Panthers coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker who played his entire nine-year career with the Bears, counts himself among the legions of long-suffering fans rooting for the Cubs in the World Series (he even flies the W flag on his front lawn in Charlotte). During a break from meetings on Wednesday, Rivera took the time to talk with The MMQB about his beloved Cubs, the time he and his mother dined with Harry Caray, and what he’s learned about coaching by watching manager Joe Maddon. Rivera’s Series prediction: well ... keep reading to find out.
KAHLER: You had a bye last Sunday, so does that mean you were able to watch the Cubs clinch the NLCS?
RIVERA: I was flipping between that and college football, and it was really exciting to see the euphoria of Chicago. It was one of those things that for anybody who has ever been to Chicago and lived through a Cubs season—and I lived there for 17 years—it’s crazy, it really is.
KAHLER: In spring training, did you think that this would be the year the Cubs made it to the World Series?
RIVERA: Oh, most certainly. They have been building that team the last few years. You can see what [general manager] Theo Epstein and coach [Joe] Maddon have done. This baseball team was geared up and brought a good momentum into the postseason. They all look like they are having fun with the game they are playing, and the city really seems to embrace it and enjoy it.
KAHLER: You were part of a championship parade in Chicago, after the ’85 Bears won the Super Bowl. If the Cubs win, will their parade blow yours completely out of the water?
RIVERA: Oh without a doubt. In comparison, when I was there it was always the Bears and Michael Jordan, and we were tied. You could say Michael Jordan and then the Bears, or the Bears and then Michael Jordan. Then it was the Blackhawks, the White Sox and then just kind of in the background was the Cubs, because they hadn’t won one. But if you think about it, here’s a team that really didn’t win a lot and they are averaging almost three million fans a year. That’s what is crazy! I can remember going to Cubs games and sitting there and looking around and thinking, This is unbelievable, that the team could be below .500 and it was still packed and it was a day game. And all the people you would see there, everybody from white-collar workers, to nuns, to fire fighters, so many people were there; it was crazy.
KAHLER: Do you have a favorite memory from a Cubs game at Wrigley?
RIVERA: I got to sing during the seventh-inning stretch—that really was cool. I sat in Mark Grace’s seats right behind home plate. I got to know Gracie a little bit back in the day, just a great guy. I met Andre Dawson, knew Ryne Sandberg. I got to know Harry Caray, I had dinner with him at his restaurant. One year when I was playing for the Bears, we won a game and my mom was in town, so afterwards I took her to dinner and she wanted to go to Harry Caray’s Steakhouse. So I go to Harry Caray’s and the maître d' goes, Look, Mr. Caray is upstairs, would you guys like to have dinner upstairs with him? So we went upstairs to have dinner, and we’re talking, and all of a sudden my mom starts talking baseball with him! My mom loved baseball and I remember listening to him on Armed Forces Radio, because my dad was in the military and they used to broadcast the Cardinal games, back in the day when Harry was doing the Cardinals. So she knew all that and it was neat to listen to her asking questions about baseball to Harry Caray. He was great.
KAHLER: When did you become a Cubs fans? When you started playing for the Bears?
RIVERA: Yes, and at that time I became a fan of all Chicago sports, there is such a rich tradition in that city with all the sports, with football, basketball, baseball, hockey and now soccer, the way the crowds come out for soccer and the WNBA. That city has really just taken to all of its professional sports. It really has always been cool to be able to go to those places. I went to the old Chicago Stadium, where the Bulls and the Blackhawks used to play. I’ve been there to watch games and it was so intimate and it was a shame that had to be torn down. I’ve been to old Comiskey Park and that was something else. The history in Chicago with sports is just tremendous.
KAHLER: Do people in Charlotte notice your W flag?
RIVERA: We put it out once my wife got one and for the most part, we let it sit out there. It’s really kind of neat, because we put it out, we just found out we have a couple other neighbors that are from Chicago. One has a W flag and the other has a Cubs flag up.
KAHLER: How often would you go to games when you lived in Chicago?
RIVERA: I would say at least three or five times a year. It was really a neat event to me, it really was. It was always a treat to go to the games. It was different; it was the experience of being in this old stadium, this old traditional baseball stadium, especially with the ivy on the outfield, that was really cool.
KAHLER: Do you have a favorite current Cubs player?
RIVERA: Wow, not necessarily. I really love the manager, I love his personality and I think his personality shines through his players. It’s funny because a lot of times when I watch sports, I watch the managers and the coaches. Just looking and watching and seeing how they handle things.
KAHLER: What have you learned from watching Joe Maddon?
RIVERA: One of the things that we’ve done that is similar to what Maddon does, is he always talks about his players being who they are, keeping their personality and having fun and enjoying themselves. And we kind of got on that mantra last year as we were on a roll going forward, and I’ve always appreciated that. I love how honest and candid he is when he does his interviews. He really seems to enjoy what he does. And to me, if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, get out. That’s why it is exciting to watch him manage and do the things that he does.
KAHLER: What is the key for the Cubs to beat Cleveland?
RIVERA: From what I saw in Game 1, and what I heard Cleveland’s catcher talking about, the Cubs got behind in the count in that game. I think if they can stay ahead in the count and force the pitcher to throw to them, with those bats they are going to have success. That’s important as far as the offense is concerned. For the defense, the Cubs pitchers have to get ahead in the count and keep the ball down.
KAHLER: What is your prediction?
RIVERA: I’ll say 4-1. I would love to see the Cubs win, I really would. I know Cleveland’s history as well, but man, the city of Chicago, this just would be a dream come true for so many Cub fans.
Questions? Comments? Story idea? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org