Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn’t viewing the Panthers next game against the Chicago Bears as an opportunity to get revenge.
But the former-Bears defensive coordinator, who spent nine seasons as a player in the Windy City, isn’t shy about letting everyone know Sunday’s meeting at Soldier Field has meaning beyond a regular-season contest.
“It means a lot,” the first-year coach said. “I’m going back to where I played my career as a Bear and started my coaching career. It is a tremendous franchise with a tremendous history, a long history in the NFL. It is a great city. A city that embraced me and has been great to me, and I’m excited about it. I’m not going to downplay it.
“People say, ‘It’s another game, no it’s not.’ They are all big. But this has a little personal meaning for me because it is Chicago, and it is a great city with a great organization. And I’m here in Charlotte with a great organization and great city. It will be fun. It really will be, and I look forward to going up there.”
Chicago is special to Rivera without a doubt. It was his home for about 18 years, and it is where his first daughter was born.
Rivera, who was part of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, said he met a lot of exceptional people in Chicago. He said those people were “really good” to his family. And he still maintains those friendships from his tenure as player and coach.
“When you are there a period of time and your kids basically grew up there – there is a lot to it,” Rivera said. “It is a different city in terms of how big it is. It is New York big. That is probably one of the things that make it an attractive city.”
Despite leaving Chicago in 2006 due to Bears coach Lovie Smith refusing to renew his contract after a season in which the team reached its second Super Bowl, Rivera isn’t mad at Smith. Rivera, who was hired by Bears general manager Jerry Angelo in 2004, was replaced by Bob Babich, the linebackers coach.
“My thing was when it all went down, I asked him ‘Is this a personal thing,’ and he said ‘No, this is a football decision,’” Rivera said at his weekly news conference. “So, it was time to move on. I had a great opportunity in San Diego, and I was able to go there, and I guess build my resume.”
Rivera’s resume started in Chicago as a player, though. And his second season, Rivera won a championship. He recalls the Super Bowl Shuffling Bears as “something special and a special group of guys.”
He said he enjoyed being a backup linebacker and playing special teams. Even though he didn’t play much, he described playing for the Bears as a great situation.
“Back then I didn’t quite realize the type of impact it was going to have,” he said. “I have heard people say, ‘It was the first Rock ’n Roll Super Bowl team.’ There were so many great personalities on that team starting with the head coach, Buddy Ryan, the (defensive) coordinator and right on down to Walter (Payton) and Jim McMahon and all the other guys we had on the team.”
However, Rivera said there won’t be any added pressure. And he isn’t going to get caught up in the hype, either.
“I really look forward to going there, and I really hope to win this football game,” Rivera said. “And just like coach Smith use to say when he was playing against coach (Tony) Dungy, ‘It is like playing against your brother. You want to beat him. You don’t want to hurt anybody.’ I’m looking forward to it. It is a heck of a thing.”
Panthers’ right tackle Jeff Otah said the team will be excited about going to Chicago, but it is focused on the opportunity to go 2-2.
“I’m sure he is pretty amped up about it,” Otah said. “We are going to be fired up too. We are going up there to get a win.”
In addition, Rivera isn’t worried about the turf issues in Chicago, which has hampered the field since the preseason. Rivera said both teams have to play on the field.
“Hopefully, it will be better than what we had yesterday,” he said about the four-inches of rain that poured on Bank of America Stadium during a 30-minute period. “I know just from watching on TV there were some issues. I saw some guys slipping. But it will be the same for both teams. We have to make sure we get out there and get a feel for the turf. I know there is a history of it. And they are doing the best they can to make sure the field is ready to go.”
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