Memorial service set for San Antonio sports legend Gabe Rivera

(Photo: SBG San Antonio)

SAN ANTONIO - A memorial service for San Antonio sports legend Gabe Rivera is scheduled Wednesday at 1 p.m at the University United Methodist Church (5084 DeZavala Road).

Rivera, inducted in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame and the National College Football Foundation Hall of Fame, died July 16 at St. Luke's Baptist Hospital after a sudden illness arose over the weekend.

His family is asking for donations to Inner City Development (1300 Chihuahua) instead of flowers.

Plain and simple, the man known as "Senor Sack" was one of the greatest athletes San Antonio ever produced. He was paralyzed since the age of 22 after a car accident during his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He was a first-round draft pick for the Steelers after an impressive college career at Texas Tech where he still holds records. Rivera, a first-team All-America, is one of only four former Red Raiders to be enshrined in their Ring of Honor.

Rivera was a Parade All-American coming out of Jefferson High School in 1977, boasting an incredible combination of size and speed.

"He was one of the most dominating defensive lineman to ever play the game and a loyal Red Raider throughout his life," Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said.

Rivera's career was cut short at the age of 22 but he was known as a gentle giant who never gave up hope that he might walk again.

In October he was in an automobile accident that left him a paraplegic. He was intoxicated when his car collided with another vehicle.

"From the accident in '83, it took maybe five, six, eight years to get control," Rivera said in 2012 on the day he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. "At one time, I just changed my life and started going forward.

He added: "I was mad at the world, mad at God and stuff."

He returned to San Antonio after his injury. He met his wife at the San Antonio Zoo and remained active in the community. He tutored kids at the Inner City Development Center. He worked there for years and is a beloved figure around the country.

A first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers after earning All-America honors as a defensive lineman for the Red Raiders his senior season, Rivera's pro career was cut short after he suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident midway through his rookie season in 1983.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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