Monday, January 24, 2011

Even I Have Two Cents on Knee-Gate

Let me start this by saying that I am in no way, shape or form a fan of Jay Cutler. Before Sunday’s game against the Packers I thought he was an ill-tempered, moody, slightly overrated QB whose overconfidence on the field overshadowed whatever talent he might have possess. After Sunday’s game I think he’s an ill-tempered, moody, slightly overrated QB whose overconfidence on the field overshadowed whatever talent he might possess. However, in the last 24 hours something has happened that I never thought would happen. The Chicago fan base has made me feel sorry for Jay Cutler.

By now, if you’re a football fan, you know the story. Sometime in the first half Cutler sustained a knee injury. After limping onto the field in the third quarter he would play one series and then be yanked from the game for the lamentable Todd Collins. For the rest of the game Fox’s cameras would pan to the sideline to show the QB standing on the sideline with his normal hangdog look or riding the stationary bike with the enthusiasm of someone two days into their New Year’s resolution to lose weight.

By the fourth quarter Collins was out of the game as well having used up his quota of five yard one-hop incompletions and the Twitter world was ablaze with scorn for Cutler. Esteemed pros such as Maurice Jones Drew and Derrick Brooks questioned Cutler’s toughness with blistering 140 character attacks.

All of this without an official diagnosis of his injury. The Bears were mum on his condition, the only news uttered was that he suffered a knee injury and was questionable for his return. Of course, once Caleb Hanie entered the game his return was impossible. Hanie led a valiant comeback that ended a few yards short when his ill-advised throw into double coverage was intercepted. For Cutler the day wasn’t even close to being over.

An angry and somewhat intoxicated crowd of Chicago supporters at the local pub I was at lustily booed Cutler every time his face was shown and serenaded each other with “CUT-LER SUCKS” chants. An acquaintance at my table shook his head and declared that any support Cutler had from the Bears fans had been lost and that his agent should start looking for a new town for him to play in (I hear Cincinnati might need a quarterback!)

Why did all of this happen? Why was there such animosity directed towards the supposed franchise quarterback, a quarterback who had led the team to a 12-4 record and just a week before had eviscerated the upstart Seattle Seahawks 35-24?

Some of it can be attributed to normal playoff loss hostility. When the home town team falls short one step from the Super Bowl someone has to pay and the big money QB on the sidelines is the easiest target. Especially when that quarterback is Cutler who isn’t exactly the most endearing player to don a helmet.

But what set this apart from the normal gnashing of teeth was the questioning of his character. To call a professional athlete a quitter, or to say he had no heart seemed to be over the line.

Even into Monday the discussion continued. The biggest factors questioning Cutler’s “heart” were that he was standing on the sideline looking like the mailman had just run over his puppy and not encouraging his teammates. The second part was disproved by Hanie himself when in a radio interview on Monday he acknowledged that Cutler spoke to him several times offering encouragement and advice.

As for the first point, my argument to that would be that Cutler isn’t the rah-rah guy even when the team is winning so why would he be one when he’s stuck on the sidelines unable to help his team? To me, seeing him smacking people on the ass, HARD and being a cheerleader would be more telling of his quitting on the team. As my Pappy would say, “A leopard doesn’t change his spots”. Cutler looking like a sullen teenager who just had his iPhone taken away is what I would expect him to look like even if his leg had been shattered Theismann-style.

So, to hear all of the desk warriors who call out sick after suffering a “tight hammy” the night before in a company softball game, to say that Cutler should have had to been dragged off the field kicking an screaming struck my as a little incongruous. As for the professional athletes who uttered the same beliefs, well that is a whole different discussion about the detriments of living in a Twitter/Facebook world. Things like this have a way of coming back to bite people in the ass.

Very few people in this world know what it is like to play in the NFL. Few people know what it’s like to suffer the aches, pains and lifelong injuries that come along with smashing into 300 lbs. men on a regular basis. That’s why it is surprising to see his fellow players criticize him so openly. For the most part NFL’ers are a tight knit community.

Of course, ten years ago this is a non-story. The players might express their opinion to those around them, but it goes no farther than that. Maybe, a local columnist writes a story about how the old players wouldn’t have come out of a game. People agree or disagree and then move on to complain about how spring training is three weeks away and the Cubs bullpen is terrible.

It surely doesn’t end with a supposedly teary-eyed Cutler stiffly uttering, “No comment” after a reporter asks him to respond to his fellow players’ Tweets. Is this the tipping point for athletes and twitter? Is the questioning of a fellow players heart, when not knowing how bad he is injured what makes players question the overall benefit of being able to have thousands of people know their every, unfiltered thought?

If anyone should be assigned blame in “Kneegate” it should be the coaching staff of the Chicago Bears. A simple statement - “Jay Cutler has suffered a knee injury and will not return” would have put this all in a different light. After the game, Lovie Smith tried to focus the blame on his shoulders by saying that Cutler had wanted to continue, but the staff kept him out of the game.

Perhaps fans should look at this in another way. Lets say Cutler overcomes the coaches objections and gets back in the game. Three plays later Clay Matthew blitzes and in a desperate scramble to avoid a sack Cutlet blows his knee apart. Instead of a level two MCL sprain (as was reported on Monday) he utterly annihilates the knee, tearing every ligament known to man.

Imagine the outrage from Chicago Billy then. “HOW COULD THE STAFF LET HIM PLAY ON A DAMAGED KNEE???? HE’S OUR FRANCHISE!!!!” Cutler’s heart and toughness wouldn’t be questioned, but his career would be in jeopardy.

The staff erred on the side of caution. Understandable for a player in the middle of a $48 million contract who has been tapped as the big-armed franchise quarterback that Chicago has never had. The staff had to think about where the team would be next year (if there is a next year) if Cutler has to sit out rehabbing the injury. Not only that, but what about Cutler’s career. Knee injuries can be tricky to overcome. Cutler might never have fully recovered.

There are plenty of reasons not to like Jay Cutler. The formerly great writer Rick Reilly mentions most of them in one of his recent columns. But missing the second half of the NFC championship is not one of them.


shoeboxlegends said...

Great write-up! I agree with just about all of your points.

Fuji said...

I'm not a Cutler fan... nor have I taken the football field in years. I felt it was kind of a bummer to see fellow NFLer's take shots at him without knowing the full details. As of last night... people were still talking about it on the radio and debating the issue.

I just know that I'm glad I'm not in Cutler's shoes... and I'm not in the shoes of a Bear's fan either.