Jay & Me

| May 31st, 2009

Somehow I knew it would pick up steam.  As I read through David Haugh’s harmless column in the Tribune yesterday, I knew one of the 10 things he knows would not go gentle into that good night.

5. I know Cutler already has alienated enough small pockets of fans at various appearances in Chicago to produce a flurry of furious e-mails, such as the one from a guy at Wrigley Field last week who criticized the quarterback for waving off autograph seekers. “His lack of appreciation for fans will be his undoing in Chicago,” Glen. R. wrote me.

We’ll see, but if Cutler experiences an undoing in Chicago it will have more to do with the people on the field than in the stands. Generally speaking, the same folks complaining about Cutler’s insouciant behavior will be cheering him on his first 350-yard Sunday.

Sure, Cutler could do himself some favors by exuding more charm or suffering the occasional fool with a little less outward disdain. But those who have been Bears fans for two decades, or two generations, need to remember Cutler has been here for two months. There will be — and has been — a degree of culture shock. Denver isn’t Chicago. Eventually, Cutler will adjust because he will learn life is easier that way in this tradition-rich football city. If he doesn’t, then he will get what he deserves.

But it’s too early in his tenure to predict that.

Sure enough the top headline on ProFootballTalk reads: “CUTLER ALIENATING BEARS FANS?”  The combination of Florio/Wilson at PFT look for (an in some cases create) controversy and have swiftly become the most influential website in the sport.  We can pretend this is a non-story but the minute it appears on their site, it is.

I, for one, don’t care if Jay Cutler signs autographs at Cubs games or Fire games or performances of American Buffalo at Steppenwolf.  (I don’t understand the fascination with autographs to begin with.)  I don’t care if he’s nice to the media.  I don’t care if he has intercourse with every woman in the city of Chicago.  I don’t care about Jay Cutler’s life outside his preparation or his play.  Preparation.  Play.  That’s what football is about.

Rex Grossman didn’t lose the fans because he refused to sign autographs.  He lost the fans (including myself) because after a ballgame where he should have been focused on sending Brett Favre into the sunset with a loss (wasn’t I naive?), he was focused on everything else

“And the situation was I felt like I was going to play about a half, and it was the last game, it was New Year’s Eve — there were so many other factors that brought my focus away from what is actually important, and that’s something that I am never going to do again.

“There is too much I am responsible for to not give it 100 percent during the week and just the full attention,” Grossman said. “It’s another lesson.”

Everything about Jay Cutler is going to be scrutinized by the Chicago media.  Not here.  Here we’re going to scrutinize what Jay Cutler does on the football field – practice and game.  We’re going to request Cutler be what he’s been advertised to be: the greatest quarterback in the history of the franchise.  We’ll require touchdowns not autographs.  Victories not handshakes.  Super Bowls not smiles. 

And twenty-five years from now, we’ll all wait in line to pose with Jay at the grand opening of his second Prime Cutler’s Steakhouse in Lincoln Park.  Believe me, he’ll sign autographs then.