Questions Remain for Super Bowl Teams

While the Bears have a healthy roster entering Sunday's Super Bowl, there are questions about the future of the coaching staff. The Colts, meanwhile, have one injury that could affect their starting defense.


Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera conceded last week that he might have to wait another year or so to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming an NFL head coach.

But, with the Cowboys rumored to be interested in him and willing to wait until next week to make a decision on Bill Parcells' successor, Rivera may get the last remaining head-coaching position.

For now, though, the Rivera-to-Dallas rumors are just that, which he repeatedly told waves of media at Thursday morning's interview session.

"It's speculation," the former Bears linebacker said. "I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody from Dallas, so I don't know. My wife (Stephanie) called me (Wednesday) night and asked me about it and I told her, ‘Hey, I've talked to no one.'"

Rivera is one of just five Hispanic or Latino assistant coaches in the NFL and the most well known. If he gets the Cowboys' job he would be the only Hispanic head coach in the NFL, but he was in a minority almost as small during his playing days from 1984-92.

"It's kind of (like) when I played," he said. "I was one of the few Hispanics to play in the NFL. The one thing people have to understand, and it's true for any player, you're a role model, and a lot of people will look up to you and you've got to live your life accordingly.

Rivera has expressed frustration over the NFL policy that prohibits assistant coaches from interviewing with other teams while their present team is still playing.

In a whirlwind tour, Rivera interviewed for head-coaching positions with the Falcons, Steelers, Dolphins and Cardinals during the week prior to the Bears' bye in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

But he was prohibited from second interviews while the Bears were busy advancing to Super Bowl XLI. In the interim, teams anxious to speed the transition to a new regime filled all four positions.

"It's a little frustrating because I went through it with Pittsburgh," he said. "I was a finalist and unfortunately, because of the way things progressed, I didn't get that chance. But I'm here at the Super Bowl. It took me 21 years to get back — I was here as a player, back in ‘85, and now I'm here as a coach. I really do appreciate the opportunity of getting back to the Super Bowl. I know eventually I'll get an opportunity as a head coach because it's just the way things progress."

Rivera has been aiming for the top of his profession since he started on the bottom rung of the NFL coaching ladder as a defensive quality control coach for the Bears under Dave Wannstedt. And, just as Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy have blazed a trail for African-American head coaches by becoming the first to lead their teams to the Super Bowl, Rivera welcomes the opportunity to do the same for Hispanics.

"It's a role that I would relish most certainly," he said. "I think it's very important for the communities to have different types of role models. Believe me, it would be very important and very special to me."
But with the Bears preparing for the franchise's most important game in 21 years, Rivera's immediate concern is avoiding any distractions that would take away from focusing on stopping the Colts' offense, the NFL's best in several categories.

"The bottom line is, it's speculation, and I think the players understand that," Rivera said. "I haven't talked to anybody about (the Cowboys job), so until that time comes, that's all it is; strictly speculation. We'll have to see what happens come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of next week."

Players say they have not been distracted at all by speculation over Rivera's future, and they're pulling for him to move up, even if it means he'll be leaving them.

"Eventually, it will happen for him, hopefully sooner than later," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "I'm rooting for him. Hopefully, (the Cowboys) have the patience to give him an interview and give him the job. I think he deserves it."

There is also speculation that Rivera, whose contract with the Bears is up after the Super Bowl, could be offered the defensive coordinator's position in Dallas if Norv Turner gets the top job.

"That's something that I'll have to address if it ever does come to fruition," Rivera said "But right now, I can't tell you anything because I don't know anything. It's kind of frustrating because no one has told me anything."


  • QB Rex Grossman threw 16 interceptions and just one touchdown passes in his five games as "Bad Rex." In the other 11 regular-season games, he threw 22 touchdown passes and four picks.

  • LB Brian Urlacher had no sacks this season for the first time in his seven-year career.

  • CB Charles Tillman had five interceptions for the second year in a row and tied for the team lead. His 32 return yards this season were way down from last season's 172.

  • DT Tank Johnson's 3.5 sacks are the most by any of the Bears' interior linemen, not counting the 5.0 by injured Tommie Harris.

  • WR Mark Bradley (questionable, ankle) had three touchdowns on 14 catches, the highest touchdown-to-touch ratio on the team. He's expected to play Sunday.


    Nick Harper hopes to be on the field and in the starting lineup when the Indianapolis Colts face off against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI Sunday.

    The question remains, however, whether Harper's plans may eventually be derailed by Colts coach Tony Dungy. After sitting out last week's practices with a sprained right ankle, the six-year veteran cornerback was still in a walking boot as the team began workouts at the Miami Dolphins' complex in Davie, Fla.

    Harper was injured in the first quarter of the team's 38-34 AFC Championship Game victory over New England two weeks ago.

    "If I'm the only guy on this team that has an injury, I can't let the guys down. So if everybody is expecting to see the original 22 (starters), they're going to see the original 22. I'm going to have to make this game. There's no way I can sit out," he said.

    "Nobody wants to sit out. All the guys that have injuries, they're hiding it. There are some guys that are probably nicked up, but you won't be able to tell. You won't be able to tell, you won't be able to tell until after the game. But as long as I can walk around here, I think I can play. I can talk, I can play. I can walk, I can play."

    Although still experiencing some soreness in the ankle, he still wants to be out there with the rest of the Colts' first-team defensive unit against Chicago's underrated offense.

    "It's still sore, but you have to be able to play with injuries around here. If you're hurt, you can't play. If you're injured, you can play. So it's just one of those things where you have to block it out. It's a stable injury where it shouldn't get any worse during the game unless I have the same freak accident happen," Harper said. "But you try to keep it (the ankle) from being pinned under somebody this time. So as long as I can run straight ahead and make cuts on it, it should be good."

    He is continuing to rehab his ankle but a final determination on his availability may not come until Friday or Saturday.

    "Nick's pretty iffy right now," Dungy said after Wednesday's practice. "We'll see how he progresses as the week goes along. As of now, the best-case scenario is he'll practice Friday, but we'll have to see how he feels."


  • If Harper is unable to play against the Bears on Sunday, second-year CB Marlin Jackson could get the call. Jackson is usually used in the Colts' nickel defensive package but has started on occasion. He has played both cornerback and safety for Indianapolis this season.

  • TE Ben Utecht says that he is ready to go and should be fine physically for Sunday's game with Chicago. Utecht suffered a hyperextended right knee in the third quarter of the Patriots' game two weeks ago. He was able to return to the game but saw limited work in last week's practices.

    "The knee's feeling good. It was a little scary in the game. I thought it could have been a little worse, but it actually ended up being a light sprain. It feels really good now," he said. "I was able to practice Friday and Monday. And I'll be practicing all this week."

  • S Bob Sanders, who has been bothered by soreness and swelling in his right knee after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late September, participated in Wednesday's workout. He has played well in the Colts' last three postseason games. It's the first time all season that he has played in three straight games.

  • LB Keith O'Neill (ribs) is listed as questionable for Sunday's Super Bowl game with Chicago. O'Neill, however, practiced Wednesday and is expected to play against the Bears.

  • TE Bryan Fletcher has quickly become one of the favorites of the media in Miami, especially among the area's Hispanic outlets.

    The Colts' backup tight end speaks fluent Spanish, which came in handy last summer when he served an internship in the NFL's Mexico City office as part of the league's Player Development Career Program. While in Mexico, he helped plan and execute player appearances and youth clinics in Mexico City and Monterey.

    A year earlier, he spent six weeks in Argentina participating in a Spanish language program.

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