As a fan of the NFL, and sports in general, I find that my fascination with players is beginning to change. As a kid I used to look up to the greats because of their accomplishments, their stats. As I get older I begin to look past the stats and at the player and find myself less impressed by statistical achievement and more by things I can't easily quantify, like character and drive.
This isn't going to be a Jay hate piece. He's an NFL player and he was sacked more times than any other quarterback in the league... by far and he never complained. I got hit in the face one time with a rogue ping-pong ball and I complained, that sh*t hurt like hell. And although I'm also not paid millions of dollars to play ping-pong (obviously, I'm not Chinese), I give any guy credit for standing in there for 17 games and taking punishment like Cutler did, at any price. When it comes to pain and toughness, this guy passes the test. I don't like Jay Cutler as a player because I feel like he quit on the Broncos. Maybe he did what was best for him (hard to argue) but as a Bronco fan I want what was best for me and at the time of his trade it looked like he bailed on us, and left us in the lurch. I've greatly enjoyed watching him struggle in Chicago. You could argue that it's childish of me, but it's just the truth. Still, I have never wished (with the exception of Todd Bertuzzi) injury on any player, especially on an ex-Bronco, regardless of how I feel.
What happened to Jay Culter yesterday may forever be an enigma on the sport. How can opinion on one player change so quickly? Regardless of what "truths" come out in the coming weeks, the damage to Mr. Cutler has been done, and much of it is the result of his inability to be "likeable". It's a ridiculous statement, but the foundation upon which Cutler's critics stand is one built by his own hands. The damage Jay Cutler did to himself and his reputation on Sunday will be far more painful than any MCL tear.
Remember growing up when your parents said that the most valuable thing you have is your character? I guarantee you that any parent reading this wants their children to be men and women of character before they want their children to be men and women of wealth, or skill, or notoriety. It is far more difficult in this world to achieve good character than all those other things. It is hard and it requires finding that road less traveled, and we know it when we see it. It isn't measured by a QB rating.
Jay Cutler is supposed to be the leader of his offense. The man who inspires his players to be great. Jay Cutler can, believe it or not, be that man. His players stand by him. But he was not ready for the pressure that was the NFC Championship game. I personally cannot sit here and pass judgment like his failure to be a leader makes him a worse man than me. No, I simply won't say that. The highest pressure situation I've ever been in is a toss-up between a Physics 2 final and proposing to my wife. I simply cannot fathom the pressure that comes with being the cornerstone to one of the most popular teams in the country in their biggest game in more than a decade, at home, versus their most hated rival. The weight of that must have been enormous and enough to crush just about anyone. Nobody would have faulted him for going out and failing. I don't. There was not a moment on Sunday that I faulted Cutler for struggling, until I saw him on the sidelines in the second half. Football is a sport where 31 teams will ultimately fail, and there will be better men on teams that have failed than teams that win it all.
My issue with Jay Cutler is that as a leader of men, when you are their captain, when you wear that "C" patch on your jersey, you are instantly held to a higher standard. It is simply the truth. If you don't want to be held to that standard don't wear the badge. There are plenty of playmakers, men and women who are tough as hell, in sports who are not leaders. A true leader isn't defined by statistics. There are plenty of amazing players statistically that have fallen into oblivion because they lacked leadership. You can't quantify leadership. You only know it when you see it. Just like everyone knew it when they saw Jay Cutler on that sideline. It was not there. He was unable to rise to the occasion.
Something changed in me yesterday. I no longer feel that "sports hate" for Jay Cutler, where I enjoy watching him throw four picks in a single game and sulk into the locker room. "Sports hate" is predicated on a certain amount of respect for another person where I realize that they are doing what I never could, and I both respect their success and enjoy their small (sometimes huge) failures. What I feel now is pity, and understanding. I've been put to the test before and I've failed and it wasn't even on TV. I don't fault him for failing. But a true leader, in that situation, does not hide. No, if he had the power to stand under his own two feet, he would have been moving up and down that sideline, inspiring his teammates and encouraging his young protege who must have been scared out of his mind to find himself the sudden centerpiece of the most important football game in his team's modern history. I fault him for wearing the badge, and failing to be what his teammates needed.
The tears that Jay Cutler cried on Sunday weren't tears of pain, they were tears of shame and I'm guessing that every single one of you probably can relate, in some small way, to that feeling. He knew he let his team down. The true test of Cutler's leadership and his legacy begins right now. How will he rebound? Will he close himself off further to the world, sulk more often on the sidelines in his failures, and smirk at his fans and critics during his successes? For Cutler, there will be before the NFC Championship, and after the NFC Championship. How true is it that the real measure of a man isn't how many times he falls, but how many times he picks himself back up. Jay Cutler has been through the ringer like few players ever will. They may have sacked him 52 times on the field and he got back up, but the biggest sack of his life happened last night. I for one will find a new level of respect for this young QB if he responds by picking himself back up once again... and throwing another 20 interceptions next year. The question becomes, will the real Jay Cutler please stand up? The world is watching.