- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

MIAMI — Not wanting to invite constant comparisons to the 1985 Chicago Bears, it took until the start of this year’s playoffs for Ron Rivera to start wearing his Super Bowl ring, just to give the current Bears a little extra incentive.

“I hadn’t worn it all year and it’s definitely psychological,” Rivera said. “It’s a good-luck charm and a reminder for the players to show them what’s at the end of the rainbow.”

The Bears, thanks in large part to the Rivera-led defense, are on the cusp of a championship and will make their first Super Bowl appearance in 21 years tomorrow night against the Indianapolis Colts at Dolphin Stadium.

And while this year could be the beginning for the Bears, who have young standouts throughout their lineup, it could be the end for Rivera, who played nine seasons for the team and is in his third season as Lovie Smith’s defensive coordinator.

Rivera interviewed with Atlanta, Arizona and Pittsburgh during the Bears’ bye week in early January. He was believed to be a finalist for the Steelers job, but when Chicago defeated New Orleans for the NFC championship, making Rivera hands-off until after the Super Bowl, the Steelers hired Minnesota defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

Earlier this week, though, reports surfaced that the Dallas Cowboys are interested in talking with Rivera after the Super Bowl. Rivera could be a candidate for head coach, but if Norv Turner gets the head job, Rivera is his first choice to run the defense. His contract with the Bears expires this season.

“It’s great that people have confidence in me,” Rivera said. “What I’ve always said is that it speaks very well of what we’ve done here and the success we’ve had. You would like to hope that people hope to mimic that. How do you do that? You grab one of his assistant coaches. If not, I have a great job here in Chicago.”

Said Smith: “I have to think, in time, he’ll get a job. All Ron can do is put a good product on the field.”

The Bears have ranked 21st, second and fifth in yards allowed and 13th, first and third in points allowed during Rivera’s tenure.

The Bears’ success has penalized Rivera, much like Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel had to watch other jobs be filled when New England was winning three Super Bowls in four seasons.

“It’s a little frustrating but it goes back to the fact we’re in the Super Bowl and I can live with that,” Rivera said. “I’m not the first coach this has happened to. Eventually, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel got their shots and until I get my opportunity, the fact we’re winning and playing great defense makes me more than happy to be a part of this.”

Rivera is the only direct link — player or coach — to the Bears that played on the 1985 team — widely considered one of the best in NFL history. Following his playing career, Rivera spent four seasons as a Chicago-area television analyst before joining the Bears as an assistant in 1997. In 1999, he started a five-year stint as Philadelphia’s linebackers coach.

Comparing the Super Bowl experiences as a player and a coach, Rivera said: “As a player, it’s more relaxing once you get done with the meetings and practice and you can enjoy things a little bit more. As a coach, you’re more time-invested because you get done with practice and then watch tape and watch opponent’s tape and plan the next day’s practice. But the excitement is equal.”

Although with a different style than famed Bears coordinator Buddy Ryan, Rivera’s defenses have created excitement for their fans, put points on the scoreboard and given their offense great field position.

Since 2004, the Bears have returned 10 interceptions for touchdowns and have scored 322 of their 918 points (a league-leading 35.08 percent) off turnovers. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher have all made the Pro Bowl under Rivera’s watch.

“When you see what we’ve done in three years defensively, it’s pretty amazing,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “Even this year with two Pro Bowlers [Brown and Harris] going down, we’ve still been able to have guys come in and play well. He’s young and bringing a new style — the Lovie style — into football.”

The Bears stop teams by dropping their linebackers into coverage and blitzing very rarely; Ryan’s 46 defense in the mid-1980s was primarily about bringing pressure.

“I feel good about what we do and the way we do things in terms of trying to create the takeaways, trying to play physical and trying to play downhill,” Rivera said. “It’s about a philosophy and a desire and I think I’ve been able to pass that onto the players.”

A Super Bowl title would cap off the Bears’ comeback from years of mediocrity. Aside from flashing his ring, Rivera doesn’t talk a lot to the 2006 Bears about the 1985 Bears — a team that went 18-1, allowed only 10.9 points a game (including two playoff shutouts) and had 37 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries.

“He talks about how special this group is,” Briggs said. “He doesn’t mention the ‘85 Bears as much as he used to, but he tells stories sometimes about what they used to do.”

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