WOW. Lots of talk on Jay Cutler's toughness has led me down the road of insanity. The NFC Championship game was a tough one. The media and public reacted in an extreme way to how Cutler acted during the game, so I need this post for me to figure out how I actually feel about Cutler as the Bears QB. Let's start by flashing back to my own playing days when I was a senior in high school. I played basketball at Northgate High School...
Our second game of the year was against Encinal High School (Dontrelle Willis' alma mater) and I dropped a solid 29 points on them. Our team won easily and advanced to the championship game of the Ygnacio Valley tournament. Unfortunately, in the 3rd quarter, I grabbed an offensive rebound and severely sprained my right ankle as I came down on someone's foot. Typing that actually brought back a reminder of how painful it was. It was ridiculously hard to walk. I was fouled when I went back up for a gimpy shot. I shot free throws and was pulled from the game. As I said, we had the game in hand, so no problem- I wasn't needed the rest of the game.
However, our championship game was the next day and after icing the ankle, getting a good night sleep and taking some Advil, my ankle was JACKED. I could barely walk. I went into a sports medicine clinic for electric stimulation and ice a couple hours before the game. They also taped it up excessively and added an ankle brace. I took 4 Advil before the game and 4 more at halftime. While warming up in the locker room I tried running on the ankle- I could barely do it.
And guess what? I played the game, scored 12 points, our team won the tournament championship and I was named MVP. The next day I was throwing up because I took too much Advil and actually still went on a recruiting trip up to UC Davis. Was it worth it though? Hell yes.
Do I tell you this brag about my toughness? No. This is a factual account that hopefully proves that I have some perspective on playing with an injury. However, there is a dark side to this story...
The next game was a few days later. I didn't practice on the days in between because my ankle was so messed up. Our team played at Granada in Livermore against a team that frankly, was not as good as us. I decided to tough it out again, but the swelling had gone up and I was even less mobile than before. I played, scored 5 points, and I'm certain that I was one of the reasons we lost that game. I tried to be a hero, but ultimately I was a bit selfish and it cost us a game.
I didn't miss a game my entire senior year. My ankle got better after that and was not a problem for the rest of the year. However, I did break both of my wrists (navicular bone in each wrist) and I played through those injuries as well. I was able to do it, but it actually cost me my college basketball career. I showed up to UC Davis as a recruit without a guaranteed roster spot. Once I was cut from the team, I then had an opportunity to fix my wrists via surgery. I did my best to hide the injures during tryouts at UCD, but I knew I couldn't continue playing in that condition. I had offers to transfer away from UCD and play elsewhere, but my wrist surgeries took a long time to heal and rehabilitate. I could've gambled on my fragile wrists and transferred away from a great educational institution just to play some ball, but I didn't. I stayed at UCD and never played any form of college basketball (besides IMs, of course.)
Sure, it's fun to take a trip down memory lane, but as you can see, my tales have ups and downs when it comes to playing through pain. In coming up with my opinion on Jay Cutler, I know also have information that he actually does have a tear in his MCL. He could stand, but he couldn't cut or do any of the things that a truly effective QB could do. Could he have gone out there and played? Maybe. Did Caleb Hanie play more effectively than Cutler could have with his injury? Maybe. We don't actually know these answers and we never will. We can make assumptions about toughness when the large majority of us have not gone to work because of a "bad cold" or some other weak excuse. Who are we to question an athlete's toughness?
Do I think Cutler lacks toughness? After watching him get pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and even the Seahawks earlier in the year behind an awful O-line- I'm gonna say no. I don't think Cutler lacks toughness.
I think the biggest knock on Cutler is his non-verbal communication. I once learned that communication is 80% non-verbal which is why instant messaging or texting can be difficult from time to time. Large portions of the actual message are lost when the message receiver cannot see the non-verbal communication behind it. It's exactly why people invented emoticons ;)
I'm not sure if Cutler needs to cater toward improving his public image, but it almost certainly would make it easier on him. People don't think he acts they way he should. He could be the most hated player in the NFL right now. It's crazy that this is the case based on other players in the NFL:
- Michael Vick killed dogs and financed a dog fighting ring.
- Big Ben was accused of rape multiple times. Granted, he was never convicted, but he probably wasn't being a total stand up guy.
- Ray Lewis was accused of, at best, being an accessory to murder.
- Donte Stallworth killed someone while drunk driving.
- Tom Brady once left the AFC Championship game allowing Drew Bledsoe to lead the Patriots to victory. Once they advanced to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady was magically better and won his first ring- this example was used not because Tom Brady is a bad guy, but that he had a knee injury serious enough to keep him out of an AFC Championship game, but not serious enough to keep him from the Super Bowl two weeks later. I don't remember anyone questioning Brady's toughness at that time like they have Cutler this week.
Where were the Bears without Jay Cutler? They had former hated QB Rex Grossman. They had Kyle Orton who was a stat machine earlier this year, but never all that effective in his career. Let's go further back into the Bears' QB roster. Henry Burris. Jonathan Quinn. Craig Krenzel. Chad Hutchinson. Kordell Stewart. Eric Kramer. Cade McNown. Jim Miller (who actually led them to a playoff birth, but let's keep it real- he was not good.) Even so-called "decent" or "good" QBs were awful. Mike Tomczak. Jim Harbaugh. Jim McMahon- yes, Jimmy Mac was terrible. His stats were unimpressive at best. Their defense won Super Bowl XX. My lifetime is littered with AWFUL Chicago Bear QBs. Let's put it out there- Jay Cutler is, in fact, the best Chicago Bear QB of my lifetime.
On top of that, I live in Northern California where the starting QBs for the local teams this past year were Alex Smith, Troy Smith, Jason Campbell, and Bruce Gradkowski. I see how frustrated Niner and Raider fans are with their QBs. I also see how frustrated they are since neither team has been to the Playoffs in YEARS. I'd much rather be in the Bears position than those teams, much like SF Giants fans would rather be where they are rather than where the Cubs are. It's all relative to how you look at it, and I know Jay Cutler is an improvement over most of the garbage QBs that bring their teams down to mediocrity.
So as a fan, as a former athlete who has played in pain, and as a rational person, do I want Jay Cutler as the Bears QB next year? HELL YES I do. There is no other answer I can possibly give. The NFC Championship game was a huge let down. It was a truly hard pill to swallow. But would the Bears have even gotten there without Jay Cutler? I doubt it. Would I like Cutler to physically show more leadership qualities- sure I would. Yet, from the way his teammates and coaches had his back after the game, he seems like he might be doing more of that behind the scenes than anyone outside of the Bears compound ever realizes.
Until there is a tangible, realistic and better option, Jay Cutler is the guy in Chicago. I'm not jumping ship or burning Cutler's jersey, so instead I'm going to be supportive and hope that Cutler does the one thing that will help him the most- bring Chicago a Super Bowl Championship.