Ditka influence still a part of Rivera


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Few people, if any, have meant more to the career of Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera than former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

So few, if any, were happier to see Ditka's No. 89 retired during halftime of Chicago's 45-28 victory over Dallas on Monday night than Rivera.

"I was thrilled for coach," he said. "I could tell he was very sincere in what he said to the crowd. I know he looked choked up talking about the '85 team. I really think in the back of [his] mind he was thinking about Walter Payton.

"And also, he was really cold."

Rivera's playing career (1984-92) and Ditka's coaching career (1982-92) at Chicago almost run concurrent. The former Bears linebacker still calls Ditka during the offseason for advice, although not as much as he once did when he had more time.

Sideline and locker room tirades aside, Rivera tries to emulate some of the things Ditka did as a coach.

"He still means a lot to my career," Rivera said. "He meant a lot to me as a player trying to get me to understand, 'Hey, play to your abilities, do the things you're supposed to.'"

That's the message you most hear from Rivera with the Panthers.