Jay Cutler, Derrick Rose, Brian Urlacher
(From left) Jay Cutler, Derrick Rose, Brian Urlacher

Derrick Rose bores the hell out of me. Not only is he an excellent point guard, but he says all the right things, respects his teammates, and chooses a monk’s life in Deerfield where he can go to bed early. Even his scandals are bland. Forged SATs? Doctored grades? Yawn. I couldn’t even get through the stories, full of lines from his attorney like, “Mr. Rose sees no reason to engage in further discussion regarding this matter.”

I prefer sports with a dash of intrigue, and Derrick Rose, even when controversy swirls, is the opposite of intriguing. He is a bowl of Mini-Wheats. Unfrosted.

Give me personality. Give me drama. Give me spectacle.

Give me Jay Cutler.

The mop-haired diabetic from Santa Claus, Indiana, has yet to throw a pass in a Bears uniform, and he’s already the closest thing we’ve got to a sports star. Cutler is the anti-Rose: cocky, unpredictable, approachably thick in a corn-fed Hoosier way. To top it all off, he appears to have a taste for alcohol and a habit of speaking his mind. Last year he declared his arm stronger than John Elway’s, which in Denver is like saying you’re a better man than Jesus. In other words, he’s perfect for me. And for Chicago.

Here’s our dirty little secret: We cheer for Roses, but we bleed for Cutlers. If you’re an overgrown boy who drinks too much, juggles girlfriends, accumulates gambling debts, and still manages to kick ass on Sundays, you will own Chicago. There’s a story about Jim McMahon, the former Bears quarterback, that when he got out of his car at Halas Hall to sign his first contract, he had a beer in his hand. Now, that’s an athlete I can get excited about. Four years later, while in New Orleans, he mooned a helicopter on Wednesday, partied on Bourbon Street on Thursday, and won a Super Bowl on Sunday.

McMahon would be the first to tell you: The era of the Chicago Sports Celebrity is dead. The Bulls teams of the nineties transcended the concept, when they were the biggest stars in the sporting world, the Third World, or any other world. If Dennis Rodman kicked a photographer in Minneapolis, they heard about it in Mozambique. But then Michael Jordan retired, the team broke up, Harry Caray and Walter Payton died, and that was that.

I never realized how lucky we were. Since 1998, we’ve been forced to choose between phonies like Sammy Sosa and gentlemen like Paul Konerko, and we’ve watched every potential heir stumble on his way to the throne. Kerry Wood’s Achilles’ heel, it turns out, was located on his elbow. A Yamaha and a light pole foiled Jay Williams. Frank Thomas was in a bad mood for 16 years. Chris Chelios? Could’ve owned this town. Unfortunately, he played hockey. And Brian Urlacher, with his freakish instincts and competitiveness, would be my favorite Bear of all time if his face ever registered anything beyond mild irritation. The guy dated Paris Hilton and somehow made it dull, for Pete’s sake.

Into this Jay Cutler–shaped void steps Jay Cutler, who’s got uncanny talent and a raging ego. “You can go from a bad guy to beloved in a matter of games,” he told the Indianapolis Star after he was traded to the Bears. This works the other way around, too, and had he led the Broncos to the playoffs in any of his three years in Denver, fans there might be more forgiving. We know from experience that a character is always a few bad games away from being Cade McNown.

So which will it be, Jay? McMahon or McNown? Oh, and while you’re thinking, feel free to get drunk and marry Carmen Electra for a couple weeks. Lord knows no one else in this town is going to do it.


Photography: Chicago Tribune photos by (Cutler) Phil Velasquez, (Rose) José M. Osorio, (Urlacher) Jim Prisching
Illustration: Charles Wilkin