Monday, January 24, 2011

Dealing with the Pain

Yesterday, I was enjoying the game between the Bears and the Packers for the NFC Championship with friends. The Bears were losing but it looked like the defense had stopped the Packers' offense cold. All that was left was to see Jay Cutler, the Bears' quarterback, get his bearing and mount the comeback for the ages. That never happened.

Cutler apparently was injured just before halftime. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, today's MRI on Cutler's knee showed a Grade 2 MCL sprain. According to our eyes yesterday, it looked like something completely different. When the Chicago fans in the room saw Todd Collins come in the game and saw Cutler just standing around looking like he had given up, we lost it.

To be a fan of the 2010-11 Bears is to become an expert in body language. When Cutler is on, he looks like Gary Cooper in High Noon or Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, the confident gunslinger who can look at opposing defenses and ask if they feel lucky today. When Cutler is off, he looks like Sleprock or Glum, head down, shoulders slumped and the frustrating look of disengagement on his face. It was the off Cutler we fans saw during the championship, on and off the field.

After he missed a wide open Devin Hester in the first quarter for a possible tying touchdown, Cutler's negative body language became very noticeable. Then he was gone. On the bench. In the biggest game of his life. I honestly thought, without knowledge of the severity of the injury, he had quit on his team. It certainly looked that way when third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie was quickly scouring over the pictures of the Green Bay defense, without any assistance from Cutler.

Bears fans were not the only ones who thought he had quit. Other NFL players on Twitter felt that way as well, watching the same thing we were watching. But according to his teammates, we were wrong. Brian Urlacher, the Bears' defensive captain, said those players were jealous and that the fans were stupid. Glad you are sticking up for your teammate, Brian, but over 60,000 "stupid"fans braved bitterly cold temperatures to watch you all disappoint them yet again, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of fans across the nation. Maybe the stupidity is being loyal to a team that has only won one championship in 48 years, but that is why we are called fans which is a shorter version of fanatics. We will deal with the pain of another heartbreaking season and we will hope that next year, if the NFL has a season, will be a championship year. Stupid is as stupid does.

Meanwhile, it was the testimony of Hanie that convinced me that maybe Cutler did not quit on his team. Hanie said that Cutler came to him after the Bears cut the lead in half in the 4th Quarter, congratulated him and then told him to calm down, re-focus and take the team down the field again. That is the leadership old school players like Derrick Brooks and Mike Ditka expect from a team captain, but it is just not as fiery as they would have done it. Nevertheless, if Hanie's account is accurate, then that is all Cutler could do in that situation and I commend him for that.

So Jay, I apologize for my frustration. I am a fan. I want you and all the other Bears to do well and play with all your heart. I want you to rehab hard and take advantage of the time to listen Mike Martz and re-train your footwork. I want you to endure the pain in your knee to get better and I want you to endure the pain of this unfair criticism to make you a better player, a better leader and a better man. This may seem to be a low-point, although your cool demeanor would never reveal it, but it can be the fuel to re-ignite a new passion.

Drew Brees was told by 31 NFL teams that his reconstructed throwing shoulder was too much of a risk. New Orleans, with a new coach, decided to take a chance. Brees transformed that rejection in four years to become the most productive quarterback during that span and to become a champion. Maybe January 23, 2011 will be the moment that Jay Cutler dealt with the pain and laid the foundation for a champion to emerge.