"One of my — sorry, guys, I'm kind of getting choked up here — when I walked through (the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame) and I saw Jerry Kramer's face, he was one of those great guards in Green Bay history," Rivera said. "I always told myself, ‘Am I ever going to be able to reach the level of play that Jerry Kramer has played for the Green Bay Packers?'"
The answer is yes.
Rivera, fullback William Henderson and the late Frank Jonet form the Packers Hall of Fame's 41st induction class. They'll join the last-name-only legends like Kramer, Lombardi and Starr on July 23.
Rivera, a sixth-round draft choice from Penn State, played nine seasons (1996 through 2004) for the Packers. He started 111 games at left and right guard for the team, including his final 99. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Only Kramer started more consecutive seasons at guard (nine) for the Packers since 1958.
"It takes a lot of luck, a lot of work, a lot of commitment, to start all them games," Rivera said in a conference call on Tuesday. "It's not easy. I played through a lot of injuries. Injuries pretty much caught up to me and cost me the last few years of my career. I had to stop playing because the body just failed on me. At the time, I was going to be there for my teammates. I was more scared of not being able to play and let my teammates down than anything else. I didn't worry about my knees, I didn't worry about my neck, my back, my shoulders, my elbows. I just wanted to be there for my teammates. I know William (Henderson) can attest to this: That's just the attitude we had. Come Sunday, no matter how nicked up you are, the passion and the respect of your teammates, that's what pushed me through everything. Just knowing that I did not let them down, no matter what happened to me."
Henderson, a third-round selection from North Carolina, spent 12 seasons in Green Bay (1995 through 2006). Henderson played in 188 games for the Packers — only Brett Favre, Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke played in more — and made 112 starts. Upon Henderson's arrival, the Packers hadn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 1978. Incredibly, he led the way for seven such seasons: Dorsey Levens in 1997 and 1999, and Ahman Green in 2000 through 2004. Henderson, an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2004, ranks 10th in Packers history with 320 receptions.
Henderson, a starter on both Super Bowl teams, will dedicate the honor to his high school football coach in Chesterfield, Va., Vic Williams, who died of bone cancer recently at age 60.
"One of the things on his bucket list was to witness me to go into the Packer Hall of Fame," Henderson said. "Fortunately for me, I found out (about the honor) the week prior to his passing and I was able to tell him that it was going to happen."
Without Jonet, the Packers might not be in existence today. A native of Tonet, Wis., Jonet was involved with the team since the team's birth in 1919 as office manager for the Indian Packing Co., Curly Lambeau's employer that sponsored the team with funds for uniforms and equipment. Jonet was named treasurer in 1935 and elected to the dual position of secretary-treasurer in 1941, a role in which he served until his death in 1951.
In 1920, Jonet was part of a three-man committee that planned a fence to surround Hagemeister Park, allowing the Packers to charge admission and put the organization on sound financial footing. In 1933, he helped the team avoid bankruptcy after a fan fell from the stadium bleachers and sued the team, and in 1950, he helped organize a stock drive.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.