ALS Challenge runs deep for Ron Rivera

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
2:13
PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that made its way to the Carolina Panthers' practice field on Friday has a deeper meaning for coach Ron Rivera than most.

Rivera will get doused on Saturday in memory of ex-University of California teammate/roommate Paul Najarian after being challenged by nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch.

Najarian lost a long battle with ALS on June 23 at the age 52. He visited Rivera in December 2012 at a point when the then-second-year Carolina coach was going through a tough time professionally.

In an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Rivera wrote: “He always had something encouraging to say to me my first two seasons as a head coach. He implored upon me to stick to my beliefs and never waver. I found strength in his words. But, when he told me he had ALS, I found even more strength. Here was my friend who was battling ALS, and he was imploring upon me to stay strong. That meant a lot.''

Rivera went from 6-10 and 7-9 during his first two seasons to 12-4 and the NFL Coach of the Year in 2013.

“Upon seeing him for the first time with ALS I was stunned,'' Rivera continued in his email. "I was even more taken by the fact that he had lost his voice. Paul had this big gregarious voice and laugh. It was gone, but not his spirit. He could only communicate by writing or trying to make hand gestures. I understood him for the most part and the one thing that stood out to me about him was he was worried about me.

“Paul and I were more than teammates. He and I were roommates our senior year. Over the years we stayed in touch throughout my playing and coaching careers. Paul was more than a teammate, roommate and friend, he was a Golden Bear. He was our brother. He is loved and missed.”

For those who have missed this campaign that has taken the country by storm, the ALS has more than quadrupled its donations in 2014 thanks to athletes and celebrities who have agreed to be doused with a bucket of ice water and make donations.

Carolina running backs Mike Tolbert, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were the first to partake on Friday, followed by tight end Greg Olsen, backup quarterback Derek Anderson, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and mascot Sir Purr.

Rivera will be doused Saturday on camera for Fox Sports, which is televising Sunday night's exhibition game between Carolina and Kansas City at Bank of America Stadium.

Lynch is a color commentator for Fox.

"It's got some personal meaning to me,'' Rivera said. "So I'm honored John Lynch called me out on it and I'm going to most certainly call a couple of people out as well.''

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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