Rivera handles latest obstacle

CHARLOTTE – Ron Rivera's first press conference leading up to Saturday's NFC Divisional Playoff against the Seattle Seahawks wasn't primarily about football.

Instead, it was about the well-being of the Rivera family after their house caught fire early Monday morning.

"You can't make this stuff up," Rivera said.

It's the latest obstacle for a Panthers team that has dealt with one after another this season.

"It was a lot like the Cam (Newton car accident) situation for me," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "You see the pictures and you think the worst."

Added tight end Greg Olsen: "Every year has its own story, its own series of events that are hard to predict. But a car accident with your starting quarterback and your head coach's house catching fire – those are things that I don't think anyone ever anticipates being a part of your story."

Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, certainly never expected to be awakened by the smell of smoke and the piercing sound of fire alarms at 3:40 Monday morning.

The fire is believed to have begun in a fireplace on the other side of the master bedroom's front wall. Rivera, who had his two brothers and their wives visiting, had used the fireplace hours earlier.

"It somehow just smoldered and kicked into high gear," Rivera said.

Within minutes, all six people and the two family dogs safely evacuated the house.

"By the time we got out, the fire department was arriving and they went right into action," Rivera said.

As a leader of men, Rivera was a bit awestruck as the first responders began battling the flames.

"It's a heck of a thing to watch their team work," Rivera said. "You talk about teamwork and leadership – they were tremendous. We can all learn lessons from that."

Rivera repeatedly thanked the firefighters for their efforts.

"All 56 of them," he said.

And he implored anyone listening to make sure they have fire detection systems installed.

"You should have it. Fire alarms and smoke detectors do save lives," Rivera said. "We are very fortunate."

Players have credited Rivera throughout the season for his even-keeled, collected demeanor during difficult times – both on the field and off.

But this event is different, because it directly affects the head coach and his family. How will he handle it?

"If you keep your focus, you've got an opportunity and you've got a chance," Rivera said. "That's how I am going to look at it as we go forward."

He said he'll lean on Stephanie during the relocating and rebuilding process. "She's a very strong woman." And he looks forward to the work that lies ahead as he gets his team ready to face the defending Super Bowl champions.

"This will be a great way for me to take my mind off it," Rivera said. "This opportunity to continue to work is very reassuring.

"The best part is I am the only one that has to catch up. The coaches have been doing their preparation. I'm very pleased with their progress."

It won't take long for Rivera to catch up. And he'll move his team forward just as he's done numerous times before.

"Coach sets a good example for how to handle things personally and professionally and how to balance that. This will just be another example, except he's the one balancing it," Olsen said. "If anybody is prepared for it, it's him."

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