Let’s face it Chicago, we’ve been spoiled. When it comes to likable team captains and superstars, there has been no shortage lately.
In hockey, we’re blessed with the young dynamic duo of “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. In basketball, there’s hometown hero Derrick Rose. On the South Side of town, Paul Konerko still roams around first base. Unfortunately on the North Side, the Cubs parted ways with most of their veteran team leaders during their youth movement, but not too long ago Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood were both headlining the roster.
On the Bears, one of the faces of the franchise (maybe still “the” face) is fan favorite Brian Urlacher. All of these players, whether they’re stand-up guys or a little on the crazy side (cough… Kaner… cough), have endeared themselves to Chicagoans not only because of their play, but because of their personalities.
It’s easy for people to pull for your cause if you’re not only doing all of the right things, but also saying all of the right things. It’s comforting when you see the marquee players of your favorite teams owning up to their mistakes, keeping it loose with some comedy, and sometimes even playfully pushing the boundaries with their words and actions.
In the real world, this is also known as “acting like regular humans”.
By showing that human side to them, you don’t look at those players as distant super-humans you have nothing in common with. You see them more like friends, or at least people you can relate to on a personal level.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve thought to myself, “you know, I’d love to just hang out with (insert name here) for a day.” It doesn’t matter if that person is Rose, Toews, Urlacher, etc., all of them apply. You know you have special players on your hands when you’d be openly willing to spend your own time, outside of the sports realm, with these guys.
That’s why it’s understandably hard for Bear’s fans to come to grips with the fact that they have another face of the franchise that completely bucks the trend.
There is no doubt that franchise QB Jay Cutler is a very polarizing figure, and he has been for the entirety of his career. People seem to be more concerned with his demeanor than with his play. It’s pretty abnormal to see a player of his caliber constantly mope around, look disengaged and emotionless, and call out his teammates on a regular basis.
The buzz word that people consistently use to describe Cutler seems to be “jerk”.
Just this past Monday night, when Cutler was leading the offense in their dominating 34-18 win over the Cowboys, the entire group of people I was watching the game with all stopped in their tracks and stared in awe at the TV screen when something was caught on tape that we’d never thought we’d see: Jay Cutler laughing and smiling with some of his teammates.
That was one of the most open showings of positive emotions I’ve ever seen from Jay. Granted, that shot was from near the end of the game when the score had gotten lopsided before the Cowboys scored a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter. But I was starting to question if Jay still had that in him.
I’m not trying to paint the picture that he’s a total jerk 24/7, incapable of showing any signs of happiness. I’m just pointing out that it’s something we rarely see from him. The 10% of the time where we don’t see the patented “stoic face” from Cutler, we’re usually seeing him arguing with coaches and teammates. He’s not much for celebration, even when the going gets good.
There was a point in the game near the end of the first half where we did see the good old Jerk Jay on display. With a 10-0 lead in the game, Mike Tice came over to sit next to him on the bench. Cutler was apparently miffed by how the play calls were coming in late to the huddle, so he decided to express his displeasure by standing up and walking away from Tice.
All I could do was put my face in my palm and wonder how badly the media would blow this act out of proportion the next day.
The only problem I saw with that gesture was the fact that it was on camera. I’m sure stuff like that happens all the time in the NFL, but it does show a certain level of disrespect to intentionally avoid one of your coaches. But to Cutler’s credit, he had a point, and that was simply his way of expressing his frustration.
Well, to no surprise of my own, when I was surfing the web for some Bears articles on Tuesday morning, I came across a handful of articles trying to call out Cutler about his altercation with Tice.
WGN News even included a poll in their sports segment of the morning news asking Bears fans if they had a problem with how Jay acted Monday night and if he should get a pardon based on his play.
So here’s my plea to the Chicago media and Bears fans everywhere: can we stop with this, please?
I’m sick and tired of Jay Cutler being raked over the coals every week for how he acts. We can’t even mention how he plays anymore without trying to tie it in to his emotions. It’s like we might as well keep stats on his mood and throw them in the box score next to his completion rating.
I mean seriously guys, this is nothing new. We should stop treating every little incident (and I use that word lightly) like it’s a big deal because in the grand scheme of things, it’s not.
If that’s the style of emotion Cutler feels he needs to play with to be at his best, we need to let him be. There’s nothing anyone can do about his reactions. Nor should anyone do anything about it.
Sure, it would be cool if Cutler all of the sudden turned into a fun-loving guy that everyone liked, but trying to change a player’s emotional outlook can have the same negative ramifications as trying to change a players physical skill set.
Take Michael Vick, for example. When he first came to the Eagles, he was still the dual threat that made him one of the most feared quarterbacks throughout the league. He was an elusive runner with a cannon arm; a rare combo that should not be limited.
But this year, the Eagle’s coaching staff tried to start the season out by molding Vick into more of a prototypical pocket passer. By doing that, they took out the majority of the running dimension of his game. He was taking brutal hits regularly because of Philadelphia’s shoddy offensive line. Defenses could now key in on his passing because they knew his likelihood of running was ORDERED to be diminished.
I’m sure if you gave Vick more time, he’d find a way to mold his talent into one of the best pure pocket passers in the game. But that transition period takes time, and you clearly don’t perform as well during that span, which is why the Eagles backed off that idea. And that’s time the Bears can not afford to spend on a quarterback who is almost at an elite level by the way he already plays.
We need to start accepting Jay for the player he is and not wishing he changes into someone he’s not.
I’m not saying we should accept every outburst outright. He needs to know that there’s a line you just don’t cross, like the one he crossed by bumping J’Marcus Webb on national TV. It just looks so unprofessional and detracts from the team’s image.
But he’s not the Disney Land, knight-in-shining-armor type leader. He’s a jerk. And if he needs to be a relatively emotionless jerk who pouts and calls out his teammates more often than not to win games, so be it.
It may not be the cuddly, fairy tale love story between a fan base and their team’s beloved leader, even though that may be more fun for everyone involved. I’d rather take a less likable guy with a handful of championship rings than a mediocre QB who seems like he’s your best friend.
The good thing is I don’t see Jay changing his on-field demeanor for anyone or anything. As long as he doesn’t, he can keep improving and avoid that awkward transition phase into someone he’s not just so he can please the fan base. He’s paid millions of dollars to be a winning QB, not your pal.
That’s the brutal truth. It might not be pretty, but if it leads to continued success, it doesn’t have to be.
That’s just Jay being Jay.Follow paulmbanks