Ditka: Rivera will lead team to Super Bowl

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
12:42
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera will win a Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers.

Why? Because Mike Ditka says he will.

Ditka made the proclamation last Friday at the Charlotte Touchdown Club after being introduced by Rivera, who played and coached for the Hall of Fame coach with the Chicago Bears.

Rivera told me late last season as the Panthers were making a playoff run that Ditka had the single-biggest impact on his coaching career. Ditka told the packed room at The Westin that Rivera was a smart and natural leader.

Call it their own mutual admiration society.

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
AP Photo/Bill HaberRon Rivera and the Carolina Panthers are coming off a 12-4 season.
When Charlotte Observer columnist Tom Sorensen asked Ditka why Rivera would win a Super Bowl, he said because Rivera "understands that life is a process of setting goals and reaching goals and resetting goals.''

"You have to have goals and you have to have methods to reach those goals,'' Ditka continued. "I mean, you just can't say, 'We're gonna win the Super Bowl!' How are you going to do it?''

Rivera's answer would be a lot like Ditka, who won Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach, did -- with great defense and ball control offense.

Rivera understands that formula because he was a part of Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl team that completed an 18-1 season with a 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots.

"One thing I try to do with our players, I never ask them to do something I was never able to do as a player,'' Rivera told me last season. "I got that from Coach Ditka. He used to always ask us to do what he used to as a player. Some of the [expletive] he did was unbelievable, but he asked.

"One thing he told me was to know your abilities and play to your strengths. He used to tell me that all the time. He knew I wasn't a blazer, but he knew I was smart, physical and I played with my hands and had some good, natural feel for the game.''

Rivera's first speech as the head coach of the Panthers in 2011 came from something he heard from Ditka when he was a rookie linebacker with the Bears in 1984.

"I've got good news and bad news,'' Rivera recalled Ditka saying. "The good news is we're going to the Super Bowl. The bad news is not all of us are going to be with us.''

It was a reminder that making an NFL roster is hard and that it takes hard work to win a Super Bowl.

Like Ditka, Rivera is a player's coach. He's always walking through the locker room talking to players and observing them to keep a pulse on the team.

Ditka was much the same. Rivera shared a story at the Touchdown Club about how one night in training camp a few players snuck out after curfew to go to the VFW for beer and pool.

As they prepared to pay for a round, Rivera said the waitress told them not to worry, that Ditka already had paid.

He said Ditka then walked over with a beer and shot some pool, not once jumping on them for being out after curfew. He said Ditka didn't jump on them the next day at practice, either, simply saying if they were going to "hoot with the owls, they better fly with the eagles.''

The players flew during the entire practice, not wanting to let the coach down.

Rivera has created the type of atmosphere at Carolina where players respect him and don't want to let him down. He was able to create it because of what he learned from Ditka.

And that is why Ditka believes Rivera will win a Super Bowl with the Panthers.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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