In his first season as the Washington Football Team's head coach, Ron Rivera led the club to the NFC East title while battling through cancer, radiation and chemotherapy. He was diagnosed in August and coached through treatments, missing all of two practices and part of a third.
"The fatigue, how tired you get, at times you get nauseous," he said last year. "At times your equilibrium is messed around with, almost a sense of vertigo. And then the nausea. It hits you at any time, anywhere. But the fatigue, going out to practice it limited me, and that bothers me because I can't coach the way I coach."
Because doctors caught his squamous cell carcinoma -- a common type of skin cancer -- early, Rivera was fortunate. Much more fortunate than most. He underwent his final round of chemo in late October and was declared cancer free in late January.
Still, Rivera is not out of the woods. Cancer weakened his immune system, making him more susceptible to catching COVID-19 and more vulnerable to its effects.
As he prepares to coach a second season amid (yet another) rise in cases nationwide, Rivera vented to reporters Tuesday that his team has among the lowest vaccination rates in the NFL.
The NFL and NFLPA are not mandating vaccination for players, but the league is doing everything in its collectively-bargained power to entice players to get vaxxed and make life difficult for those who don't.
Still, the WFT is among five NFL teams with less than 70 percent of their roster receiving at least one jab. In fact, Washington hasn't crossed 60 percent yet, Rivera said. (On the flip side, nine teams blast vaccination rates above 90 percent.)
High numbers of vaccinated players is a decided competitive advantage in 2021, and low numbers are a competitive liability -- ranging from inconvenient testing and meeting regiments all the way to the possibility of forfeits.
The virus and vaccinations will be an ongoing subplot in college and professional football in 2021, and perhaps the most interesting sub-subplots will be how teams with high and low vaccination rates fare on the field. With around six weeks until opening weekend, Rivera doesn't want his team on the wrong side of that metric.