CHARLOTTE – Ron Rivera knew he was answering texts, but every time he looked at his phone again, the numbers never got any smaller.
The Washington head coach said Wednesday he was overwhelmed by the support he got from so many people in the last year, as he spent part of his first year in a new home undergoing cancer treatments, and oh by the way, also leading his new team into the playoff chase.
Rivera recalled the many days his daughter Courtney would take him to treatments, since he'd be too weak to drive afterward. He'd spend his time in the passenger seat answering messages.
"When my (cancer) announcement came out, I looked at my text messages and I had like 175," Rivera said during a conference call with Carolina-based media. "I'd answer them, say 'Thank you, thank you,' and I'd look at it and it still said 175. They kept coming.
"When you go through something like I went through, getting a message, whether it's a text message, an email, a voice mail, that means the world. I really appreciated the thoughts and prayers from everybody out there."
Rivera said a large percentage of those messages were from friends or former co-workers from Charlotte, which isn't surprising considering the impact he made here.
And many of those messages carried a familiar theme.
For nine years, Rivera would walk to the practice field past the words "Keep Pounding," the words that became a franchise mantra as former linebacker and coach Sam Mills went through his own fight with cancer. It was stitched inside the jerseys, printed on shirts, paints on the walls. It was hard to miss. And it wasn't.
"Yep, it's funny because some of the former players I had, they would use that, and that was cool," Rivera said. "Some of them would use the sayings I used with them, about the attitude, preparation, and effort, and someone would tell me, 'Coach, it starts with your attitude today, Keep Pounding.'
"Sammy Mills (III, the son of Sam Mills), who's my D-line coach here, would tell me, 'Coach, Keep Pounding.' So it did resonate, it really did. I think it's a hell of a saying, I really do. I think it's a great mantra."
Clearly, the words sunk in like so many of Rivera's did.
Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson clearly remembered, as he said this week that Rivera's constant reminders about the APE (Attitude, Preparation, Effort) still ring in his ears to this day.
"My initial reaction was he's a fighter, he's one of the strongest men I knew," Jackson said about hearing of Rivera's diagnosis in August. "I didn't have any doubt in my mind he was going to beat it and he was going to be OK."
Rivera continued to coach during his treatments, occasionally needing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to handle practices for him during the tougher moments.
But through it all, Rivera has coached his team the way he did some of his teams here. Washington's kind of a messy 6-8 at the moment, but that leads the NFC East. As a guy who once won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record, Rivera knows not to apologize for any win.
Plenty of people pointed and laughed when Rivera made the switch to former Panthers starter Kyle Allen after a 1-4 start, but Rivera kept insisting his goal was to win games right now because they mattered. Allen was eventually injured, but not before adding just enough stability to help them through a turbulent season that has promise.
The fact that Sunday's game against the Panthers matters so much to his current job also takes away some of the feelings.
"Honestly, if this had been the home opener, which I thought it was going to be, I think there would have been a lot more emotion about it," Rivera said. "Because we're in the current situation we're in, to me, the excitement is about the potential of what this game could mean to us, and that's why the game is so important, more so than anything else."
That might last as long as the game itself.
When it's over, win or lose, he'll likely look down at his phone and see a number creeping over 175 again. And a lot of them will be from the 704.