I didn't have "skin" in either game Sunday, as I am a Seattle Seahawks fan. But I am also an NFL fan, and in saying that I always look forward to the NFC and AFC championship games as the culmination of a whole lot of games watched from my couch or wherever else; I wouldn't miss these games.
I'm in Los Angeles at the moment, and being down here and being a football fan is kind of like what you see in those DirecTV commercials: Fans of different teams, congregating in one house to watch football. I was invited to a friend's house for the second game. He is a lifetime New York Jets fan. Two other friends (a San Diego Chargers fan and a Dallas Cowboys fan) and I were meeting at my house to ride our Harleys out for the game.
Oftentimes, these games are much better to watch and more hotly contested affairs than the actual Super Bowl. These games are the last actual test of blood and guts. The rule of "any given Sunday" sort of gives way to these last four teams being the best of the best. There are fewer moments of chance because every player is giving everything they have. This was the weekend to go big or go the hell home.
It is cold, in Southern California terms, right now. When I ride my motorcycle in Seattle in wintertime, I just simply have the right warm clothes on hand. … At a moment's notice, I can leave my house and have the right attire. Down here in L.A., though, it would be overdoing it to have winter gloves, thermal underwear, balaclavas and huge coats at the ready. Luckily for me, though, I have been climbing high and snowy mountains down here and have all of that stuff. The point is, during the Bears-Packers game, I was sort of going from one room to another putting my motorcycle riding attire together; checking in on the game every time I passed through the TV room (which was a bunch of times, about every 30 seconds or so).
I guess it was because of all of this to and fro that I didn't notice until a little ways into the third quarter that Jay Cutler wasn't behind center for the Chicago Bears. I then sat and watched, wanting to get the story of why the Bears quarterback wasn't playing. The commentators never really filled me in. It was a mystery to me. To say I was shocked would be overstating it -- but I was mystified. I thought I must have missed something.
I'm not here to pile on to the scrum that has built up writ large on Jay Cutler already, before and after it was revealed Monday that he had a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. I wrote last week on my opinion that his surging confidence was affecting his Bears in a positive way -- even after he got his bell rung and butt kicked every weekend because of poor protection by his offensive line in the first seven or eight weeks.
I was watching "The Herd" on Monday morning, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman came on to give his thoughts regarding Cutler leaving the game early. Freeman was pretty good at sort of dodging any direct personal criticism of the Bears' QB, but did say "Heck, I'm only 22, and when I took a particularly good shot this season in the Saints game -- and my shoulder was all jacked up and swollen at halftime -- I only had to take some Tylenol and I was all good by the start of the third quarter." When you are 22 years old, he went on to add, you just recuperate very quickly.
It is possible, and seems plausible, that Cutler just got too damn beat up during the first half of this season. When faced with as formidable and hard-hitting of a defense as the Green Bay Packers', Cutler could have just gotten too rattled and shaken, and then had some bad flashbacks to earlier in the season when he had no protection. There is a reason professional sports psychology and psychiatry are thriving niche businesses.
Cutler is nearly 28 now, and unlike 22-year-old Tampa QB Josh Freeman, he has taken a ton of big shots as signal-caller for the Broncos and the Bears behind their anemic offensive lines. His recovery to this abuse probably takes a bit more than a few Tylenols. I am not Jay Cutler, so I can only assume these things.
As I watched the Jets-Steelers game later that day with all of my dude friends, the Jay Cutler saga started to unfold. All of the tweets from the Maurice Jones-Drews and Darnell Docketts began to flash across the TV screen. Of course, before we had all the information about Cutler's injury, all of us sitting on the couch puffed out our chests and talked loudly of how none of us would ever quit on our team with a banged-up knee in the NFC Championship Game. "You've got to sacrifice the body!" all of us seemed to brag. The NFL is a very public thing, and to be a player in it you must first know that your life, public and private, is no longer your own.
I have experienced a bit of this being in big rock bands. I have played gigs with a broken thumb, a broken tail bone, a torn rotator cuff, and a snapped anterior cruciate ligament in my knee. But none of these injuries came because I was getting hit by 300-pound dudes looking to break me. All of my injuries, except for the torn ACL, were received because of mostly knuckle-headed moves made outside of the "arena." I even once got knocked out cold by a flying bottle at ARCO Arena in Sacramento. That gig I couldn't finish. I was not blamed for the gig getting cut short, though, as the audience could clearly see the bottle hitting me.
No one could see "the bottle" hitting Jay Cutler on Sunday. His rather cool demeanor hasn't helped him to plead his case in the aftermath, however. Jay Cutler now seems to have a steep upward hill to climb to get back into the good graces of Chicago Bears fans, and all of the rest of us brave couch-potatoes … the ones like me who have to brave only a cool Southern California winter on a motorcycle.
That's life in the big leagues. It's not fair for sure, but it is what it is.
Musician Duff McKagan, who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and is finishing his autobiography, writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com.