Panthers rookie head coach and former Chicago Bears linebacker and assistant coach Ron Rivera doesn't attempt to deny the significance of his return to Soldier Field this Sunday.
Rivera was a Bears linebacker from 1982-94 and Lovie Smith's first defensive coordinator from 2004-06. It was his defense that was credited with being the driving force behind the Bears' drive to Super Bowl XLI.
But the Bears did not rehire Rivera after that season.
"It's going to mean a lot," Rivera said at his Monday press conference. "I'm going back to where I played my career as a Bear and started my coaching career.
LB Ron Rivera
"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 say 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."
In Rivera's final two seasons as defensive coordinator, the Bears allowed 202 points in 2005 and 255 points in 2006. In the four seasons since then, they have allowed 348, 350, 375 and 286 points. But Rivera and Smith had philosophical differences, and Smith did not hire Rivera; he was brought in by general manager Jerry Angelo.
"The situation was, he didn't hire me," Rivera said. "The nice thing was when it all went down, I asked him, 'This is not a personal thing?' He said, 'No, it's a football decision.' So it was time to move on.
Rivera spent four years with the Chargers, the final two as defensive coordinator, before landing his first head coaching gig with the Panthers, who are coming off a 2-14 season and are 1-2 this year behind rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
Smith downplayed the coaching aspect of the matchup.
"We're excited about getting an opportunity to play the Carolina Panthers," he said. "I don't think Ron is going to be out there playing, but his football team is doing a heck of a job. They've lost a couple of tough games (but) found a way to win (Sunday). "Their record is the same as our record, but it should be a heck of a football game. We both need to win."
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.