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Criticism that Lovie put concussed Cutler at risk is way off-base

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) walks field after play against HoustTexans first half an NFL football game Chicago Sunday

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) walks of the field after a play against the Houston Texans in the first half an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:26AM



To find an NFL coach as loyal as Lovie Smith is, you’d have to look for one who delivers slippers and the morning paper to his players. Without that sense of allegiance, Smith is nothing more than a headset atop official Bears apparel. He knows this.

On Monday, the league looked into whether the Bears had followed proper protocol in dealing with Jay Cutler’s concussion during Sunday night’s game against the Texans. One writer compared the team’s conduct to the Browns’ handling of Colt McCoy’s nasty concussion last season.

In other words, had they kept Cutler in the game when it seemed clear he was concussed?

By the time Smith met the media Monday afternoon, an NFL spokesman already had told the Sun-Times that the league’s review of the situation found no wrongdoing on the team’s part.

Some people are still ­having trust issues.

“No matter how the Chicago Bears explain it, they failed Cutler in the game by not testing him for a concussion right away and/or taking him out of the game,’’ wrote NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. “Chicago coach Lovie Smith said Cutler did not start displaying symptoms until halftime. That’s ridiculous.’’

For those of us who have been around the Bears’ coach for a while, even those of us who are not Friends of Lovie, the criticism simply didn’t ring true. Smith allowing his big-shot quarterback to continue playing a game while concussed? This from a coach who would hurl himself in front of a bus of reporters to shield Cutler from harm/pesky questioning? The coach who wouldn’t say an evil word against a player suddenly becomes Dr. Evil and throws concussion caution to the wind?

No, that’s not how he works.

He serves and protects his players, sometimes to a fault.

“We’ll never put a player at risk,’’ he said Monday. “No game is that important to us.”

Smith has said a lot of things over the years that weren’t believable. That wasn’t one of them. There was nothing in his words that suggested lip service.

It was a refreshing statement, and I hope he meant it right down to his ­marrow. What he said Monday is miles from what many coaches think: Suck it up and get back in there. The fog will clear.

Too many lives have been ruined by repeated blows to the head. We seem to learn of more struggling former players every day. Would Smith want a damaged Cutler on his conscience? Lovie’s a lot of things, but I don’t believe cruel is one of them.

But let’s deal with the practical part of this. The Bears’ 2011 season all but ended when Cutler went down with a broken thumb. Why would they risk long-term damage to him in the ninth game of this season? It doesn’t make sense. If you have to lose him to a concussion, better it be for a game or two in November rather than for the rest of the year.

The wild card in this is Cutler. After the Bears’ 13-6 loss to Houston, player after player talked about his toughness. The lingering problem in football and other sports is that people still equate toughness with shaking off head injuries. Playing hurt is part of the deal for people such as Cutler and Brian Urlacher. Maybe Cutler did a good job of acting after the Texans’ Tim Dobbins crushed him with a hit in the second quarter. Who knows what the Bears saw when they looked in his eyes?

We certainly can put to rest the silliness that Cutler isn’t tough. That’s the criticism other NFL players sent his way a few years ago when he left the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury. The guy has the pain threshold of a rhino.

He’s difficult, yes; wimpy, no.

Cutler needs to be saved from himself. I believe Smith knows it. This is a player who has suffered multiple concussions and hasn’t been upfront about his definition of “multiple.’’ Six? Eight? Ten? Your guess might be as good as the Bears’.

Smith would lie to your grandmother if she asked about the extent of Alshon Jeffery’s hand injury. You can bet he won’t tell us everything there is to know about Cutler’s concussion, ­either. But that doesn’t mean he would knowingly allow him to play with it.

Until there’s evidence to the contrary, I’ll trust that Smith is true to his player’s-coach reputation. He might be hardheaded, but he’s not hardhearted to his people, especially his star quarterback.



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