Commentary

Friends now rivals

Cutler, Rodgers boost Bears-Packers rivalry with friendship, talent

Originally Published: September 9, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Sometime between getting off the plane in Chicago and being issued his new Bears No. 6 jersey last spring, Jay Cutler fired off a text to Green Bay Packers quarterback and new division rival Aaron Rodgers.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJay Cutler is taking over after numerous failed Bears quarterback experiments.
"I said, 'We get to see you twice a year now,'" Cutler recalled Wednesday, maintaining that indeed, he used the word "see" and not one of any number of other possibilities.

Rodgers said he didn't remember what Cutler texted exactly, but, "If he did [taunt], it was probably in jest."

Cutler texted him again on Tuesday, Rodgers said in a conference call at Halas Hall as reporters waited for the requisite Bears-Packers bulletin board quote of the week.

"Just, 'Good luck, see you this weekend,'" Rogers related.

Not exactly Mike Ditka-Forrest Gregg material. Nor Jay Cutler-Philip Rivers, for that matter.

But as bland as Cutler versus Rodgers appears to be off the field, it has real promise of becoming the first legitimate Bears-Packers quarterback duel since, well, at least Rex Grossman-Brett Favre (circa 2006).

Beyond that, we're breaking new ground here with two guys both turning 26 this year, both coming off seasons of 4,000-plus yards and both with forecasts of greatness.

"I think it's good for the division, definitely. Any type of publicity, notoriety for our division is good," Rodgers said.

"I signed a six-year extension last year and I hope that I can have the kind of success that will keep me here for six more years. I know Jay has done some really good things and I'm sure he's hoping that he can get things going down there and be there for a long time. If that happens and we play each other for a long time, then look for some really good games."

Keep in mind this is Cutler's first visit to Green Bay, which is like checking off Notre Dame if you're a college quarterback and Norton, Kan., if you're seeing the country.

Also keep in mind that Cutler-Rodgers could evolve into something more colorful if Cutler has anything to do with it. In Cutler, the Bears do not have merely a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback but a quarterback with the ability to will his team downfield, a skill that all Bears fans know is not easily acquired.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers is taking over for Brett Favre.
"You've got a guy who's very confident in himself and believes every play you're going to get positive yards," said Bears receiver Earl Bennett, who played with Cutler at Vanderbilt. "You believe him and it happens. You go out and capitalize and make plays. Things just happen so fast with him. The [98-yard touchdown] drive down in Denver, he was like 'We'll get it together' and we did and went down and scored."

Bennett said Cutler has always been like that.

"From the day I first met him," he said. "Same swagger, same walk, same haircut. He hasn't changed."

Bears offensive tackle Chris Williams, another college teammate of Cutler's, recalls that at Vanderbilt, "Most of the games we won, we won in the two-minute drill and he called most of the plays. It's great to have a guy like that. It was fun. He put the team on his shoulders and threw it around."

The Bears have gone years with guys who had either leadership skills or football skills but rarely both. The fact that Cutler was named team captain before playing a snap for the Bears should not be regarded lightly.

Particularly if you consider that in a recent article in ESPN The Magazine, writer David Fleming described a scene during Cutler's first week of practice as the Bears' new quarterback in which rookie wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias had exhibited the habit of catching balls one-handed, despite being rebuked by coaches.

When it happened again, Fleming wrote, "Cutler followed his pass upfield, darted toward Iglesias and screamed into his face mask: 'If you ever do that again I will never throw another f---ing pass to you. EVER!'"

You can do this to a rookie if you're even a half-decent NFL starting quarterback. A player of Cutler's caliber can get away with it with veterans and get results.

"He's confident, he has control of the huddle, he calls the play and we roll, you know? … He's Jay," Williams said. "Everyone is trying to make a big deal out of him being a mean guy but Jay is a great quarterback, a great guy, a great friend. He's good to have around. And that's a special ability for a quarterback. It makes us excited to protect him."

Fine. But he can be a mean guy too if it gets results. Whatever it takes, you know?

"I believe you can be a good leader without having great, great talent," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "Fortunately, [Cutler] has both. He's a very, very good leader and he's got the talent. So when he gets in the huddle, everybody immediately knows, 'Hey, if I do my job, if I get open, if I block my guy, he can make any throw he has to make and he can make plays. And even if we don't do it, he can still do it.'"

But if they don't do it this season, expect Cutler to let them know it. And if the Bears are lucky, expect him to stop texting his buddy Aaron Rodgers.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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