The Jay Cutler Playbook

He swaggered into town with a gun for an arm and a penchant for shooting from the lip, raising hopes that he was the savior who would return the Bears to Super Bowl glory—but also questions about his judgment and leadership. As the Bears gear up for the 2009 season, we examine the file on the team’s ballyhooed new quarterback—and explain what all the fuss is about

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1 THE GUT CHECK
“We’ll see about his maturity level. That’s what I would question.”
–TONY DUNGY, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, now an analyst with NBC, June 3, 2009

They were talking about the new Bears quarterback, the rocket-armed field general-cum-savior brought here to deliver the team from passer follies past, but it sometimes seemed the football pundits were scolding a teenager who’d blown curfew again. Was Jay Cutler “mature” enough to lead the team? Was he a baby? A brat? A whiner? In addition to Tony Dungy’s eyebrow-raising comments, there was ESPN’s analyst Mark Schlereth, blistering Cutler for his demand to be traded from the Denver Broncos: “You’re looked at as the biggest spoiled baby that has ever played in the franchise.” There was the Chicago sports talker Dan McNeil, writing in the Sun-Times when it became clear Chicago was interested in Cutler: “Big body. Big arm. Big dope.” And the ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski: “Will someone please give Jay Cutler his pacifier, hand him his favorite blankie, and put him back in his crib for his afternoon nap?”

So did the Bears trade for a quarterback or Lindsay Lohan?

“I’ve heard comments that he’s a whiner or a crybaby,” says Jay Burch, Cutler’s high-school athletic director. “I kind of laugh when I read all that, because anybody growing up with Jay who knows his personality, knows that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. Spoiled would be the last thing I would use to describe him.”

“I don’t see him as that type of guy,” agrees Cutler’s former Vanderbilt teammate Marlon White. “I don’t think he’s overly cocky and not easy to deal with. I feel like he’s confident and he believes in what he believes in. He knows what he knows and believes in it 100 percent.”

Devin Hester, Cutler’s new target at wide receiver on the Bears, told the Chicago Tribune in June that he had wearied of the baby talk. “If you haven’t been around a person like Cutler, how could you say something like that?” Hester said, referring to Dungy’s comments. “He’s calm in the huddle. He makes us laugh, and he jokes around before the ball is snapped. That’s the kind of quarterback who is relaxed and says, ‘Let’s play ball.’”

The Denver Post columnist Woody Paige, who followed Cutler closely during the quarterback’s three years in Denver, views the “M” word as one of those sports-talk buzzwords that analysts love to bluster about but that usually have no relationship to the athlete’s performance on the field. Dumping a bucket of Gatorade on a coach’s head isn’t exactly adult behavior, but who here wouldn’t like to see that in January?

“Yes, he’s immature,” says Paige. “So what? John Elway was immature. Michael Jordan showed signs of immaturity. . . . Tony Romo goes off to Cabo San Lucas with his girlfriend during the bye week of the playoffs. What kind of message did that send? [Cutler] hasn’t been arrested for drunk driving; he hasn’t been arrested in a bar fight; he hasn’t had a domestic abuse charge against him. So he’s a little immature. I don’t think that wears so badly.”

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