One of Lovie Smith’s motivational tactics is the “us against the world” approach that often has his players walking into Soldier Field with big chips on their collective shoulders. It’s very possible that strategy could backfire on Sunday because there’s a former member of his staff coming to town with a rather large chip on his shoulder. And it’s personal for Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera:
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Rivera said during his Monday news conference in Charlotte. “I’m going back to where I played my career as a Bear and started my coaching career.
“It’s a tremendous franchise with a tremendous history, a long history in the NFL, great city. The city embraced me and has been great to me. I’m excited about it, I really am. I’m not going to downplay it. People says it’s another game, no it’s not. They’re all big. But this has a little personal meaning for me because it’s Chicago.”
Rivera was let go in the Lovie Smith power grab after Super Bowl XLI so Lovie could bump his buddy Bob Babich into the defensive coordinator role, a job he failed at miserably. The Bears defense dropped from 5th in 2006 to 28th in 2007. Rivera will tell you that it’s all good and that this was just business:
“It was a football decision,” Rivera said Wednesday during a conference call with the Chicago media. “It’s a business and you take it for what it is and you go on, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve gone on.
“I’ve talked to coach Smith on several occasions when I’ve come across him at the Combine and at the owners meetings, and he’s been terrific for me. The one thing I’ll always say is I learned a tremendous amount of football from coach Smith in my three seasons with him, and I will never deny that.
“People have got to understand that it was business and we just went forward. As coach [Smith] says, it’s about the players, about them playing on the field on Sunday. I guess some people are surprised that that’s how I feel about it, but it was nobody’s fault. That was just the circumstances, so we moved on.”
Don’t be surprised if Chico brings it against Jay Cutler and the Bears, dialing up a few blitzes like he did when he was DC at San Diego last preseason and chased Jay Cutler from the game after one series. Rivera knows every weak spot in Lovie’s Cover-2 and will have rookie sensation Cam Newton coached up to try to beat it, maybe even employing another ex-Bear with something to prove in Greg Olsen to do it just like Jermichael Finley did last week. And when the coaches meet at midfield after the game, Rivera will tell Lovie, “business is personal.”