Chicago Bears vs Carolina Panthers: Undercard Lovie Smith vs Ron Rivera

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIOctober 1, 2011

BOURBONNAIS, IL - JULY 28:  Head coach Lovie Smith (R) and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera of the Chicago Bears watch a practice at the Bears summer training camp on July 28, 2005 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the NFL schedules come out for the new season, the first thing fans do is go game-to-game and pick the winners and losers. I'm sure Week 4 on the Chicago Bears schedule had a check mark in the win column, seeing that they were facing the lowly Carolina Panthers who went 2-14 last year.

Whoa, Nelly, this one might not be that easy.

Because of their record, Carolina had the first pick in the draft and selected quarterback Cam Newton.

Normally rookie quarterbacks don't get a lot of playing time or have much impact, but when you're as bad as they were last year, you just say, "What the ----," and throw the young-gun out there.

People questioned whether Newton should have been picked that high. There were also questions about his character amid allegations that his father requested that his son be 'paid to play' for any school that wanted his services. 

This followed an earlier incident at the University of Florida where he was accused of stealing a laptop from another student.

The only questions about him now are about his immediate impact at the NFL level. How did he get this good so fast? He's the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 400 yards in each of his first two NFL games.

He lost both of those games, but pulled out a victory in a monsoon last week to put Carolina at 1-2.

Newton's Panthers have the same record the Chicago Bears have after three games. After a surprising 11-5 season last year and a trip to the NFC Championship Game, the Bears have seemingly come down to earth so far this season.

Their early schedule didn't do them any favors though, as they started their season against three playoff teams in Atlanta, New Orleans and the reigning Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

With the Bears playing at home, and Vegas saying they are a 6-and-a-half point favorites, you would think you could chalk this one up in the win column, but you would be forgetting one very important thing if you did that—revenge.

Ron Rivera, Carolina's new coach, used to be the defensive coordinator for Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears when their defense had its greatest success. They were one of the top ranked defenses in the league with Rivera there. Once he left, they dropped to one of the worst until a revival last year under Rod Marinelli, along with the addition of Julius Peppers.

The revenge comes in because Rivera didn't leave on his own. Instead, he was shown the door by Smith.

Technically he wasn't fired because his contract was up and the team didn't renew it

Before the split, he was interviewing for head coaching jobs due to the success of his defense. When he struck out trying to get another gig, Smith let him know he preferred to go in another direction.

That left Rivera without a job until the San Diego Chargers picked him up as a linebackers coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator a year later and turned the San Diego defense into one of the best in the league.

That success led to the job with Carolina and the meeting with his former boss.

There has been a lot of talk in Chicago this week about the matchup between the two coaches. Smith prefers to ignore it and told the Chicago SunTimes, "We're excited about playing the Carolina Panthers. I don't think Ron Rivera is going to be out there."

Rivera said he has no hard feelings towards Lovie. In the same piece he said, "I asked him if it was a personal thing. He said, 'No, it was a football decision."

If that was a football decision, I guess it explains why Smith normally looks totally clueless on the sideline during a game.

You get rid of your defensive coordinator after he molded your defense into one of the best in the league and helped you get to the Super Bowl?

In all fairness, there was a difference in philosophy. Rivera was schooled in an attacking-style defense from playing under Buddy Ryan with the Bears and working for Jimmy Johnson with Philadelphia. Lovie preferred the bend but don't break style he learned from Tony Dungy.

There's a saying that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, so calling it a football decision doesn't make any sense.  

Actually, it was decision made out of fear. Smith was afraid for his job. Rivera was a popular former Chicago Bear player, had a radio job for a while in town and then came back to the Bears to get into coaching.

If he let Rivera hang around, he feared that the people in charge might realize that Rivera is the one responsible for the success of the team and let Lovie go. It wasn't personal. It was to save his hide.

He elevated his buddy Bob Babich to the job, and he was in woefully over his head. The Bears defense, along with the team, declined after the change. They failed to make the playoffs for the next three years. Even when Lovie took over the defensive calls after the second poor season, they still wallowed in mediocrity.

While the stoic Smith says it's just another game, Rivera is really looking forward to it.

"I'm excited about it,' he said. "People say it's just another game. It's not. This one has personal meaning for me because it's Chicago."

Reading between the lines, Rivera is saying, "I want to kick Smith's butt for sending me to the unemployment line."

You don't think he is going to have his team geeked and ready to play. Tight end Greg Olsen also might like the sweet taste of revenge after offensive coordinator Mike Martz deemed he didn't need his services anymore.

No, this won't be a walk in the park for the Bears on Sunday and they better hope they win, because you know what's coming next.

The 3-0 Detroit Lions will be waiting at home next Monday night looking forward to playing the Bears and avenging their two close losses last year.

Things won't be getting easier for Chicago, so they better hope they can stop an ex-Bear and a quarterback built like one Sunday by the lake.


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