Opinion Columns & Blogs

Esther J. Cepeda: Latino duo bring inimitable flair to Super Bowl

There’s some high-flying Latino pride going around about a Hispanic head coach going to the Super Bowl – only the second, after Tom Flores of the Oakland Raiders in 1981.

It is a point of honor for the Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera, who, ESPN notes, in 1984 became the first person of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent to play in the NFL (for the Chicago Bears) and in 2011 became only the third Hispanic to become a head coach in the league.

Ethnic-pioneer accolades aside, I’d much rather think of it this way: Both teams playing in the Super Bowl have excellent coaches. One of them just happens to be Hispanic.

Rivera thinks so, too. He recently told The Charlotte Observer: “Some people want to tag me as a Hispanic head coach. That’s great, but the truth of the matter is I just want to be tagged as a head coach. It should really be about your merit.”

Another Latino who has played an outsize role in creating the fan base, excitement and momentum for the Panthers’ stellar season finds himself in a similar spot. His name is Luis Moreno Jr., who, along with his uncle Jaime Moreno, has been calling the play-by-play in Spanish for Panther games in Charlotte for six years.

The duo’s style has been described by ESPN as “part Spanglish, part song and dance.” The Morenos employ the use of catchy nicknames for players – cornerback Josh Norman is “The Bandit,” linebacker Thomas Davis is “The Captain” – and, in the style of Spanish-language soccer announcers, celebrate every touchdown with extended, over-the-top exhalations of joy and triumph.

They build the energy so high that they are not only considered a bona fide cultural phenomenon but have become a well-known part of the Panther fandom – even to those who don’t speak Spanish.

According to the Observer, “The excitement even has caught on inside the locker room. On Mondays the team gathers to watch film, and the coaches will play one or two highlights from the previous day’s win. ... Now when the team meets to watch the highlights, they’ve dubbed the Spanish broadcast call onto the video highlight for the team.”

It’s Uncle Jaime who gets most of the attention for his amazing vocal acrobatics. A Cam Newton end-zone flip narration: “You’re flying like Superman, my dear dinosaur! Fly like you can! Fly like you can! Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! Dance, dance, dance, my dear dinosaur!” – garnered them national headlines. But Luis, a sports scholar, is on the rise.

Luis arrived in the U.S. at age 14 from Mexico City, already a fan of American football. He was a star fullback and linebacker for Charlotte Catholic High School before playing for Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

He now has a dream gig – he and Jaime are in San Francisco to call the Super Bowl in Spanish – a weekly TV show, a role in spreading the love of football to Latinos, and fans galore. But his proudest moment?

“For me, so far, it was last week when I was on (the ESPN TV show) ‘Outside the Lines,’ ” Moreno told me. “I felt like that was a very big moral victory. It’s complicated for me because we are a broadcast phenomenon, but I pride myself on being an analyst and sometimes that gets lost in what we’ve been known for. … I want to be known as a great commentator, a great broadcaster and a great professional that just happens to be from Mexico.”

Moreno added, “We’re very happy to bring this experience to the Hispanic fan base. We’re demonstrating to them how to fit in and be a part of this society and share in the culture. And for non-Hispanics, it’s a great opportunity to teach people about what it means to be fully part of the American community, and at the same time be bilingual and bicultural.”

Find the Morenos’ Super Bowl play-by-play live at www.larazalaraza.com/charlotte.

Email: estherjcepeda@washpost.com.