Like it or not, Jay here to stay
By Patrick finley Staff Reporter January 3, 2014 11:31PM
Updated: February 6, 2014 6:37AM
In almost any other city, with any other player, the scene Thursday would have been met with universal jubilation: the star quarterback, wearing a bespoke suit with his Hollywood wife sitting in the wings, agreeing to be the face of the franchise for the next seven years.
But this is Jay Cutler, and it’s more complicated than that. Even the Bears quarterback, fresh off a seven-year, $126 million extension, admitted as much.
‘‘There are definitely people going to be saying this was the wrong move,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s fine. That’s their opinion. The guys in this building, the people in this building, we’ll stick together and we’ll keep going in the direction that we think is right.’’
Old biases die hard. Some fans still can’t shake images of Cutler shopping in a Los Angeles boutique days after leaving the NFC Championship Game in January 2011 with a serious knee injury. Others have been sucked into the smirky Subculture of Mocking Jay.
The website Smokin’ Jay Cutler puts a cigarette in his hand to match the ennui on his face. Others retell an urban legend a smiling Cutler has acknowledged hearing, in which he’s approached at a urinal by a fellow Vanderbilt grad, wondering if they might have mutual friends.
‘‘Doooooooon’t caaaaare,’’ Cutler allegedly told the man.
His public persona has become a joke within a joke: Three Bears teammates and Cutler’s wife, Kristin Cavallari, follow @NotJayCutler on Twitter, a parody account with a backdrop of him holding up a Bears jersey, looking uninterested.
In 2009, his first season in Chicago, Cutler’s jersey was the 17th-most popular in the NFL and the most popular among Bears players. He hasn’t cracked the top 25 in any year since.
A Nielsen poll conducted about 18 months ago listed Cutler as the ninth-most beloved current Chicago athlete but the fourth-most popular on his own team, behind Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester and Matt Forte. About one-quarter of those polled, however, said they ‘‘dislike’’ or ‘‘somewhat dislike’’ Cutler.
It would be easy to leave it at that, then: painting Cutler’s persona as a parody of itself, one that frustrated Chicago fans are quick to attack when things go wrong.
But ask general manager Phil Emery how he knew Cutler was a good fit with the Bears, and he pointed to his most vulnerable moments.
He praised Cutler’s hobbled performance in a home loss to the Lions and characterized his victory against the Browns — leading the Bears to three fourth-quarter touchdowns in his return from a high sprain of left ankle — as ‘‘dramatic.’’
In Cleveland, Cutler admitted to being affected by whispers, perhaps even on his own team, that backup Josh McCown should have remained the starter.
‘‘I think he finally felt the weight off his shoulders that he showed everybody that he is ultimately a great competitor that can win even when the chips are down,’’ Emery said. ‘‘And even when he’s a part of those chips being down in terms of [two] early [interceptions], that happened. He took accountability for it, and he kept fighting for his teammates that kept fighting and found a way to win.’’
When wide receiver Brandon Marshall wondered aloud: ‘‘When was the last time you had a Jay Cutler?’’ he wasn’t wrong. He asked the last time Cutler could be paired with wide receivers, running backs, an offensive line and coaches of the Bears’ caliber.
Cutler’s maturation this season is a matter of perspective.
‘‘Jay’s, like, 30 years old, ain’t he?’’ tight end Martellus Bennett guessed, correctly. ‘‘How much development did y’all expect him to do? . . .
‘‘I don’t know the Jay that you guys be talking about and all the [crap] you’ve been writing about all the time, talking about, ‘Jay’s changed.’ So I’ve only met one Jay Cutler, and he’s been an awesome person since Day 1.’’
But when Cutler arrived in Chicago in 2009, four years before Bennett did, he was neither a father nor a husband. Now he’s both.
He reads books about string theory for pleasure. He’s not on Twitter, where athletes of his generation often expose themselves — for better and, more often, worse.
In a city where you can eat at Michael Jordan’s and Harry Caray’s, wear Adidas gear with Derrick Rose’s logo and purchase All Things Ditka, Cutler doesn’t like to do endorsements. His are limited to ads on his weekly radio show. That won’t change.
Cutler spent the season conscious he was being evaluated by Emery and first-year head coach Marc Trestman, with millions on the line, but said he was true to himself.
‘‘I also wasn’t going to not be myself and act, put on an act just to get a contract done,’’ he said. ‘‘Footballwise, on the field, I think we mesh pretty well with that. But a lot of our time is off the field, in meetings, talking about different scenarios. That’s what [Trestman] wanted to evaluate: Is it going to work? Because it is a marriage of sorts.
‘‘We spend a lot of time together, and if we have conflicting personalities or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, it’s hard. Him being a head coach and being an offensive guy, to have a quarterback, if that was the direction that we were going to take. I think since Day 1, we’ve obviously worked through the things that we’ve had to work through. It was a relatively easy marriage, if you will, from Day 1.
‘‘I’m happy to be married to him for seven more years.’’
And to Chicago — for richer or poorer.
‘‘I don’t feel a lot of pressure right now,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I just feel at ease. I know that I’m locked in here. The future is set.’’