Commentary

Jay Cutler is no teddy bear

Updated: January 13, 2011, 3:30 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Jay CutlerDennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireJay Cutler is never a picture of happiness. Will Chicago fans ever see his other side?

For a man from Santa Claus, Ind., Jay Cutler is one of the least jolly people you've ever met.

If he's not The Most Hated Man in the NFL, he's in the running. His expression is usually that of a man wearing sandpaper underwear. He looks everywhere but into your eyes. It's a tie as to which he enjoys more -- smirking or shrugging.

It's hard to say what interests Cutler, but it's definitely not you.

Once, in his rookie year in Denver, 45 minutes before a game, surefire Hall of Fame safety John Lynch was trying to explain something to Cutler about NFL pass coverage. Except Cutler wasn't looking at Lynch. He was texting.

"Man, I'm trying to talk to you!" Lynch protested.

Didn't help. Cutler was all thumbs, head down. Finally, Lynch slapped the phone out of Cutler's hands, smashing it to the floor.

He listened after that.

Cutler's teammates will defend him, when asked. "It's funny to me how people form an opinion of a guy who've never even met him," says Bears tight end Greg Olsen, a close friend.

One time, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan thought it would be helpful for Cutler and Broncos legend John Elway to have lunch. Let Cutler drink in some of Elway's experience.

The three of them sat down at a Denver steak joint. Elway, polite as ever, tried to impart some wisdom. Except Cutler wasn't looking at Elway. He wasn't looking at Shanahan, either. He was looking at the TV. The whole time. With his baseball cap on backward. All the way through dessert. Elway did not leave impressed.

So when Josh McDaniels, before he had even set his Samsonite down, started railroading Cutler out of town, almost nobody stood up for him.

Cutler was boxed up and shipped to Chicago, where, this Sunday, he will play his first playoff game of any kind since high school, this one at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

It's a huge moment for Cutler, if only because his disdain for making nice means everything rides on his wins and losses.

"In New York, they want to poke you in the eye," says former Bear and sports radio host Tom Waddle. "In L.A., they don't care about you. But in Chicago, they want to love you. They want to make a connection with you. Any kind of connection. But Jay doesn't really care."

Cutler could own Chicago if he wanted. In a city that has had as many good quarterbacks as Omaha has had good surfers, Cutler could have his name on half the billboards and all the jerseys. My God, the kid grew up a Bears fan! But he doesn't even try. He has zero endorsements and doesn't want any. If there is such a thing as a Jay Cutler Fan Club, Cutler is having a membership drive -- to drive them out.

Jay Cutler
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireIf you're a reporter looking for a helpful answer out of Jay Cutler, good luck.

Example from Wednesday's 15-minute news conference, the only time he speaks publicly the entire workweek:

Reporter #1: So, did you enjoy the week off?

Cutler: Yeah, it's nice to kick back and watch the games.

Reporter #2: Wait. Last week, you said you never watch the games.

Cutler (disgusted): I said you could watch the games. I didn't say I watched the games. You've got to listen.

Cutler is the kind of guy you just want to pick up and throw into a swimming pool, which is exactly what Peyton Manning and two linemen did one year at the Pro Bowl.

"He's an arrogant little punk," former Broncos radio color man, Scott Hastings, once said on a national show. "He's a little bitch."

Harsh? Yes. Heard before? Yes.

"I used to hear this kind of stuff a lot," says Marty Garafalo, a freelance publicist who handled Cutler in Denver. "Elway was always trying to give you the time of day, and Jay was always seeing which door he could get out of quicker. It was a maturity thing."

Cutler's teammates will defend him, when asked. "It's funny to me how people form an opinion of a guy who've never even met him," says Bears tight end Greg Olsen, a close friend.

So what's the truth?

"He is what he is," Olsen says.

Not exactly something for your tombstone.

What he is is an RPG-armed, 27-year-old Vanderbilt product who dates a reality TV star named Kristin Cavallari, battles Type 1 diabetes every day, and doesn't care who understands him and who doesn't. He's a giving person who does things behind the scenes and hates it when he gets found out. A few days before Christmas, he and Cavallari brought presents for an entire ward of sick hospital kids. A reporter for the Sun-Times got wind of it and asked him about it. Cutler refused to discuss it.

He's a battler who's done amazingly well considering the swinging saloon-door offensive line he has to play behind. The man has been sacked more times this season (52) than in his three seasons in Denver combined (51). Yet he never complains.

"He's as sharp an individual as I've ever been around," says Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

So why is Cutler as popular as gout?

Is it because he never makes eye contact?

Is it his seeming inability to answer a question without using "y'know"? (He once used it 57 times in a five-minute interview with the NFL Network.)

Is it his penchant for making things difficult?

Reporter (after a game): What happened on that first interception, Jay?

Cutler: I threw the ball.

Reporter: Right, but what did you see developing there? Take us through it.

Cutler (archly): It seemed like a good place to throw the ball.

Then there was this:

Reporter: When you were a kid, which quarterback did you look up to?

Cutler: Nobody.

Reporter: Nobody? You didn't look up to anybody?

Cutler: No.

If he's lying, it makes him a miscreant. If he's telling the truth, it makes him a miscreant.

"Deep, deep down, I think he's a really good guy," Waddle says.

Maybe. But why do we have to look that deep?


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Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com

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