- Wayne Drehs
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CHICAGO -- For those compelled by precision, for those looking for the exact moment when the Jay Cutler hype machine clicked into overdrive in Chicago, I propose May 17, 2009, at 1:40 p.m.
At that exact moment this past Sunday, Chicago Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak grabbed a microphone at the team's annual fan convention and formally introduced the new quarterback to a fan base long in search of its savior.
Some clapped; others yelled. Some pulled out their cell phones; others pulled out their digital cameras. Young and old, male and female, it didn't matter. From grandmas to baby girls, from frat boys to business execs, everyone wanted to see the hero, everyone wanted to hear him speak. With each passing second, more and more fans squeezed closer and closer to the stage. It was as if Cutler were John, Paul, George and Ringo all rolled into one.
And in a way, he is. That's what happens when a franchise that hasn't had a franchise quarterback in half a century mortgages its entire future on the right arm of a 26-year-old Pro Bowl answer.
"Anytime a team wants to make a trade like that and give up what [the Bears] gave up, there's going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of high expectations," Cutler said Wednesday. "And I welcome it. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a good challenge."
It has been 49 days since Chicago shocked the NFL world and dealt two first-round picks, a third-round choice and quarterback Kyle Orton to Denver in exchange for Cutler, and at this point, the honeymoon is in full swing. Although Cutler has spent the past six weeks working with offensive coordinator Ron Turner and his new receivers, this week has been his official coming-out party. On Sunday, he officially spoke to Bears fans for the first time, and Wednesday marked the Bears' first organized team activity of the offseason, allowing Cutler to shine in seven-on-seven drills while the Chicago media took its first look at No. 6.
At the Bears Expo on Sunday, general manager Jerry Angelo referred to the Cutler addition as "divine intervention." Team president Ted Phillips told Bears fans, "The energy level in the office, with the players and staff has never been at a higher level in the 26 years I've been at the club." Even the typically stoic Lovie Smith is drinking the orange and blue Kool-Aid, saying, "Spirit is at an all-time high," while joking, "I think it's safe to say that Jay Cutler is our quarterback."
After Wednesday's OTA, the praise continued.
"That arm strength -- I've never been around someone like that before," Turner said.
"His athleticism, the way he moves, it's like he has been playing quarterback since he was 3 years old," receiver Devin Hester added.
Cutler grew up a Bears fan in tiny Santa Claus, Ind., so he's well aware the team started 21 quarterbacks during the Brett Favre era in Green Bay. He's well aware the team hasn't had a true franchise quarterback since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman in the 1940s. He's well aware of the toddler-sized shoes he's trying to fill.
But no athlete in recent memory has come to this city with greater expectations. Not Albert Belle, Alfonso Soriano, Patrick Kane. Nobody. According to the Bears' media relations department, the team sold more than 1,500 Cutler jerseys in the first four days after the trade. That's more than all the Brian Urlacher, Hester and Matt Forte jerseys sold in 2008.
FULL BEARS COVERAGE
Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Radio 1000 was on hand for Chicago's OTA workouts this week, and he offers complete coverage on his Bears blog.
Listen to enough of those Bears fans, and you get the feeling Cutler is expected to not only lead the team to the Super Bowl, but also balance the state budget, fix the city's parking meter privatization mess and hit a few Game 7 World Series home runs for the Cubs.
Move over, Barack Obama. This is the audacity of hope. Jay Cutler solves all. Yes We Can. Yes, we can have defensive linemen who get to the opposing quarterback. Yes, we can have safeties who make plays. Yes, we can have a perfectly thrown spiral that, if you listen closely enough, you can hear whistle on a 20-yard out pattern. In Jay We Trust.
"I think we've created a bit of a buzz," Cutler said. "The expectations are pretty high right now, but the fans and the players -- we're all looking forward to the ride."
That ride won't officially begin until the Bears travel to Green Bay on Sept. 13. In the meantime, Cutler is spending his free time throwing to his receivers and watching film with Turner. The two go back and forth, watching Bears tape so Cutler can get an idea of what the team likes to do and then watching Broncos tape so Turner can get an idea of where Cutler excels. Although Turner said there won't be any new plays tailored specifically around Cutler's strong arm or mobility in the pocket, he definitely will be diving into sections of the Bears' playbook where they've never gone in the past.
"When he started throwing that first day, it was like, 'Whoa,'" Turner said. "It's not a knock against Kyle [Orton] or Rex [Grossman] or anybody else. But when Jay is out there, it's like a different level."
Cutler, to this point, seems to love the attention, thriving in the spotlight. He has thrown out the first pitch at a Cubs game, dropped the puck at the Blackhawks' playoff opener and given gossips plenty to talk about by exploring the ins and outs of city night life with his new teammates.
Although the expectations would be unfair for even Joe Montana or Dan Marino, Cutler just might be up to it. He's part swagger. Part smug. And all quarterback. At the Bears Expo, he confidently pushed all the right buttons and played perfectly to the crowd. He predicted the Bears would win the season opener against Green Bay and "knows" they will make the playoffs.
When one fan asked whether he had started to develop a hatred for the Packers, Cutler laughed and then said, "I've never really liked them." When another fan wanted to know whether he had begun recording a new "Super Bowl Shuffle," he quipped, "Orlando [Pace] is in the process of choreographing that whole deal. We're just waiting for him to finalize it."
Then there was the little boy who wanted to know how many touchdowns Cutler plans to throw this season.
"How many do you want?" Cutler responded, knowing his career high is 25.
"Thirty," the boy said.
"We can probably get you 30," Cutler said. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."
The new quarterback even staunchly defended his teammates. When one fan began asking whether a quarterback makes his receivers better or vice versa, Cutler stopped the fan before he had a chance to finish.
"You're worried about our wide receivers a little bit? Let me put you at ease," Cutler said, before explaining how the Broncos' Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal were relative unknowns before their arrival in Denver. "Receiving-wise, we've got what we need here. You don't need to worry about it."
Of course, none of this really matters. He can say all the right things. He can do all the right things. But it's irrelevant. The adoration of the fans, the first OTA, the circus that is likely to surround training camp come July -- at the end of the day, it is all irrelevant. Nothing matters until Cutler steps onto the field that September Sunday in Green Bay. That's when the touchdowns and interceptions will start to count. And that's when it will be wins and losses -- and not words -- that will determine how long this love affair lasts.
Until then, Cutler is enjoying the honeymoon. When asked by a female fan Sunday about his impression of Chicago women thus far, the quarterback-turned-rock star didn't skip a beat.
"Good city. Good women. I'm single, so I could get in a little bit of trouble."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wayne on Twitter at ESPNWayneDrehs.
Jay Cutler's honeymoon period with the Bears has just begun, and it's safe to say Chicago fans have fallen hard, writes Wayne Drehs.