Toughness, when it comes to football players, is non-negotiable. These are hundreds upon hundreds of men who earn their living, far less than the other “major” sports, running the chimney stacks they call bodies at full speed into the brick shit houses of others. Our quarterback is now being criticized by a bunch of couch-dwellers, second-guessers and newspaper men for his lack of toughness. For not coming back onto the field with what we now know was a torn MCL.
Jay Cutler was sacked more than any other player in the NFL this season. And it wasn’t close. He played valiantly behind the worst offensive line in the sport and led his team to the NFC Championship Game. My pressing concerns about Cutler are not his toughness. My concerns are his accuracy and his continually poor decision making. (Don’t watch video of Cutler’s first-half pick or Hanie’s final play pick. Both guy had Matt Forte wide open for guaranteed first downs.)
But I’m sure we’ll hear Dick Butkus on Chicago radio over the next few days, waxing poetic about the good old days when football players continued playing even when they had broken arms and dislocated pelvises. But for every Dick Butkus there’s an Earl Campbell, reduced to surgery-after-surgery to repair a back destroyed by the game. For every Butkus there’s a another name on Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats list. I’m not a believer in the pseudo-masculine ideology of football fans, clamoring for players to risk life and limb to win a game. These are human beings whose football lives will be over before they turn forty. What about the rest of their existence?
If you actually believe Jay Cutler could have gone onto the field yesterday and played effectively and CHOSE not to, then your criticism is warranted. But when the medical staff of a football team tells you that you’re not allowed to go on the field, you don’t go on the field. Cutler was injured. He knew he was injured. The doctors knew he was injured. NFL players can Tweet all they want about what Brett Favre would have done and they’re right. He would have played. And he would have thrown three interceptions in heavy traffic and blamed the injury in a press conference two years later.
But once again fans will do what fans do and radio hosts will do what radio hosts do. Waste their time and energy on intangible non-discussions like toughness and attitude and ignore the real issues on the football field. The “real” Cutler discussion should be about his on-field play not his sideline antics. His reluctance to put the football in Matt Forte’s hands whenever the opportunity is there. His reluctance to throw the ball away to avoid taking sacks. His insistence on throwing jump balls for Johnny Knox week-after-week even though almost every one of them gets intercepted. The conversation should about football. But it never is in Chicago.
Is Jay Cutler tough? I don’t care. Is Jay Cutler a winning quarterback? We don’t know yet. We do know that the improvement from year one to year two in Chicago was remarkable and a second year in the Mad Mike system should yield even greater rewards. All that happened yesterday was what always happens in the postseason: a team’s primary weakness was exposed and Cutler’s body finally had enough. He needs an offensive line. He needs a big ticket receiver. This is the most important offseason in a generation and everyone at Halas Hall should be working towards answering the truly important question.
Is Jay Cutler capable of winning a Super Bowl?