BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Ron Rivera was about 10 minutes into an hour interview on Wednesday when he noticed a reporter’s tape recorder 2 feet away from the others surrounding him at his table.
The Carolina Panthers coach promptly slid the device closer so the microphone could pick up every word he said in the noisy room full of NFC coaches attending the NFL owners meeting.
Call it his anti-Bill Belichick moment.
A day earlier when the AFC coaches spoke, the New England Patriots coach very deliberately pushed the microphones surrounding him about 2 feet away.
He proceeded to answer questions with his typical short responses, making it clear this wasn’t a place he wanted to be.
Rivera spent more than 20 minutes passionately defending quarterback Cam Newton, who with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head walked out on his postgame Super Bowl news conference less than three minutes after it started.
When a reporter apologized for spending so much time on one subject, Rivera called it a "great exchange."
"This is amazing television," he said. "Look at all the people that are here."
Rivera gets it. He understands reporters and their readers/viewers want to hear full, honest answers. He understands they want the raw emotion in interviews that they see on the field.
That’s why it was a surprise when Rivera suggested players from the losing Super Bowl team shouldn’t be required to talk to reporters until a day or so after the loss so they wouldn’t have to share that emotion with the rest of the world.
Raw emotion is a big part of what attracts people to sports. It’s why they sit in the stands and scream for two or three hours. It’s why they tune into televised postgame interviews to hear what the players say -- win or lose.
Showing disappointment isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and coaches aren’t always prepared to handle it better than players. Remember Jim Mora's "diddly poo" rant in 1996 after New Orleans lost to the Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina?
That the biggest, actually only, crowd around Rivera on this day came as he passionately defended the NFL MVP said it all.
People want to see and hear emotion.
The message shouldn’t be to hide those emotions. It should be for fans and media to accept them for what they are instead of making judgments about whether they are signs of immaturity or unprofessionalism.
Rivera finally came around to acknowledging that.
“Shouldn’t we say, ‘Well, he handled it like we thought. The young man wants to win, he didn’t win, he was really, truly disappointed'?" Rivera said. “But nobody said that. They said, ‘Well, I couldn’t believe he had the hoodie [on].’
“You know what? He just went through a tough experience. Are we all going to be at our best if we go through a tough experience? We’re not."
But then Rivera returned to his suggestion of having only the head coach speak for the team after losing the Super Bowl.
“So let’s just take the guy that is best-suited to do it and let him handle it," the 2015 NFL Coach of the Year said. “Let him make those answers and corrections and talk about it. To me, that’s really what we should be looking at."
This sounded more like a Belichick suggestion. It sounded more like excuses for Newton, the only Carolina player who walked out of his postgame news conference.
That was a reminder that Newton is a unique player beyond being a 6-foot-5, 260-pound quarterback who plays like a linebacker.
It was a reminder that if you’re going to appreciate Newton showing his raw emotion on touchdown celebrations or when he surprises kids diagnosed with cancer on Halloween, then you have to accept the disappointment when he loses.
“Cam is unique in a lot of respects," Rivera said. “He’s really one of those young men who wants to be who he is, and he’s not going to change.
“As his head coach, I’ve kind of grasped that and realized this is who he is, and I’m not going to change him. But what then we can do is help him become better."
Newton will get better at handling disappointment in time. Peyton Manning didn’t handle his first Super Bowl loss all that great, jogging off the field without shaking the hands of New Orleans players after Super Bowl XLIV.
Newton at least went out of his way to shake Manning’s hand after Super Bowl 50.
Keeping Newton, or any player, from the media after a tough loss isn’t the answer, and it definitely seemed like a reach for Rivera to suggest it.
This is the coach who stressed to players throughout a 15-1 regular season the importance of “keeping your personality, keeping who you are, be true to yourself."
This is the coach who slides recorders toward him instead of pushing them away.
This is the anti-Belichick.