Bear Rescue: Can Jay Cutler Win Over His Critics?

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Why Re-Signing Jay Cutler Was a Great Move by the Chicago Bears
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Jay Cutler.

COMMENTARY | Legendary showman PT Barnum is credited with saying "I don't care what you say about me, just spell my name right." If that's the case, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has certainly outstripped counterpart Josh McCown in the publicity department.

While the reviews of Jay's play have been mixed at best, critics and apologists alike can at least agree on the spelling of his surname. Well, except for the occasional transformative "n," thrown in to turn "Cutler" into an NSFW epithet.

But McCown, who burst onto the scene like John Moxon in Varsity Blues, is still somewhat of an unknown commodity. Even as they call for him to be the lead dog, Bears fans across the country are turning out knockoff versions of his name like street vendors. McNown, Mckown, McGowan. He's the human equivalent of a Faux-lex watch.

And don't even get me started on the next great Chicago Bears receiver: Alshon Jeffery. Jon Gruden has sounded more like John Madden, fumbling the pronunciation of Jeffery repeatedly during Monday Night Football broadcasts. And if social media is any indicator, Chucky isn't alone.

I find it exceedingly ironic that Jeffery has received nothing but praise for his pass-catching ability, yet he can't seem to catch an onomastic break. And McCown sliced up any low expectations in spelling Jay Cutler, but has had to sit idly by while his own name is butchered like cattle in the stockyards of yesteryear.

Whether you call the Bears QB Jay Cutler, Jay Cutty, Bad Jay, or the aforementioned naughty word, he's still the same embattled player whose abilities both amaze and frustrate. But what's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. At least, that's what Shakespeare said.

Of course, noted American poet André "Ice Cold" 3000 said: "I know you like to think your [excrement] don't stink. But lean a little bit closer, see that roses really smell like boo boo." This would seem to accurately sum up what most of his detractors feel about #6, a man mocked for his reality-star wife, perma-frown, and aloof sideline demeanor.

At this point, the damage may be irreparable, but I want to try my hand at a crash course in image rehab for Jay Cutler. I'm no Jon Taffer, but I did stay a Holiday Inn Express once and I think some of the intelligence might still be lingering around. So here we go with a 3-step Bear Rescue.

The Marshall Plan

When it comes to rehabilitated images, Brandon Marshall's only competition is the Grinch. After a promising start with the Denver Broncos, Marshall pouted himself out of favor with then-coach Josh McDaniels and was shipped off to the Miami Dolphins. Allegations and rumors dogged him there, eventually leading to a trade to Chicago.

Of course, shortly after the trade was announced, Marshall was implicated in an incident in a New York City nightclub. While he was cleared, it was an ignominious start to his Bears career. But since arriving in Chicago, Marshall has been a model player and citizen. Rather than the withdrawn and combative presence fans saw in the past, the new Brandon is affable and gregarious. Some might say his heart has grown 2, or even 3, sizes.

Much of the turn-around is due to the diagnosis of treatment of his borderline personality disorder. It took a little time to clean up his personal life, but Marshall's professional life has inspired Bears fans from the moment he took the field. He's a physical presence, routinely stiff-arming or plain running over defenders on his way to consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons in Chicago.

Jay Cutler would do well to follow the example of the man he preceded in his Mile High exodus. While Marshall embraced the City of Broad Shoulders, Cutler has often kept Chicago at arm's length. And though the talent in that arm is unquestioned, the decisions that govern it have been anything but. He's shown flashes of it lately, but Jay needs to continue to build goodwill with both teammates and fans if he wants to stick around.

New Role

Wall St. Cheat Sheet recently released a list of 7 actors who always play the same character and it's fair to say that Cutler has been similarly typecast, at least by his detractors. They would probably say he's like Michael Cera, the "awkward and lovable geek." Well, except for the lovable part. But what Bears fans want is Danny Trejo, the tough-guy antihero. After all, isn't that a big part of what made Jim McMahon so revered?

When it comes to breaking typecast, leveling opposing cornerbacks and improving his sideline demeanor are good places to start. People may never forget the image of Jay appearing to mope on the sidelines in the second half of the NFC title game in 2011. Or the time he ignored Mike Tice. Or his (justified) shove of J'Marcus Webb. But maybe, just maybe, he still has time to play the good guy.

Win

In an earlier article, I wrote that Jay would have to play on both sides of the ball and make amends with Brian Urlacher in order to ingratiate himself to the masses, but that might be a little overboard. All he's got to do is win, period. Truth be told, I probably could have saved both of you a few minutes by making this the one and only step in the Jay Cutler image rehab project. After all, winning cures all ills.

And while it's entirely possible that Cutler could actually outplay Chris Conte, the Bears' defensive woes are another matter entirely. Jay's got at least two more games in a Bears uniform and winning both of them would be a big step in the right direction. But for Cutler to truly improve his standing, the Bears need to win because of him and not in spite of him.

There are those who believe they'll never have to warm up to Jay Cutler because he simply doesn't have the wherewithal to win when it matters. He's certainly done little to prove them wrong. But if -- and it's a big "if" -- Cutler is able to get his paws on the Lombardi Trophy, he'll never have to buy a meal at Mastro's Steakhouse again.

Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He grew up in Northwest Indiana, where the Bears reign supreme. While he now lives in the heart of Colts country, you can hear his kids singing "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" every gameday.

Nothing better to do? You can follow Evan on Twitter: @DEvanAltman

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