Super Bowl 50: Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Has Charlotte's Latino Community Fired Up Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is the second Latino head coach in Super Bowl history. And Charlotte's Latino community is talking about football like never before.
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Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Has Charlotte's Latino Community Fired Up

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Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Has Charlotte's Latino Community Fired Up

Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Has Charlotte's Latino Community Fired Up

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Football, to anyone south of the border, means soccer. But tonight when the Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera becomes the second Latino head coach in Super Bowl history, many Latinos will be watching. He's the reason many in North Carolina's Latino community are now tuning in to American football. From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Michael Tomsic has the story.

MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: JC Alvarado was born in Ecuador. He still has family there, and when a nephew visited Charlotte in 2014, they went to Panthers practice.

J.C. ALVARADO: And Ron Rivera came out, and I just shouted - hey, Ron. I have an international visitor here for you and then he actually stopped. And then he came to us and we were, like, shocked. I didn't know what to say.

TOMSIC: Star struck, Alvarado explained where he's from and how his nephew is a big fan.

ALVARADO: They started talking a little bit Spanglish here and there, and he was, you know, very down to earth. I was just amazed how nice he was.

TOMSIC: Alvarado says Rivera is a key reason the Panthers are popular among Latinos. At the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, Rivera is part of an exhibit on how Latinos are changing the South and vice versa. His dad is Puerto Rican, and his mom is Mexican.

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RON RIVERA: Growing up, one of my role models was my uncle who's half Mexican and half Filipino. Culturally, to be accepted, my uncles all grew up playing football and baseball and basketball.

TOMSIC: In a museum video, Rivera says he loved football. He played in college and the pros. In 2011, the Carolina Panthers made him the third Latino head coach in NFL history. The museum's Oliver Merino says Rivera's story shows how the country is changing.

OLIVER MERINO: You have people that are coming from very different places and finding themselves here in the U.S. and incorporating their culture and their traditions and also embracing new ones.

TOMSIC: You can hear it on Charlotte's Hispanic radio stations.

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LUIS MORENO SR: (Speaking Spanish).

TOMSIC: That's Luis Moreno, Sr., no relation to Oliver, talking about the Panthers on his daily sports show. In years past, most callers wanted to talk soccer. With the Panthers' success, almost everyone now calls about football.

L. MORENO SR: Some people - they just like soccer - say you talk too much about football. I say well, football is what it is right now, you know?

TOMSIC: A local Hispanic paper Hola Noticias has also stepped up coverage. Journalist Cesar Hurtado says as the team piles up wins...

CESAR HURTADO: Our community starts to, you know, understand the game, understand the players and start to love them. So it's growing, you know? You have no idea, man.

TOMSIC: And there's a particular Latino voice that's legendary in Charlotte.

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JAIME MORENO: (Yelling) Touchdown. Touchdown. Touchdown.

TOMSIC: That's the play-by-play announcer from the Panthers Spanish broadcast crew, Jaime Moreno. He's Luis's brother, and Luis's son is the color commentator. They call games with the near-heart attack passion of World Cup soccer. When Panthers kicker Graham Gano beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime this season...

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J. MORENO: (Yelling in Spanish).

LUIS MORENO JR: (Yelling in Spanish).

TOMSIC: In Ecuador, their broadcast are how J.C. Alvarado's nephew follows the team. Alvarado says the coverage has linked the community with the Panthers and with Coach Rivera.

ALVARADO: I think he's a role model, not only for the Hispanic community, but for pretty much every person that wants to aspire to be somebody.

OLIVER MERINO: The way Rivera puts it, he's happy to let people know who he is and where he comes from.

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RIVERA: I see myself as Latino, and I'm very proud of that fact. And it's funny because people say, well, you're a minority. You've gotten opportunities because you're a minority. I don't believe that for one second. I don't believe that you hire people because of their ethnicity. You hire people because they're the best.

TOMSIC: Tonight, Rivera and the Panthers will try to become the NFL's best. For NPR News, I'm and Michael Tomsic in Charlotte.

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