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Telander: Jay's image issue can’t be undone

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



This is a big mess.

And like all big messes, its roots and its flowering and its harvest are complicated and not easily reduced to .  .  . hmm, apropos here, I suppose .  .  . a tweet.

The worst-case outcome is not complicated, however.

Jay Cutler may be through in this town.

Not through with the Bears. But through as a shining hero. Through as an icon. Through as the embodiment of the mythic leader, the man who always can be trusted, the battler who is stronger, tougher, braver, better than we, the observers.

Of course, no one can be those things. But this is not about logic. It’s about what we crave from whoever is the quarterback of the Bears.

No star on the Cubs or the White Sox is under such demand. Not the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. Not point guard Derrick Rose of the Bulls. Not even, I could argue, Michael Jordan when he reigned.

Tough job

There’s nothing like being the quarterback of the Bears. If that man is weak, our city is weak.

When he stopped playing in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Packers because of a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, Cutler started a public- opinion ball rolling, one that quickly skittered off the mountainside and is now rolling through the canyons and valleys and villages like an unsprung grenade.

It doesn’t matter that Cutler had a real injury.

It doesn’t matter that the physical act of following through on that damaged joint would’ve put every pass Cutler threw in jeopardy. Nor does it matter that the Bears’ offense did better without him or that NFL players constantly get injured and leave big games.

What matters is that Cutler has been doubted.

Doubted by active NFL players.

Doubted by former players-turned-nonstop-TV-talkers such as Deion Sanders and Mark Schlereth.

Doubted by some Chicago fans, especially those performance-art-oriented ones with jerseys and lighters, inspired, no doubt, by previous LeBron James conflagrations.

The media — and please, please, remember the media now include any of you with a smart phone, blog, podcast, Facebook linkup, Twitter account, TV show, radio show, Skype setup, call-in habit, underground newspaper publication, fax machine or passenger-pigeon coop — have doubted Cutler.

Maurice Jones-Drew may be a football player, but when he tweets that Cutler is a quitter, he’s a global columnist.

When Cutler walked with a limp no worse than many of ours, when he sat stone-faced on the bench, wrapped in his cape and private thoughts, we couldn’t help but doubt.

You have to look injured, or at least concerned. That’s how images are presented. That’s how they are assimilated.

I know Cutler was hurt. I know he is tough.

But that means nothing when doubt has started. Doubt is a plague, a mutating virus.

Shades of Pippen

This is Scottie Pippen territory.

No, not Pippen of the 1.8 seconds notoriety. That was quitting, pure and simple.

This is Pippen with the migraine headache, when he didn’t play in the deciding game of the 1990 NBA Eastern Conference finals, a loss to the ‘‘Bad Boy’’ Detroit Pistons, because his head was aching.

I never doubted Pippen — a migraine destroys one.

But lots of people did doubt him. Even players. And doubt can’t be vanquished. Except by domination. That is, in Cutler’s case, by winning the Super Bowl.

Such is the burden in front of him. When he gets hurt again, what then?

More doubt.

On Tuesday, I watched Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the ‘‘Ellen’’ TV show. (Please, just channel-surfing.) Brees was so relaxed, cheerful and considerate that I kept thinking of Cutler in the same spot. We’re talking agony. Of course, it would never happen in the first place.

Socially, Cutler has major issues, ones that have come home to roost. Nobody knows him, which is how he wants it.

I was even told by Bears PR people that he didn’t want anyone talking to his parents. I was told by media people in Denver after the trade that this was a weird duck Chicago was getting. Incredibly talented but weird.

So the human thing — empathy — is gone. We do not have empathy for robots, ciphers.

Why, even his current boss, offensive coordinator Mike Martz, trashed him when Martz was a TV commentator. “He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that he represents a great head coach and the rest of those players on that team .  .  . somebody needs to talk to him,” Martz said.

Of course, that was before Martz was job-hunting.

Former Packers offensive lineman Greg Koch told a Houston radio station Tuesday, ‘‘I never thought [Cutler’s] tampon would fall out on national TV.’’ Wow.

People say Cutler is arrogant, cocky, immature. I wonder.

But whatever ails him now, it’s all in his head.



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