BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes) can snarl, swear and roll his eyes all he wants, but the reality is hard to avoid. When the NFL season opens next month, the eyes of so many fans and the media will be cast upon Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(notes). Fairly or not, he's going to be the subject of more armchair analysis than the JLo-Marc Anthony split.
"I don't give a [expletive] what people think, the fans, the media, whoever," Urlacher said, peppering his impatient rant with a string of 11 expletives in a little more than a minute. "Jay is our quarterback. He's tough, he doesn't shy away from hits and he plays hurt. We've all seen it."
"It's a dead issue around here. We don't even think about it and nobody from Chicago even asks," Clark said. "Honestly, if you weren't from out of town, I wouldn't give you this much time to explain it. I really wouldn't."
That's fair and logical enough. In Chicago, the issue over whether Cutler was truly injured in the NFC championship game loss to the Green Bay Packers – or at least injured enough to stay sidelined the remainder of the contest – has been argued thoroughly. In this part of the world, there are no new points to consider. Either you trust Cutler and his teammates about the situation or you don't. Moreover, the Bears themselves know that Cutler is their quarterback and they're going only as far as his arm and their defense will carry them.
But outside the blustery confines of Chicago, a discussion still boils. This week, Sports Illustrated weighed in with a profile of Cutler that goes back to his days in high school. Ultimately, people still wonder about Cutler, just as they always have.
As he enters his sixth season, he's an enigma wrapped in this annoying, joyless grin. Anyone who has been a parent knows the look all too well. It's the one you see on your teenage son or daughter's face when he/she no longer wants to hear what you have to say. The child folds his/her arms across the chest and stares off, alternately wanting to ignore every word or tell you to shut the (expletive) up. That look is followed by the parent's inevitably exasperated phrase, "Look at me when I'm talking to you."
Problem is, you can't do that with Cutler. At age 28, he doesn't need to pay attention to anyone and, frankly, he's probably better off for it. As is typical with most athletes, they are analyzed and emotionally dissected more in a single game than most people are in a lifetime.
Is Jay Cutler tough? Well, he's a starting NFL quarterback and has been since the tail end of his rookie season. He missed one game last season because of a concussion and even groused slightly about not playing in that game. At Vanderbilt, he routinely had to play through one hit after another, rallying his substandard team (by SEC measure) to any type of competitiveness.
Or as Chicago (and then-Detroit Lions) offensive coordinator Mike Martz said back in 2006, Cutler "played like he had an 'S' on his chest" in college. Back then, Martz said Cutler was so much better than either Vince Young(notes) or Matt Leinart(notes) (both of whom were drafted before Cutler) that it was almost a joke. Cutler was the only one of the three Martz thought should even be a first-round pick. Nearly six years later, Martz was spot on about Cutler compared to the other two.
Unfortunately, Cutler just doesn't show it and the NFC title game was a bad stage for the impassive look. On top of that, Cutler seemed to be walking around just fine and this was the anti-Dick Butkus moment. Cutler didn't have to be carried off the field, he seemed to stroll just fine. Then, he sat on the bench or stood to the side once again displaying that dead-fish look and not even trying to help figure out a plan as the Bears turned to Caleb Hanie(notes).
In addition, Hanie played with a certain esprit de corps until being undone at the end by an interception and suddenly a ton of criticism was thrown at Cutler, a dead fish in a game of live wires. Typically, football players act like men who have been shot out of cannons. Their energy flows in adrenaline-laced explosions. Cutler lets out his feelings with the ferocity of a lazy river at one of Disney World's water parks.
Urlacher listens to that kind of analysis and scoffs. At 33 and going into his 12th season, Urlacher has no tolerance for perceived foolishness of any kind, even ex-Bears. Before the 2010 season, Urlacher got into a verbal battle royale with Gale Sayers, who then got support from Butkus and Mike Ditka. Urlacher never backed down.
So when Urlacher is asked about the atmosphere that may surround Cutler when he plays in front of a packed house again, the eye roll says it all.
"Fans? Fine, no one on this team gives a [expletive] about that," Urlacher said. "[Expletive] it, it's over, we're done, we don't care. The coaches and players – Jay's teammates – know what he's about."
OK, but that image of Cutler on the sideline doing nothing, doesn't that haunt him?
"Two years ago, when I got hurt [in the season opener], I just stood on the sideline and nobody said anything about it," Urlacher said, referring to his 2009 season-ending wrist injury. "I wasn't standing there cheering or coaching the guys. I didn't talk to anybody. I just stood there with my arms crossed because I was pissed that I was hurt and couldn't play. I'm sure that's how Jay felt, too."
Maybe, but Urlacher had nine years of respect and a Super Bowl appearance built up by then. With Cutler, the story is noticeably different.
This season, he may very well be analyzed over and over again. Is Cutler that good? Is he a quitter? Is he tough?
And nothing the Bears can say will make that go away.
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