NFL: Rivera returns home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Most NFL coaches and players tend to downplay the significance of returning to the place where they once worked.
Not Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera returns Sunday to Chicago where he spent nine seasons playing linebacker for the Bears and another five as a defensive coach. He makes it clear winning this game means a great deal to him.
ěIím not going to downplay it,î Rivera said. ěSome people would say itís just another game; no itís not. Theyíre all big, but this has a little personal meaning for me because itís Chicago. Itís a great city with a great organization.î
Rivera and his wife raised their kids in Chicago and lived there for 18 years.
ěI love the city,î he said.
Rivera joined the Bears as a second round pick out of Cal in 1984 and spent all nine seasons with the Bears, appearing in 149 games with 62 starts. He won six NFC Central Division titles during that span and was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl championship team, a group made most famous for its cocky swagger and the groundbreaking Super Bowl shuffle video.
Rivera was only in his second season that year, but sensed right away there was something special and unique about that team. But he couldnít have predicted how big of an impact that team would leave on the NFL and the country.
ěIíve heard people say it was the first rock ën roll Super Bowl team,î Rivera said. ěIt really kind of splashed onto the scene because there were so many great personalities on that team, starting with the head coach (Mike Ditka) and Buddy Ryan as the coordinator, on down through Walter (Payton) and Jim McMahon and all the other guys.î
Rivera said he never appeared in the Super Bowl shuffle video, but jokes that he wishes he had a nickel for every time heís was asked if he did.
ěI was in the background, and I enjoyed it,î Rivera said.
Rivera keeps in touch with many of his former teammates, but wonít be at the White House when the ë85 Bears visit there on Oct. 7. Heíll be getting the Panthers ready for a critical NFC South division game with New Orleans.
ěUnless of course they decide to send Air Force One to pick me up,î he laughed.
Rivera still draws from those experiences with the Bears and relates them to his coaches and players, although many of the guys who played for him werenít even born when the Bears won that title.
ěHe gives us the stories about playing with the group that he did and he relates it well with the players, like how they felt about each other as a group and the special camaraderie they had ó the type of things we want to build here in Carolina,î Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. ěHe draws a lot on his experiences as a player for the Bears.î
Riveraís NFL career ended in Chicago when Ditka left and incoming Bears coach Dave Wannstedt cut him after the 1992 season, a time when several veteran players were forced out of the league due to the arrival of the NFL salary cap.
After a brief stint in television, Rivera returned to the NFL as the Bears defensive assistant under Wannstedt accepting an unpaid position.
It wasnít long before the Bears hired him full time.
ěA lot of times when ex-players get into coaching there are two things they donít realize ó first, you donít make much money as an assistant, and second, the hours that we put in are brutal,î Wannstedt said. ěBut Ron was willing to work and the money was not an issue. The work ethic and the hours were not a problem with him.
ěOnce I determined that, heck, I knew we had to push as hard as we could to make this a full-time paid job.î
Wannstedt said Rivera was able to make the change from player to coach, something that isnít always easy to do.
ěA lot of coaches in the NFL want to be best friends with the players and they have a tough time drawing the line in the sand,î Wannstedt said.
Chicago was also the place where Rivera took an unexpected step back in his coaching career.
The Bears were a highly successful team with Rivera working as defensive coordinator from 2004-06 and he became a hot head coaching prospect, but Bears coach Lovie Smith let him go in favor of bringing in buddy Rod Marinelli.
Rivera wound up taking a job as a linebackers coach for the San Diego Chargers, although it didnít take him long to get promoted to defensive coordinator there.
Now heís fulfilling a longtime dream to be an NFL head coach with the Panthers.
ěIím really looking forward to going there, and Iíd love to win this football game,î Rivera said. ěCoach Smith used to say when heíd play against coach (Tony) Dungy that it was like playing against your brother; you want to beat them, but you just donít want to hurt anybody.î