The Butler Did It
1:43 AM, October 15, 2009 ι By DYLAN BUTLER
Mike O’Donnell thinks about Joe Riverso every time he steps onto the Archbishop Stepinac football field, whenever he’s scouting an opponent. It’s still hard for the longtime Stepinac coach to accept that Riverso is gone.
“He was a special guy,” O’Donnell said. “I still expect him to walk through these doors.”
On Saturday at 7 p.m., undefeated Archbishop Stepinac will meet St. Peter’s in the ninth annual Joseph R. Riverso Memorial Night Game.
Riverso was one of 2,752 to die at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. He was just 34.
“We want to make sure people don’t forget about what happened that day,” O’Donnell said. “We all move on, but something very tragic happened that day and we want to make sure people are aware that good people, innocent people died just because they went to work.”
On Sept. 10, O’Donnell left the Catholic High School Football League meeting like he did on every Monday during the season. O'Donnell picked up the scout tape and made his way to Sports Page Pub, owned by former New York Giants guard Bob Hyland.
That’s where O’Donnell met Riverso, his assistant coach who was bartending that night. They chatted about the meeting and planned the upcoming week’s practice. O’Donnell left the bar and went home not knowing that would be the last time he’d see Riverso alive.
Riverso died the next day, Sept. 11, 2001, one of 658 from Cantor Fitzgerald who were killed during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
O’Donnell cancelled practice that day and the much-anticipated game against Iona Prep that Saturday was postponed.
“One of the hardest things I had to do in my life was to let them know that one of their coaches was gone,” O’Donnell said. “It hit home big time.”
Riverso wasn’t just a coach. He grew up in White Plains, where he played Pop Warner football and eventually moved on to Stepinac, where he played for O’Donnell, earning all-league honors as a two-way lineman in 1985.
“He was a bull,” O’Connell recalled. “He wasn’t always the greatest practice player, but he got it done on Saturday. He was a two-year starter, a good player, but an even better coach. He just watched film and did a great job adjusting to what teams did. He was very prepared.”
Riverso was an assistant coach for the Crusaders for 17 years, serving as the team’s defensive coordinator from 1988-2001.
Even while working a full-time job at Cantor Fitzgerald and bartending at Sports Page, Riverso always found the time to coach at his alma mater.
“He was everybody’s friend,” O’Donnell said. “Every kid who played for him, they loved him as a teacher, as someone who was trying to help them.”
Even in death, Riverso is still giving back. The Joseph R. Riverso Memorial Foundation was formed and since 2002 it has awarded various scholarships to graduating seniors at Stepinac. The MVPs of Saturday’s game will also receive $500 to be used toward college tuition and O’Donnell also said the foundation is trying to raise funds for a new turf field at Stepinac in Riverso’s honor.
“It’s a nice event for the kids, who get to play in front of a big crowd and under the lights,” O’Donnell said. “It’s nice that we can continue the tradition.”
For more information about the game or the foundation, please contact William Riverso at (914) 997-7388 or go to www.joeriverso.com