. However, Gabe was driving his new Datsun 280-ZX while impaired by alcohol on a Thursday night in late October of his rookie year. He struck another driver, was thrown from the vehicle and severed his spinal cord among other injuries. The other driver was not injured, but the the accident resulted in Rivera being confined to a wheelchair for life as a paraplegic. The accident occurred three weeks before his son, Tim, was born.
Rivera found love and was remarried in the 90s and he found ways in later years to give back to his community at a San Antonio non-profit inner-City outreach program where he volunteered and tutored. In 2012, Rivera was honored to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Our condolences go out to the Rivera family at this difficult time.