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The uproar was absurd on so many levels. Questioning Cutler's toughness is like questioning whether China has a lot of people. Whatever you want to rip him for, you can't rip him for that.
Cutler was sacked 52 times last year, 12 more than any other quarterback. The Giants sacked Cutler nine times in the first half of a 17--3 defeat of the Bears last October. New York quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 16 times all year. After one of the Giants' sacks, Cutler was so woozy, he got up and started walking toward the wrong sideline. Nobody knows exactly when he was concussed in that game, just that he was.
Tough? In high school he played safety as well as quarterback, and led his team to a state title despite playing with a sprained ankle.
Cutler played the entire 2007 season for the Broncos with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. He lost 33 pounds over the course of the season but started all 16 games. How could anybody think he would wimp out in the biggest game of his career?
Almost every other star quarterback would have gotten the benefit of the doubt. But people couldn't wait to question Cutler. The irony was rich for a man who has never seen it as part of his job to be likable. Cutler had always figured that as long as he got up off his back, he didn't need to scratch anybody else's. Then people doubted his toughness because they didn't like him.
"He might be arrogant, might be a little stubborn, he might not have good body language—say what you want," Clayton says. "But don't say he's not tough."
The criticism "definitely bothered [me] some," says Cutler. "But I think with the media markets these days, and the competition in that market, papers are dying ... people are looking for stories."
Never mind that the most vicious shots came from fellow players, not newspapers. That fact seems beside the point to Cutler. His image floated away from him, like a helium-filled balloon, a long time ago. Wherever it lands, it lands.
It is 2011. Jay Cutler is rich and famous. He doesn't have to defend himself; he can have somebody do it for him. "We've said for a long time, Jay probably needs some kind of public-relations coach," Clayton says. But Cutler doesn't have one.
Heck, Cutler could have somebody pay him to improve his image. He could ask an advertising executive to present his case, the way Nike did for LeBron James with the What should I do? campaign. But Cutler does not endorse products.