Panthers, Rams influenced by '85 Bears

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera regrets he never went back to clean out his locker at Soldier Field after being released by the Chicago Bears before the 1993 season. In it he left nine years of notebooks detailing plays and schemes, many from the 1985 Super Bowl team known for Buddy Ryan's revolutionary "46 defense."

It was just too painful at the time for the then linebacker to go back and get them.

Now in his third year as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Rivera was reminded of those days this week in anticipation of Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, coached by former Bears teammate Jeff Fisher, then a defensive back.

It's actually the second straight week Rivera has faced a former teammate from the 15-1 Super Bowl XX team. Last week, the Panthers defeated the Minnesota Vikings coached by Leslie Frazier, who led the Bears in interceptions in '85.

Also on the Minnesota sideline was Mike Singletary, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the '85 Bears and former head coach at San Francisco who is a special assistant to Frazier.

By the end of the season Rivera will have faced two more former teammates who have gone on to become head coaches in the NFL. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was a quarterback at Chicago from 1987-93. New Orleans coach Sean Payton played quarterback for the Bears in 1987 as a replacement player during the NFL strike.

But it is the defensive players who became coaches that Rivera remembers most fondly. He's the first to tell you as genius as Ryan was, having players intelligent enough to go on to become head coaches helped.

"I know if there was one thing we did and we did well, we were a bunch of smart football players," Rivera said. "We played a very complex system with Buddy Ryan as the coordinator. The guys that came from that system are probably the kind you want.

"And there are probably three or four more that could have coached if they really wanted to. But a group of us wanted to, and so we got into it."

They actually sat around and talked about becoming coaches while they were players.

"It's funny, Jeff Fisher led the charge for the most part," Rivera said. "When Buddy got the job at Philadelphia, Jeff was the first to go. He always kind of seemed to put his arm around the young guys and said, 'Hey, you've got a chance.' "

One of those young players was Rivera.

"Jeff was right," Rivera said. "He's a sharp guy that way."

Rivera's only regret is that he wasn't sharp enough to go back and get those notebooks that he can only assume wound up in the trash.