There might be no position in football – and possibly all of sports – that sets you up for disappointment like the quarterback does. You could have the best all-purpose running back, two towering wide receivers and a stellar defense, but there’s just something about your quarterback that you just rest all of your hopes and dreams on. QB is the all-American position: the gunslinger, the steadfast leader or the guy who’s supposed to go out there and make things run. There are plenty of other tropes: Maybe he’s the golden boy from the West, some flashy Southern hot shot or the gritty kid from some dead steel town somewhere out East.
You invest so much into your quarterback, and if he doesn’t play well or he goes down, then everything changes. Your team could still win, but there’s always that worry in the back of your head. Quarterbacks can crush everything you hold dear as a football fan.
In the last decade, there has possibly been no bigger destroyer of football dreams than Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears. The guy from Santa Claus, Indiana who the team acquired from the Denver Broncos for, among other things, Chicago’s first-round draft picks in 2009 and 2010. Price was of little concern because the Bears, the team that basically invented modern offense, hadn’t had a truly great QB since they did all of that inventing in the 1940s with Sid Luckman. Sure, the 1985 Chicago team remain one of the greatest in history, and everybody loved Jim McMahon, but all-time great he was not. Kyle Orton, the guy the team traded away for Cutler, and Rex Grossman for damn sure weren’t. Jim Harbaugh was a Bears quarterback, and he had some pretty decent years – after he left to go play for the Colts.
Jay Cutler. Smokin’ Jay, the meme that Bears fans have been forced to embrace and the quarterback whose lackluster play they’ve had to find new ways to justify for seven seasons. He’s the franchise’s leader in passing touchdowns and passing yards and the guy who brought the team to the 2010 NFC Championship. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the Bears haven’t had many great quarterbacks over the course of the team’s storied history that’s closing in on the century mark, and Cutler ended the 2010 playoffs watching his team lose to the Green Bay Packers from an exercise bike, nursing what was later disclosed to be a sprained MCL. There’s always a ton of give and take with football. Nothing is ever perfect, every player has their ups and downs, but with Cutler and his many downs, it’s always felt like something more. The narrative for his tenure as a Bear is that he has everything it takes to be a big time quarterback, but he can’t be trusted – he’s not a leader and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks.
But there’s this idea that you still have to support Cutler because, even though fans largely thought signing him back up in 2014 for seven more years to the tune of $126 million, with $54 million guaranteed, wasn’t the hottest idea (it wasn’t), you still need to get behind your guy.
On Monday night, however, after a dismal performance that is literally being called a “five-alarm dumpster fire” by one of the biggest newspapers in the country, Cutler left the game toward the end of the third quarter with what turned out to be a thumb injury that will keep him out “for an extended period of time.” This all came after Cutler turned the ball over after starting off a promising drive, connecting with receivers and looking like the team could maybe put some points on the board. I like to call that “A Real Cutler Move,” since it’s something you’ve gotten used to watching the Bears over the last few years. And while fans search for somebody to blame, from the owners to the coaching staff and the offensive line (all of which have been consistently bad, especially since the team parted ways with coach Lovie Smith, whose defensive-minded style didn’t suit the big money QB), at the end of the day, you have to finally just admit that yeah, this guy isn’t that great. He’s got a cannon for an arm, but it doesn’t do much good if he’s constantly using that arm to throw picks or sitting on the sideline with an injury and not using it at all.
On my way home from the game at Soldier Field, I heard all of those things from my Lyft driver, a diehard Bears fans. The guy told me all the typical stuff about not wanting to give up, how the Bears are his team and he’s with them through and through. And yes, that’s right, but there’s something to be said about football Stockholm syndrome, and there is possibly no fanbase in football that suffers from it quite like the Chicago Bears do. They are currently a team built on bad decisions, and while it could get better, it’s hard to imagine how that will happen anytime soon.
Without turning this into a rant, the fact of the matter is that sooner, rather than later, you should give up on your quarterback. Sometimes there are second chances, like when Josh McCown stepped in for an injured Caleb Hanie who was in for an injured Cutler, and led the Bears to an improbable Monday Night Football win against the rival Green Bay Packers, assuring McCown legend status as a Bears quarterback since the franchise has plenty of room to let a guy and his one big victory in. But more often than not, after a few years – let alone seven – you have to say that the guy just isn’t doing his job and that maybe it’s time to figure out a new way to spend the football season.
Giving up sucks. We’re taught not to do it. We’re told the guys on the football field never do, and maybe that’s true, but there comes a point where you just need to finally realize you’re really not giving up anything. You’re stuck with a bad player, and just admitting that after years of trying to justify it actually feels really damn good. Hopefully the franchise you root for comes around to that realization not long after you do.