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Ron Rivera ahead of Carolina return: 'No reason to be bitter'

Cam Newton has returned to the Carolina Panthers, and all signs point to him starting for them Sunday for the first time since Week 2 of 2019.

Ron Rivera will also be on the sideline at Bank of America Stadium for the first time since 2019, though he'll be leading the Washington Football Team this time around.

Indeed the glory days of Newton and Rivera together in Carolina have passed them by, but their NFL roads will reunite them once again on Sunday when Rivera returns to Carolina for the first time as an opposing coach with his Football Team 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 fired as Panthers coach in the midst of the 2019 campaign, his ninth with the franchise.

In the days ahead of his return, though, Rivera is offering up no ill will for owner David Tepper or anyone else within the club.

"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."

The return of Newton to the Panthers has added some juice to the club and no doubt provided a bit more sizzle to the Week 11 contest, as it gives Rivera and Newton a chance to oppose each other after nearly nine years joined at the hip in Charlotte. Through some bad times and the greatest of times in Panthers history, Rivera and Newton were there. And Rivera is happy for his former quarterback to have found his way back to the franchise they 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.

Should Newton get the start, as is predicted, he will be the third Panthers starting quarterback this season, while Rivera will have Taylor Heinicke, his second QB1 of the year, in the lineup.

With Washington traveling to face the Panthers (5-5) with a disappointing 3-6 mark, there was a clamor for a Rivera-Newton reunion on the Football Team prior to the 2015 AP NFL Most Valuable Player signing with Carolina. Rivera stated previously he wasn't looking at bringing in Newton and offered more detail on that decision Wednesday, underlining that if there was a chance to relive the magic of years past he would've jumped at it, but just didn't see that coming to fruition.

"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 endings are bad and Rivera's and Newton's conclusions with the Panthers fall under that umbrella. Rivera was fired. Newton looked little like his former self as he dealt with mounting injuries and was eventually released.

There is still obviously plenty of success to drink in, not just Newton's 2015 MVP bid and the team's ascent to Super Bowl 50 -- though those are obviously hallmarks of the franchise.

Rivera's 76 wins are the most in Panthers history, just as Newton's 29,049 passing yards and 183 touchdowns are. They were together for four playoff trips and will oppose each other for the eighth unique matchup (15th total meeting) since 1990 between a former MVP QB and the head coach from that MVP season, per NFL Research. The last time wasn't all that long ago, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers got the best of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots earlier this year.

The former MVP has won the first meeting in these matchups five of the last seven times. Don't expect Riverboat Ron to let any past numbers or memories decide this showdown with Superman, though.

It will be Rivera's second time coaching against the Panthers, as his Washington squad lost, 20-13, in Week 16 last year when the Panthers came to Washington.

There's far more nostalgia heading back to Charlotte, though. And now, as Newton has suddenly -- and emphatically -- rejoined the Panthers, Rivera's return has taken on even more drama and feeling. Thus, as Rivera looks ahead to Sunday's matchup, he's able to look back with a grin at what once 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."

Newton and Rivera each have robust chapters of their own within the Panthers franchise history book. On Sunday, they'll continue writing different chapters in their own histories as they face off against each other for the first time in their decorated careers.

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