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Cutler’s image depends on where you sit

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Can a person have an image problem if he doesn’t care about his image?

This tree-falling-in-the-forest question pertains to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

He has a golden opportunity to change negative opinions of him, first with a victory over Seattle on Sunday, then with how he greets the world as it arrives at his feet before the NFC Championship Game.

This is his first playoff appearance in five NFL seasons, and a victory will help erase the perception of him as a big-talent quarterback who can’t win. And if he and the Bears do beat the Seahawks, national attention will zero in on a man who at times couldn’t beat swine flu in a popularity contest.

Will Jay play nice?

Cutler’s image problem isn’t the result of someone’s overactive imagination. You don’t have to tilt your head a certain way to see him as distant or aloof or even arrogant. It’s not like gazing at a painting for hidden meaning.

When he’s meeting with the media, he sometimes looks and acts as if he would prefer to be fending off a proselytizer at his front door. Maybe he’s just not that into us. And that’s OK.

But you form your opinion of someone based on what you’re given, and Cutler hasn’t given his audience much. His teammates are bothered that the outside world doesn’t see him the way they do.

No opening up yet

Now is his chance to turn those frowns upside down — his, ours, quite possibly his dog’s. A victory will help give his public image a makeover. So would an occasional burst of charm.

Until then, it’s left to his teammates to do the convincing that he’s a fun guy who’s misunderstood.

‘‘I probably know him better than y’all do,’’ running back Matt Forte said. “I would probably tell you he’s the opposite of what you guys portray him to be. I think Jay’s a good guy. He comes to work every day to work hard.

‘‘A lot of guys get this perception of Jay as arrogant or whatever. I think he’s the opposite of that.’’

National media members were in attendance at Cutler’s weekly news conference Wednesday, meaning there was ample opportunity for him to open up about himself. He remained as closed as Marshall Field’s.

Someone asked him who in the packed room of media members truly knew him.

‘‘I don’t hang out with anybody in this room on a regular basis except for Wednesday press conferences,’’ he said, ‘‘so I’m sure it’s hard to get to know somebody within a 10-minute weekly press conference.’’

Has this winning season changed the way people see him?

‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. “I don’t worry about that.’’

Is his public image true to who he really is?

‘‘I don’t worry about it,’’ he said. “I don’t know what my public image is.’’

He’d have to be living in Liechtenstein not to know what his image is. He went through some very public unpleasantness in Denver before getting his wish to be traded. When Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was an NFL Network analyst last season, he complained about Cutler’s body language in Chicago.

More support from players

No, Cutler is well aware of what his public image is. He simply has decided not to work on it. Again, that’s his call. But his teammates shouldn’t be surprised others see him in a different light.

‘‘We’re the only people who are around him enough,’’ tight end Greg Olsen said. “Everyone else on the outside forms their opinion based off nothing, pretty much. They don’t know him. They’ve never really spoken to him in an informal setting. So it’s kind of interesting sometimes to hear people who’ve never met someone talk about how they know exactly what they are.’’

The fact that this is a conversation late in Cutler’s second season in Chicago would indicate it’s still an issue.

‘‘Everyone in the locker room knows him,’’ kicker Robbie Gould said. ‘‘Everyone understands the type of guy he is. Everyone knows he’s a great teammate. Everyone knows he’s a great guy. Everyone knows he has a lot of talent.

‘‘I think a lot of people, especially in the city of Chicago, whether it be the media and other fans, give him a bad rap because he’s a quiet guy. He might not be the most outgoing guy, but he’s a great guy to have on our team.’’

To quote Al Davis . . .

Does it matter if Jay Cutler is a great guy or a bad guy? Probably not. But nobody wants to hold out his arms for a hug and be greeted by a cactus.

In the end, though, if it’s a choice between a nice quarterback who doesn’t win and a dour one who does win, we’ll take dour every time.

What is it Al Davis says? Just win, baby. That’s all. But it doesn’t hurt to smile once in a while.

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