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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Jay Cutler was the Most Bears Player of Them All

The first thing you must understand as a Bears fan that is younger than 40 is that the entire franchise is full of shit. It is a dumpster fire of an organization owned by a mostly apathetic family with no real inclination to change anything regardless of the results on the field. When Mike Glennon and whatever failson Ryan Pace wastes a top five pick on this year inevitably go belly up and he's fired they'll probably keep Ted Phillips around to oversee his fourth pathetic GM hire, and that's still an improvement over the way this franchise was run before 1999, when the owner had to fire her own son as Team President because he announced the hiring of a head coach who hadn't actually agreed to be head coach of his trash football team (that head coach would have been trash anyway, as evidenced by his fine job with the Arizona Cardinals), forcing them to settle for hiring Dick Jauron, another trash coach.

I digress, because me saying the Bears franchise is full of shit is not just a reference to their incompetence, it is a reference to the myths they tell about what being a Bear means. If you asked someone to describe the ideal Chicago Bear  they'd either describe someone like Walter Payton or or someone like Dick Butkus (or Urlacher, or Singletary), and sure, that seems logical. Neither of them represents the Chicago Bears, though, not as they've been in my lifetime anyway (although Butkus being a growly tough guy who never played a single playoff game is apt).

No, if you want to summarize the post-1985 Bears in one person, you'll come up with Jay Cutler, however much both he and the franchise would like to pretend otherwise.

Jay Cutler, on paper, looked fantastic, he had prototypical size, surprisingly good speed, and an arm you could dream on for years and years (and I did). All of the skill one could possibly hope for in a QB, and the ability for greatness, if he and the franchise around him cared enough to try to reach it (they didn't, usually).

The Bears, on paper, looked fantastic. Proud and historically competent, with 9 titles to lean on, a big, national fan base, and ample money and resources to build a winning organization if they cared to try (they don't, usually).

Both of them had outstanding success just recently enough to be within memory and far enough away to be completely irrelevant to your experience as a fan (a superbowl three years before my birth, a Pro-Bowl in 2008, for a completely different franchise).

Every now and then the stars would align and both of them would have a season that surprised you and would come just agonizingly close enough to success that you thought they'd turned the corner. Even in those years (2006, 2010) there was always a sense that they were not, in fact, the favorite, that they were still somehow outmanned, outgunned, and outmatched. It was all destined to fall apart, and it inevitably would.

Those years when Jay put the team on his back, threw to a cavalcade of mediocre and height-challenged wideouts, and seemingly pulled every yard gained from his ass only to fall short in the end were better than the years where he was handed his hand-picked wide receiver (along with an equally good, equally big receiver as his partner), a now Superbowl-winning tight end and the franchise's second best ever runningback only to fall flat on his face and take to feuding with the head coach, wide receiver, coordinator, and media yet again, however.

In a nutshell, that was Jay, and that is these Bears. When good, they were never as good as you thought they needed to be, when bad, they were ugly, and through it all they remain infuriatingly, mystifyingly resistant to change. Jay can play for six different offensive coordinators, in six different schemes, and somehow put up the exact same numbers and forever have it be somebody else's fault. An owner and a president can hire three different GMs and four different coaches, see them all fail, and forever have it be somebody else's fault. The Bears will tell you they are defined as a franchise by a player like Payton or Butkus: a tough, no-nonsense player who will hit the opponent right in the mouth and overcome them with strength and determination.

Really, though, they are defined by Jay Cutler: an infuriating, mercurial, apathetic disappointment who was alternately better and worse than he should have any right to be, and most of all unwilling to change that regardless of how you, the idiot who watches this shit year after year after year, felt.

Fittingly, the Bears ended the Cutler Era with a record of 51-51 in games started by Jay, and a 7-18 record in the games he missed. They're not very good with him, and yet they'll be worse without him, because Jay Cutler is the Bears, and the Bears are Jay Cutler.