As Jay Cutler and his teammates gather together to work out away from Halas Hall during the NFL lockout, the 28-year-old quarterback is doing more than rehabbing his knee following January’s grade II MCL tear.
No, panic not, Bears fans. He did not suffer an additional, undisclosed injury. Instead, he’s working to rehabilitate his public image and his confidence. Although he’ll never admit it, his ego surely has taken a beating and has suffered a precipitous fall in the 26 months that he’s been with the Bears organization. He’s come a long way from the cocky, brash Pro Bowl quarterback who demanded a trade from the Denver Broncos because then-coach Josh McDaniels explored the possibility of acquiring Matt Cassel, whom McDaniels worked with in New England.
Since that 2008 season when Cutler threw for more than 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns, his numbers have dropped off considerably in a Bears offense that doesn’t know how to build around the passing game. He’s gone from the focal point of not only the offense but the entire team in Denver to just a good player in Chicago on a below-average unit that plays second fiddle to the defense.
Even the most humble athlete — with a competitive drive at least as big as Cutler’s — would struggle to cope with that kind of fall from grace.
On top of it all, Cutler has had to deal with a passionate fan base in Chicago still hung up on the 1985 Bears — the lone Super Bowl victor this city has seen. And with that “hang up” comes unrealistic expectations from Bears fans, such as expecting Cutler to play on the torn knee he suffered in the NFC Championship game last season. As a result of those expectations, Cutler was ridiculed for not playing in the second half of that game despite attempting to play on the knee to begin the second half.
Bears fans are also passionate to the point that they use first-person personal pronouns like “we” and “us” to refer to the Bears instead of “they” or “them.” It gives them a sense of belonging to the team and false possession. And as such, Bears fans tend to pay too much attention to sideline demeanor as a means to measure how much players or coaches care about the game.
The general feeling amongst fans is that if a player or coach is standing stoically without showing any emotion — like Lovie Smith — or not cheering on his teammates in cheerleader, “rah-rah” fashion — like Cutler was indicted for in the second half of that NFC title game — then that player or coach doesn’t care about winning or losing as much as fans do.
That feeling is wrong and ridiculous.
Cutler had two strikes against him in that championship game and a third one this season will hurt him — maybe for good — in the public eye. With this lockout dragging on in excess of three months, the obstacles Cutler faces in order to rebound from last year’s disappointing conclusion are even bigger than they’d be without the work stoppage.
“Jay looks fine, man,” running back Kahlil Bell said. “The last couple of times I went [to workouts], we did throwing stuff and I couldn’t even tell he had an injury.”
If only he could rehab his image as quickly as his knee, perhaps Bears fans could move on from last season.