Rivera is the guy we wish every professional athlete aspired to be. He believed that leadership came more from the deeds one did instead of the words one spoke. He led by example in the most basic ways.
He was the same every day. He was as calm and quiet in the clubhouse as on the mound. He was precise in everything he did.
Rivera was always the calm in the eye of the storm, whether it was the ninth inning of a regular-season game in a half-empty stadium or the clinching game of the World Series.
Once upon a time, we thought of closers as these big, hulking intimidating men who thrived on anger and intimidation. Rivera changed all of that.
He represented the Yankees the right way, with dignity and grace. This spring, when he hinted that this would be his last season, it was almost incomprehensible to think of the Yanks without him.
Sure, Rivera was 42 years old, but he was doing the things he'd always done. His cutter, the pitch that defined his career, was still splintering bats and breaking hearts.
For 18 seasons, Rivera had come to seem like a member of the family. He was there in our living rooms for so many Octobers, for so many celebrations. Along with Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Bernie Williams and others, Rivera changed the way people thought of the Yankees.
It was impossible to hate these Yanks, because they did things right, because they won with class and lost with class, too.
Now, Rivera's wonderful ride may have ended abruptly, ended in a moment too bizarre and awful to fully comprehend.
For years, he'd run around the outfield shagging fly balls during batting practice. It was part of his conditioning routine and part of what he seemed to love about his job. To see him out there trotting around the outfield, laughing with teammates, was to see a man who seemed to be having the time of his life.
When Rivera crumpled to the warning track holding his right knee Thursday in Kansas City, time seemed to stand still for an entire sport. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which will sideline him for the remainder of this season and perhaps forever if he was serious about retiring.
Alex Rodriguez could be seen saying, "Oh my God, oh my God." Manager Joe Girardi saw what had happened and then paused an instant as if he trying to get his mind around what had just happened.
In the split-second before Girardi began running to Rivera's side, there had to be thousands of things running through his mind.
Rivera's loss is a devastating blow to the Yankees, but that's not important now. In fact, it seems almost insignificant.
General manager Brian Cashman will deal with that part of the story in the days head. He has all kinds of depth in the Minor Leagues and is better positioned to deal with such a thing than any of his peers.
Still, there won't be anyone pitching the ninth inning for the Yankees who is as consistent as Rivera, anyone who had Rivera's composure, who seemed so absolutely comfortable to have the game placed in his hands.
Beyond those things is the fact that this wasn't how it was supposed to end for one of the greatest Yankees of them all. If any Yanks player deserved to go out with a ticker-tape parade, with one more trophy ceremony, it would be Rivera.
It's difficult enough to comprehend that Rivera may not wear the pinstripes again. It's doubly difficult to think that he was dealt this cruel hand.
Those of us who have been lucky to see Rivera pitch these last two decades knew to savor every moment in case this was his final season. We understood how lucky we were to have seen him perform at the highest level on the biggest stage. We understood there will never be another one like him.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.