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Sun-Times exclusive: Bears QB Jay Cutler speaks his mind

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Bears quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t tested his left knee since l­eaving the NFC Championship Game 10 weeks ago with a Grade II MCL tear.

Since then, Cutler has been the NFL’s version of Waldo: TMZ reported on his Los Angeles shopping trip with girlfriend Kristin Cavallari, and the Sun-Times reported on his Kenya goodwill trip with Cavallari through the non-profit One Kid One World.

In nine days, Cutler is scheduled to join 350 kids on a one-mile “Fun Run” in Naperville to benefit NCO Youth & Family Services.

“I think it’s more of a walk,” Cutler told the Sun-Times.

“I think these kids are like 5 or 6 years old, so it shouldn’t be too strenuous.

“But I don’t even know if I can make it.”

Cutler, who hasn’t spoken publicly since his postgame news conference Jan. 23, addressed a wide range of issues with the Sun-Times on Thursday, including the status of his knee, the national reaction to him not finishing the 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers and his take on the lockout and the Bears’ future.

Wanna get away?

Immediately after the NFC Championship Game, Cutler lamented his injury and his ­inability to complete the goal he and his teammates established during the 2010 offseason, even though some projected the Bears to finish at the bottom of the NFC North.

In his first NFL playoff appearance against the Seattle Seahawks, Cutler completed 15 of 28 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran eight times for 43 yards, including two more TDs.

But in the title game, Cutler absorbed several big shots early and struggled to get the Bears’ offense in a rhythm. After heading to the locker room early, Cutler received a painkilling shot and returned to the lineup for the second half, a move that surprised even coach Lovie Smith.

But Cutler couldn’t plant properly, was pulled for the rest of the game, and then rooted for Caleb Hanie — a close friend — as the third-stringer nearly pulled off the comeback.

“To get to the point we were and the opportunity we had — I’m frustrated just like everyone else,” said Cutler, who completed just 6 of 14 passes for 80 yards in that game. “But there’s nothing we can do about it now. We have to learn from it and overcome it this year.”

The furor over Cutler’s knee raged on long after the Bears season ended, and ­numerous players and analysts even shared their opinions at the Super Bowl.

“I was gone, and I stayed away from it all,” Cutler said. “But I can’t say it didn’t bother me that people questioned my toughness and desire to play.

“I think I’ve been through a lot here in Chicago, and I would have loved to play.”

As for active players who railed against him, Cutler said, “They can think what they want.”

He stressed that, ultimately, the opinions of his teammates are all that mattered and, to a man, they had his back. Brian Urlacher, Olin Kreutz, Greg Olsen and several other Bears players defended him and vouched for his toughness. Last month at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans, Smith, Bears president Ted Phillips and general manager Jerry Angelo reinforced the club’s belief in Cutler.

Cutler said he appreciated the support, especially from his teammates.

“Those are the guys you are with a lot of the time,” he said, “and those guys didn’t flinch. I’ve got to thank them for that.”

Cutler added that he would be fine —“as long as the guys in my locker room have my back.”

Excited about the future

Cutler admitted he’s “kind of bored,” and he’s ready to commence his workouts at Halas Hall and his discussions with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Last offseason, Cutler was a fixture at the Bears’ headquarters.

Sometimes his instinct is to head to Lake Forest, but he knows that’s not permissible with the owners and players at odds regarding a new collective-bargaining agreement.

“You’d love to go up there, but you can’t,” Cutler said.“I understand that.

“We want one thing, and that’s just a fair deal. If we [players] don’t get that, then nothing’s going to happen.”

Cutler said Bears players have exchanged e-mails about getting together for workouts, but they wanted to wait until after Wednesday’s federal court date in St. Paul, Minn.

“Right now, we’re not in a huge rush,” Cutler said, noting that the emphasis is for players to begin getting in shape. “April was still a month that we ran and lifted.

“If we’re locked out by May, we’re definitely going to have to make something ­happen.”

Cutler noted that he and some of his teammates are ready to get back together because their rivals to the north are the defending Super Bowl champions.

“It’s still a sour taste in your mouth,” Cutler said of the Packers. “This is why guys are anxious, especially with our team, to get back out there and start grinding away.

“Everyone likes to have the time off, but around now, guys get itchy.”

Cutler said he’s excited about the NFL draft later this month and the prospect of the Bears adding some quality young players.

“We don’t have to give up any picks this year,” Cutler said. “It’s going to be ­interesting to see what’s ­going to happen. A few pieces here and there could make a huge difference.”

Still, he’s proud of how the Bears came together at the end of the 2010 season, ­winning the NFC North, and he’s proud of the core they have in place for 2011.

“That’s a good team, a veteran team,” Cutler said. “We’ll be in contention.”

Giving back again

So how is Cutler’s knee?

“I’m good,” he said. “It’s one of those things that heals on its own.”

Cutler figured he was fine after about six weeks, though he hasn’t really tested his knee yet.

So while NCO’s fund-raiser also has 10K and 5K runs, as well as a 5K wheelchair race, Cutler is content to be jogging a mile with kids on April 17.

“That shows he’s walking the walk, not just talking the talk,” said Ron Hume, NCO’s executive director.

David Braner, the executive vice president of NCO’s board of directors, reached out to Cutler because his sons are close friends with the quarterback’s cousins.

“It’s something I ­normally wouldn’t get into. But all my young cousins live there,” Cutler said. “It just sounded like fun.”

Besides, Cutler was impressed that NCO has provided young people in the greater Chicago area counseling and shelter for 40 years. It reminded him of Mount Saint Vincent, a home that has cared for needy children in Denver since 1883 and that he worked with when he played for the Broncos.

“I’ve always liked ­helping kids, so this is in the same vein of thought. They ­appreciated it so much,” said Cutler, whose Jay Cutler Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for underprivileged children and those suffering from diabetes.

He will tour an NCO ­shelter home for boys, and he also will sign and hand out the footballs thatWilson donated forthe event.

His message?

“Just because of where you come from or what disease you have, doesn’t limit what you can do in life,” said Cutler, who has Type 1 diabetes.

Braner said he’s thankful for the support provided by Cutler.

“With all the success the Bears have had this year, to have Jay come out to our event is really special, and we really appreciate it,” Braner said.

“He has, in my mind, elevated the excitement of the race, and he’s going to provide a lot of kids one of the more exciting days of their lives.”

To find out more about NCO Youth & Family Services event in Naperville,go to this website:

www.NCOSpringAhead.com <http://www.NCOSpringAhead.com>



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