He's Brett Favre, and you're not
Cutler has lot to prove, but Vikings QB has proved importance of good supporting cast
It would have been billed as a highly anticipated quarterback duel of inflated importance, a battle of youth versus experience, the old sheriff versus the cocky outlaw. It would have been for the transitory control of the NFC North. A turf battle, if you will.
Now, this game is just another impending loss for the broken Bears, another week of bland pronouncements from disappointed athletes and coaches, and angry recriminations by fans and media who sold themselves a bill of goods when general manager Jerry Angelo put everything on the line but the iconic C logo and Mike Ditka's mustache for the quarterback of the present and future, Jay Cutler. OK, he dealt only three draft picks and a so-so quarterback, but you get the point. Angelo bet the house on Cutler.
Cutler, as you know, is leading the NFL in interceptions, just four fewer than Favre had all year when he led the NFL last season, looking as bad as any of his middling Chicago predecessors. Ol' Favre has the Minnesota Vikings reared and ready for the playoffs.
The Bears thought they were getting their own Favre in the deal, and maybe they still will in the coming years. Cutler has an arm like Favre and takes risks like Favre, but his career has played out like Favre's in reverse. He's playing like Favre did in his waning years in Green Bay (that's 2005 and '06, not his final, awesome-'til-the-last-throw-of-the-NFC-Championship-Game, "farewell" season in 2007), like a real gunslinger whose gun constantly misfires.
This past Sunday, Favre completed 22 of 25 passes for 215 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-9 win over Seattle as the Vikings improved to 9-1.
Cutler went 24-for-43 for 171 yards, one touchdown and one game-ending interception in a 24-20 loss to Philadelphia. And he looked even worse than those numbers imply.
It can't be forgotten that Favre's supporting cast, from the offensive line to the skill positions, is head and shoulders better than Cutler's. Favre didn't go to Minnesota just to stick it to Packers GM Ted Thompson. It was the perfect situation, a flawed team short one key position: him.
Now that the Bears finally have a quarterback, all they lack is a playmaking, "go up and get it" receiver (to use Cutler's verbiage), a few offensive linemen, another serviceable running back, a linebacker, two safeties and another cornerback. Once they fill those holes, it's Super Bowl or bust, baby. By the time Cutler is Favre's age, maybe the Bears will figure out how to put together a complete offensive team.
If you wanted to choose one person to embody the difference between the Vikings and the Bears, think about it this way: Favre' supporting cast is the equivalent of Orlando Pace, circa 2000, a perfectly constructed football machine. Cutler has the actual Pace of 2009, a woeful left tackle.
If Favre played for the Bears, not only would his games-started streak be kaput, but his "days lived" run might be over as well. Cutler has shown his toughness by taking a beating from opposing defenses. The two couldn't be in more different situations, playing for more different teams.
This summer, Bears fans thought they could be what the Vikings are: contenders. Sure, they had Matt Forte instead of Adrian Peterson, Devin Hester instead of Percy Harvin, but still, there were dreams of grandeur, and not just out of provincial pride.
One particularly notable pundit, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, picked the Bears to go to the Super Bowl. It was a crazy prediction if it were rooted in past performance, a flawed team coupled with a quarterback who has never had a winning season, but in the context of the unpredictable nature of the NFL, it made a certain kind of sense.
A Las Vegas sports-book director didn't even change the divisional odds when Favre announced he would end his annual retirement to play for Minnesota. He had the Bears and Vikings at 8-to-5 to win the division. There was the prevailing notion that Favre would be out of shape from missing training camp and would bring down the Vikings with his risky playing style. As it goes in the game of NFL prognosticating, the opposite has been true.
At 4-6, the Bears have a better chance of finishing 6-10 than 9-7 after another desultory loss to Philadelphia. All that's left now is a month's worth of loathing what these Bears represent, more failed optimism and disappointment.
The Vikings are 10.5- or 11-point favorites to win this game. I see absolutely no reason for optimism in this game, mostly because Favre isn't the Vikings' only weapon, but rather the supporting partner to Peterson, who might rush for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
But this game isn't about Peterson; it's always about Favre, fair or not.
I have been consistently amazed at the level and ferocity of hatred spewed at Favre the past couple of years simply for being mendacious about playing football.
It's not like he was hemming and hawing about fixing health care or whether to give a choking man the Heimlich maneuver. The guy couldn't decide whether he was ready to give up the one thing in the world he's truly good at for the rest of his natural life.
For all my misgivings, I easily understood the Favre fatigue, and I certainly get why Green Bay fans feel misled and betrayed. And like every football fan, I'm long sick of the fawning over him, the "Favre embodies all that is right with the NFL" hagiography bandied about during games and in paint-by-number features. But to be honest, I'm more exhausted from the anti-Favre rhetoric than I was from the round-the-clock Favre coverage.
If you read only sports blogs, you'd think Favre was the love child of John Edwards and Ross Perot, a preening, self-important buffoon whose indecisiveness stems from pure vanity and a need for constant encouragement.
Favre's existence as a vessel for our love and hate for the modern sports star is now post-modern, because we've been bludgeoned with endless debate about the authenticity of his metaphorical value. Even Favre, no stranger to selling out for the commercial coin, ripped his public persona in an ad for Sears, of all places.
Personally, I like Favre. Not because he represents the type of man's man I want to be, but because I find watching him play professional football aesthetically enjoyable. I'm sure I've bought in, subconsciously, to his packaged image, but I can't help it. The dude can still chuck it.
But that doesn't mean you can't hate him, Bears fans. (Not that you need me to tell you that.) After all, Chicago fans are the original Favre haters, and you earned it by watching him put up a 20-6 record against the Bears before Lovie Smith came in. (Favre is 2-6 against Smith's Bears, with just five touchdowns to 15 interceptions in that span. These stats have little bearing on this matchup, considering the sea changes in their respective situations.)
By all means, use this game as an excuse to rant against the unfairness of the universe. In this context, Favre can stand for something outside of his corporeal being. He is your neighbor with the new Lexus and the two-week vacation in Cabo. He is your brother-in-law with the better job, better investments and a better head of hair. He is, and will always be, Brett Favre, the star of the show and the life of the party, and you, Bears fans, are just Jay Cutler, glum and sullen, wondering when things will finally turn around.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
ESPNCHICAGO.COM'S BEARS COVERAGE
Mike Martz could be the Bears' next offensive coordinator, but he comes with a lot of baggage. Melissa Isaacson