Nucleoside-based cofactors are presumed to have preceded proteins. The Rossmann fold is one of the most ancient and functionally diverse protein folds, and most Rossmann enzymes utilize nucleoside-based cofactors. We analyzed an omnipresent Rossmann ribose-binding interaction: a carboxylate side chain at the tip of the second β-strand (β2-Asp/Glu). We identified a canonical motif, defined by the β2-topology and unique geometry. The latter relates to the interaction being bidentate (both ribose hydroxyls interacting with the carboxylate oxygens), to the angle between the carboxylate and the ribose, and to the ribose’s ring configuration. We found that this canonical motif exhibits hallmarks of divergence rather than convergence. It is uniquely found in Rossmann enzymes that use different cofactors, primarily SAM (S-adenosyl methionine), NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), and FAD (flavin adenine dinucleotide). Ribose-carboxylate bidentate interactions in other folds are not only rare but also have a different topology and geometry. We further show that the canonical geometry is not dictated by a physical constraint—geometries found in noncanonical interactions have similar calculated bond energies. Overall, these data indicate the divergence of several major Rossmann-fold enzyme classes, with different cofactors and catalytic chemistries, from a common pre-LUCA (last universal common ancestor) ancestor that possessed the β2-Asp/Glu motif.