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It's business first, but Rivera reflects fondly on relationship with Charlotte community

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Head coach Ron Rivera pumps up his team during the Washington Football Team's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

In case there's anyone who doesn't know, Ron Rivera coached the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons and led the team to three division titles, four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth.

On Sunday, Rivera and the Washington Football Team will travel to Bank of America Stadium to play his former team. As expected, people have tried to make a big deal about it. Rivera understands the fascination, but he's having none of it.

It's a business trip, first and foremost, but he is looking forward to the trip back to Charlotte, North Carolina, where the people embraced him and his family.

"The thing that I really appreciated about my time there were the people," Rivera told reporters Wednesday. "That's probably the bigger thing."

When Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, first arrived in Charlotte, one of their primary concerns was getting involved in the community. If the people were going to give their support as Rivera began work on rebuilding the franchise, it was important to them that they return the favor.

"One thing that Stephanie did was she kind of stepped back our first year and just kind of went to events," Rivera said. "But in the meantime, she was really looking into these different charitable groups and really trying to find a few that we could really kind of grasp onto and truly get involved in terms of lending our name and our time and effort and money."

Rivera and Stephanie had specific reasons for giving their time to certain charitable groups. They chose the Ronald McDonald House because of its service to children and families. They concentrated efforts on the Humane Society because of their love for pets. Their connections to the military drew them to the USO of North Carolina.

By the time Rivera left Carolina, he and his family had done a lot of good. A Bowl-A-Palooza he held as part of a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House raised $100,000. Prior to moving to the DMV, Rivera and the Humane Society held a charity yard sale for his Panthers clothing and memorabilia with the proceeds being donated to the society.

"Just kind of feel that you should always give back to the community that you're in and not just always take," Rivera said. "So that was kind of the feeling we had with the community."

And Rivera didn't need to question whether the Charlotte community appreciated his efforts. When his family's house burned down in 2015, he said there was an "outpouring of support" through letters and messages from Panthers fans.

"Then when you get involved in the community and then you do something, you have a charitable event and people turn out in large numbers to help support that, you feel good that: 'hey, we were able to reach folks and get them involved in the community as well,'" Rivera said.

Rivera said he's going to limit his exposure when making the trip. He is, after all, going there to win a football team and build off Washington's upset win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There's no denying that his time with the team left an impact on him, though, and he knows the significance of being able to stay with one team for so long.

"Coaches are typically on the move three, four, five, six years down the line," Rivera said. "So to be in one spot for a while, that was pretty cool, meant a lot. We developed some very good friends and relationships, people we still stay in touch with today. The community involvement that we had, that was a big deal for us. It's kind of a neat thing because you really get to see another side of the city. That's really the thing that I really appreciate is just how good a city it is. The people in the city were terrific. So it was a really neat thing for us."

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