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Cam Newton has returned to the Carolina Panthers, and all indications are that he will start for the first time since Week 2 of this season on Sunday.
For the first time since 2019, Ron Rivera will be on the sidelines at Bank of America Stadium, albeit this time he will be guiding the Washington Football Team.
Although Newton and Rivera's glory days in Carolina have passed them by, their NFL paths will cross again on Sunday when Rivera's Washington Football Team visits Carolina for the first time as an opposing coach, taking on the host Panthers.
"I know as far as playing against them, it won't be the same effect," said Rivera of being on the visitor's sideline, via the team transcript. "But it'll be back in Charlotte, that'll be probably the bigger thing more so than anything else for me. Just because, again, as I said, the thing that I really appreciated about my time there were the people. That's probably the bigger thing. Now, what I'm doing is I'm limiting my exposure to that. [My wife] Stephanie will do all the visiting and saying hello to folks. Me, I'm pretty much going to try and stick to the mantra that this is a business trip."
Rivera was sacked as the Panthers' coach in the middle of his ninth season with the team.
Rivera, on the other hand, is expressing no animosity toward owner David Tepper or anybody else at the club in the days leading up to his homecoming.
"There's no reason to be bitter. I did the best I could," Rivera said. "When it was time to move on, David Tepper treated me with tremendous dignity and respect. He really did. He gave me an opportunity to say goodbye and I really appreciated it. What's really kind of cool, kind of speaks to who he is. When we played him here, he did a Rivera Strong, as well. I got a tremendous amount of respect for what he's doing there right now, what they're trying to do in terms of their rebuild as well. There is no bitterness. If there is anything, it's just miss the folks in the friends we had in Charlotte."
Newton's return to the Panthers has given the team a boost and, no doubt, added some spice to the Week 11 matchup, as it pits Rivera against Newton for the first time after nearly nine years together in Charlotte. Rivera and Newton were there through the good times and the horrible periods in Panthers history. And Rivera is overjoyed that his former quarterback has returned to the team he once called home.
"I think it's an opportunity for him to go back home, pick up where he started off. It's kind of a cool deal," Rivera said.
If Newton starts, as expected, he would be the Panthers' third starting quarterback this season, while Rivera will have Taylor Heinicke in the lineup, his second QB1 of the season.
There was a clamour for a Rivera-Newton reunion on the Football Team prior to the 2015 AP NFL Most Valuable Player signing with Carolina. With Washington travelling to face the Panthers (5-5) with a disappointing 3-6 record, there was a clamour for a Rivera-Newton reunion on the Football Team prior to the 2015 AP NFL Most Valuable Player signing with Carolina. Rivera had previously mentioned that he was not interested in bringing in Newton, and he elaborated on that decision on Wednesday, stating that if there had been a chance to recapture the magic of the past, he would have leaped at it, but he didn't see it happening.
"Well, I think the biggest thing for me looking at it was it is really trying to go in a different direction more than anything else. That's, to me, what it's really all about," Rivera said. "If it was possible to emulate everything that we did there, I would have, but I just felt that this was an opportunity for us that we were going completely different. This was going to be a young team, a bunch of young players which is what we're trying to do and if you look at them, and they're a good example, but the team that got young very fast along the lines of what we're trying to do and build it up that way. Because to me, if you build it through the draft, you put the right people in place, you can have that type of sustainability. We had a nice run up to 2017 and then the quarterback injuries caught up with us in 18 and 19 more so than anything else. If you really look at that in both instances, we had had six wins when we had to change out and sometimes you just can't overcome the injuries."
Most ends are bad, and Rivera and Newton's endings with the Panthers are no exception. Rivera was let go. Newton appeared to be a shell of his former self as he battled injuries and was eventually released.
Newton's 2015 MVP bid and the team's ascension to Super Bowl 50 are definitely characteristics of the franchise, but there is clearly still plenty of success to revel in.
Rivera's 76 victories, like Newton's 29,049 passing yards and 183 touchdowns, are the most in Panthers history. According to NFL Research, this will be the eighth unique game (15th overall encounter) involving a previous MVP QB and the head coach from that MVP season since 1990. The last time they met was earlier this year, when Tom Brady and the Buccaneers defeated Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
In the last seven meetings, the former MVP has won the first meeting five times. But don't expect Riverboat Ron to be swayed by previous stats or recollections in this confrontation with Superman.
Rivera will be coaching against the Panthers for the second time, as his Washington team lost 20-13 in Week 16 last year when the Panthers visited to town.
But there's a lot more nostalgia on the way back to Charlotte. Rivera's return has taken on even more drama and emotion now that Newton has abruptly — and emphatically — rejoined the Panthers. As a result, as Rivera prepares for Sunday's game, he can smile as he remembers what was with Ron and Cam.
There are a lot of really cool moments. Everything from him being our first draft pick and the work that we put in to make him our first draft pick," Rivera said. "You really know he's a good person. And that's the thing that I really respected was just deal with the type of young man he is, but really got the chance to see his family life, his home life. And that's something that I'll always remember. And then there were some other things, you know, that went on from the time when he was in the car accident during the season, to the only time that, I don't want to say I benched him, but the only time that I did was when I got him to finally admit that his foot really was hurt and then we put them on IR. My last year that was tough because he's a competitor that he didn't want to quit. But you know, we told him you have to because you're hurt, I'll always remember that. The thing I always remember too, is he hated to lose more than anybody I've ever been around. After the 2015 Super Bowl, you know, you don't realize, you know, that they called him a sore loser. Well, he is because he wants to win. I mean, that's who he is. I tried to deflect that just so people understand, the dude's going to give you everything he has, which he did. And unfortunately, we didn't win it."
Within the Panthers franchise history book, both Newton and Rivera have lengthy chapters. On Sunday, they'll face off against one other for the first time in their illustrious careers, continuing to write contrasting chapters in their respective histories.