San Jose, Calif. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera played nine seasons for the Chicago Bears, and some of his best moments came against the Lions.
The first interception of Rivera’s career came against the Lions and quarterback Eric Hipple in the 1985 season finale. Chicago, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl with a historic defense featuring Rivera at linebacker.
Rivera caught another interception off Lions quarterback Chuck Long in 1987, and one more off Bob Gagliano in 1990. Out of Rivera’s nine career interceptions, three came against the Lions, though he didn’t have much explanation for the high percentage.
“Probably because we played them a lot,” Rivera said at Super Bowl Opening Night at the SAP Center. “We played them twice a year, so I had 18 opportunities.”
Rivera played Chicago from 1984-92 and returned to the Bears as an assistant coach from 1997-98 and 2004-06. He’s in his fifth season as Panthers head coach and will try to add a Super Bowl title to the one he won as a player.
Rivera said he enjoyed playing against the Lions, though it probably helped that the Bears won 10 straight matchups between 1984 and 1989.
“Because they were an NFC Central — back in the day — rival, I always enjoyed playing against those guys, whether it was Detroit, Green Bay or Minnesota because they were our natural rivals and there was so much history to that,” he said. “It really was a neat experience.”
Like the 1985 Bears, the Panthers went 15-1 this season before advancing to the Super Bowl.