It seems strange that Bears General Manager Phil Emery has to proclaim that he likes quarterback Jay Cutler. Of course, he was only answering a question posed by the media, and that is the sound bite most media outlets ran with, even though there was more discussed at the time. Emery went on to list his reasons: “He’s passionate and he’s got great drive and energy. He’s moving towards excellence, he does care and love his teammates and he is a big part of what we are doing in a positive way.” When you step back and think about it, Cutler really only has to answer to his team’s management and usually they’ll make the final judgment on him. However, it seems that his persona is in dispute all the time by the public and the media.
Much of this scrutiny has been brought on by Cutler himself: He is not seen as likeable by many people. His demeanor, body language and actions are analyzed like a defendant in a courtroom — and Cutler hasn’t committed a crime. The reaction to him is really incredible for a player that has won nine of his last ten games. This season he became fodder for unpleasant discussions for two “offenses” — knocking the shoulder of offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb in one game, followed by walking away from his Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice in another game. The network cameras are trained on him for everything he does on and off the field during the game. Other quarterbacks have had similar problems, but Jay Cutler is the poster boy for a negative campaign.
Cutler is not alone in the annals of Chicago players low on the likeability factor. And like his predecessors, he too can be cured. Consider the following:
- White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski has been named the “most hated player” in baseball for the past several years. He wears it like a badge of honor. Former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen would talk about how much people, including some teammates, disliked the catcher. He irritates the umps, the opposing players and the fans — but not his own. Who could forget the punch he took from Cubs catcher Michael Barrett on May 20, 2006 during a Cubs-Sox game? Sox fans love him because he is theirs and he was one of the major reason why the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 (Anaheim-L.A. fans will always remember the famous dropped third strike).
- Bulls fans hated Dennis “The Worm” Rodman when he was with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons. He knocked Scottie Pippen around like a rag doll when the Bulls and Pistons met during the season, particularly in the playoffs in the ’80s-’90s. When Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls from his first retirement, General Manager Jerry Krause engineered a deal to bring Rodman to the Chicago Bulls. Krause had to confer with Pippen and Jordan to make sure they could handle dealing with the power forward. Dennis went from a hated Piston to a beloved (yet controversial) member of three championship Bulls teams. He crashed into cameramen and tangled with opposing players, wore make-up and colored his hair and was as outrageous as any player to ever wear an NBA jersey.
- Another Bears quarterback that had a reputation of being difficult and disliked by many was Jim McMahon. The “punky” QB had ongoing feuds with teammates, coaches and the NFL. The media hated him, too: Some writers were overheard saying they would never vote McMahon the MVP of Super Bowl XX. I was there and heard it first-hand during half-time of that game. When Green Bay’s Charles Martin picked up McMahon and slammed him to the turf there were snickers by many in the press box.
The common thread with these players (besides not being liked) is they all were part of championships in Chicago. Personally, I never had an issue dealing directly with A.J., Rodman or McMahon. I was the only woman covering the Bears when McMahon played and you may not believe this but he was always a gentleman to me. Rodman was a hoot, and he was easy to talk to after he found out I had a sister who was a tattoo artist — I never thought that would be an asset. Pierzynski is an interesting, smart ball player and he makes himself available and is very honest.
Two other disliked Chicago players come to mind (but trust me there are more): Former White Sox Albert Belle and the Cubs’ Milton Bradley. You can underline the word difficult in both cases … actually they were jerks. Belle would snarl and was very defensive; Bradley acted in a similar manner. They never won so their character flaws were not masked by a championship.
Where Jay Cutler falls in this mix will be up to him; he has limited access to the media, not counting his paid weekly radio show. There are no personal one-on-one exchanges with him, so most of us in the media see and hear only what the fans do. One thing is for certain: If Cutler leads the Bears to a Super Bowl win he will be the toast of the town, like him or not.
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