In December of ’95, on the final play of the game, Eagles defensive tackle William Fuller sliced through a gap and dropped Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman for a sack. The Cowboys lost 20-17. Aikman pulled himself off the ground and angrily marched towards Cowboys tackle Erik Williams, whore responsibility was to keep Eagles out of the backfield. Aikman screamed at Williams with a pointed finger.
This little diatribe was met with a shrug of the shoulders and was never offered up for public consumption. It was just assumed that Aikman, Super Bowl MVP, the most glamorous face of the most glamorous franchise, and leading league attraction, was well within his rights to chastise his colleague, who had clearly been in the wrong.
ICONJay Cutler's expression has always led to questions about his personality.
But a different case was opened after Jay Cutler’s last outing at Soldier Field. Cutler was picked four times and sacked seven more. But a larger conversation arose after Cutler publicly berated and even bumped tackle, J'Marcus Webb.
This inspired former Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye to do something that’s become quite popular among many ex- players—intensify an issue that involves his old team.
“You’ve got to have some sense of accountability,” said Ogunleye. “At the end of the day, you start losing the respect of your teammates, you start losing the respect of that offensive line when publicly you’re bumping people and yelling at them in their face. I don’t think it is the right thing to do.”
I won’t disagree with him. He and Cutler were teammates. And there’s that troubling image Cutler depicts. He comes off as dour, joyless, and distant. He frequently wears an expression not unlike that worn by gymnast McKayla Maroney after she vaulted her way out of a gold medal. That’s just a public perception, but it lends itself to speculation. It’s essentially a story about whether or not Jay Cutler is “likeable.”
This particular subject is comical in one context. We pledge our disdain for gossipy “chick” shows like the “View,” but when it comes to all the sordid details about petty drama in the locker room, we’re just dying to dish, aren’t we?
Really though, Cutler’s behavior does pose the question: is there a certain etiquette that must be met when addressing a teammate?
There are parameters, of course. But those parameters are formed by specific people and their specific relationships with one another.
Take former Miami Dolphins receiver Mark Duper and his quarterback, the famously tempestuous Dan Marino. In a game against the Dolphins, I was covering (or at least trying to) Duper when I saw how their dynamic played out on the field.
Duper was a chatty sort, just shooting the breeze about random things—like where I was from and the like. Then, after one play in which Duper ran an out and the ball was thrown to the curl, we both heard Marino screaming at the top of his lungs.
Duper said loud enough for me to hear, but mostly to himself, “Oh, there he goes! There he goes!” Duper jogged back to the huddle all the while arguing with Marino about which one of them had made the wrong read. A few years later, a teammate who had played for the Dolphins told me that was how Duper, Mark Clayton and Marino always interacted. It could be dominoes, or cards, or a critical play in the red zone. They were thick as thieves, but fussing was their preferred method of communicating.
Of course relationships between teammates aren’t just about perception, they’re also a matter of hierarchy. When someone like Ogunleye injects words like “respect” into the discussion, I suspect the casual observer views the relationship between a quarterback and his blocker through a middle school prism, or like a John Hughes film—when the quarterback was the child of privilege and the blocker was the slovenly kid for whom a place on the line represented his only place of acceptance.
But the social and financial truth is that guys like Webb command a princely sum for their duties and on NFL Sundays, the fat kid has a healthy sense of self.
I did a story on Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday a few years back. You tube had captured an argument between Manning and Saturday win which Manning screamed at Saturday, “Just play center, Jeff. Just play center.” Of course much was made of this because of Manning’s pedigree and Saturday’s relative anonymity.
The forensic explanation was simple enough. Saturday, like all offensive linemen, wanted to run the ball, and was so intent on doing it that he was calling audibles himself. Manning disagreed and told him as much.
But that wasn’t about the relationship between quarterback and center as much as it was about Manning and Saturday. They play golf, they hang out and are actually friends. Saturday felt comfortable enough to voice his opinion. And Manning was justified in his rebuke.
The quarterback usually wins in these situations not because of his status but because he’s the last one to handle the ball.
People always ask me what I miss most about playing. At the top of the list is being in the company of self-assured guys. Arguments are quickly forgotten. And there’s no gossip. Well, not that much, anyway.
Follow Alan Grant on twitter @AlanGrant_NFL