Wisch: Will Jay Cutler Follow In Scottie Pippen’s Footsteps?

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Over the past two years, I’ve questioned a lot of things about Jay Cutler. I still do.

But I’ve never questioned his toughness.

And I still don’t, no matter what the knee jerks on Twitter, Facebook and beyond have said about the Bears’ lightning rod of a quarterback since he left Sunday’s NFC Championship Game with what turned out to be a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left leg.

During the past two days, there’s been plenty of discussion about what happened to Cutler – and with Cutler – in the disappointing 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Have you noticed?

But what I’m most interested in is where Cutler will go from here. Because, following a postseason failure and ensuing controversy that threatens to define his career, the Bears’ 27-year-old franchise quarterback today is a man at a crossroads. A crossroads not at all unlike the one that a 24-year-old Scottie Pippen was facing two decades ago.

And I’m wondering down which lane Cutler will drive.

Longtime Chicago sports followers, of course, remember Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals when a migraine headache turned the Bulls’ future Hall of Famer into Chicago’s Public Enemy No. 1 following a devastating 93-74 loss to the hated Detroit Pistons.

“Scottie Pippen was 1 of 10 for 2 points,” NBA writer Sam Smith recalled about the game in his book, “The Jordan Rules.” “Stricken by a migraine headache, he was blinking his eyes madly before the game and putting an ice pack on his head during time-outs. He played forty-two minutes, but could barely distinguish his teammates from the Pistons. He broke down and drowned himself in tears in the locker room afterward.”

On Monday, SI.com columnist Jim Trotter reported that after Cutler was told by reporters how other NFL players had questioned his toughness via Twitter during Sunday’s game, “Cutler appeared genuinely hurt when asked about the comments, saying: ‘No comment on that.’ He then turned his back to reporters, fiddled with some things on a shelf and bit his lip as tears welled.”

Like Cutler this week, Pippen’s manhood following the “migraine game” was called into question by every armchair psychiatrist in Chicago and beyond 21 years ago.

Was the headache legit? Or was it just a convenient excuse for choking in the biggest game of Pippen’s life? And, most importantly, was Pippen tough enough to help the Bulls win a title?

After his 1990 postseason flop, Pippen could have let his career collapse from the avalanche of unfair criticism. But he instead bounced back to average 17.8 points per game the next season and help lead the Bulls to a sweep of the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and the first of six NBA championships.

Granted, Michael Jordan had a whole lot to do with that success. And Pippen was hardly perfect the rest of his career – 1.8 seconds, anyone? – but from the darkest moment of his career, he did mature into a champion.

And the question today is if Jay Cutler can do the same.

“… Things happen in life, different situations, and that was just a learning situation for me,” Pippen recalled about the “migraine game” during a 2005 interview after the Bulls retired his number. “From the migraine to sitting out the 1.8, I learned to be better about taking care of my body and preparing myself to be a professional every day.”

Pippen was then asked if it was unfair for people to bring up that pair of instances – the 1.8 seconds and the migraine – when defining his career.

“No, I don’t think it’s unfair,” Pippen replied. “I mean, if that’s the worst that you can find, I feel like I did pretty good.”
Fifteen years removed from this NFC Championship Game, will Jay Cutler be saying the same? I don’t know. But it will be interesting to find out.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Will Jay Cutler Follow In Scottie Pippens Footsteps?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    What, is Jay going to be a cheap tipper also???

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Well-played, Arse ;)

      • Mary Connell

        No Tippin’ Pippin is a legend in Chicago hospitality!!

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        The difference between Scottie and a canoe is that a canoe tips.

  • Aaron

    Jay-Jay should pick up on another famous J.J.’s signature line – “Dy-No-Mite!!” If he starts saying this in his interviews, people will perceive him as being both tough AND cool.

    • bernard

      hahahaha, awesome stuff. Such a dissapointing game :(

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Actually, Dave, you have hit a home-run with this blog.
    Cutler and Scottie are/were vastly talented non-leaders.
    If Cutler had a prominent super-star running back, for example, to be the real leader of the team (or a Larry Fitzgerald type of WR), a lot of pressure would be taken off of him.
    He needs an “MJ” on the Bears so that he can slink back and be a Scottie.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    I think you’re dead-on, Arse. And this situation really is interesting, because we could end up with the Bears looking for a Batman to accompany Cutler’s Robin, whereas the Bulls for years were searching for a Robin to accompany Jordan’s Batman.

    It’s an intriguing switch. And it will also be interesting to see how it turns out. Angelo seems to have more success pulling off deals for big names (Cutler, Peppers) than he seems to have in the draft, so perhaps he can find that guy via free agency at some point. Then again ,,, perhaps not.

    • Jake from da burbs

      I have to disagree. Cutler can’t be Pippen or the Robin of the offense because fundamentally the positions they play hold them to different responsibilities. In the NBA, anybody can be your star player because the ball can always end up in the superstars hands on every possession.

      There’s a difference between who has to play the Batman role versus who puts up the Batman-like numbers/stats. Basically what I’m saying is that the QB has to play the Batman role because there is no other position on the offense that can have a bigger impact than the QB position. Thus Cutler is by default the Batman of the offense even though your RB may put up the Batman-like numbers/stats.

      With Forte as our RB, he is growing into the perfect Robin to Cutler’s Batman, thats if Cutler can fully grow into Batman’s role. Cutler has the look of a great Batman and I think he can not only play the role but also put up the Batman-like stats but he hasn’t fully committed to playing the role and playing it great.

      We’ll see if this is the offseason Cutler embraces the Batman role because if he does, he’ll put up Batman like numbers.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        I think that Jake stated his case very well also.
        Perhaps they could take a page from the Giants who have worked to turn a natural Robin in Eli into more of a Batman.

      • ATC

        Nice comment, but all I can say is see Trent “whatever you do don’t throw the ball Dilfer with Baltimore. Other superstars or super talented groups can carry the team

        BTW Dilfer is one of the loudest in attacking Cutler. A bit ironic

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Fair enough, Jake. I agree that the QB pretty much needs to be the Batman. But like Arse pointed out, Cutler might be better suited to be in a Robin-like role.

        The best case scenario for the Bears could perhaps be if Forte grows into a Terrell Davis type of producer (which might be asking a lot), but that could allow Cutler to play more of a 1A type of role similar to what John Elway was when he finally won the Super Bowls late in his career.

        Of course, all such concerns could be moot if Cutler matures into the Batman role — or moot if he does the opposite and falls apart.

      • dave

        cutler needs a line in front to protect him

      • Jake from da burbs

        Arse… the Eli Manning example is an excellent one of a natural Robin playing the Batman role.

        There’s a two-fold maturation into Batman. Eli’s growth as a QB as well as the Giants putting more in Eli’s Utility Belt with Nicks, Smith, Boss etc. That second part is on Jerry Angelo who needs to bring in a tall physical WR for Cutler to throw to when he’s in trouble. I know those it doesn’t fit into Martz’s offense well but its a need for Cutler’s improvement.

  • Jake from da burbs


    Nice article. Solid comparison to Scottie’s situation but I think Jay Cutler’s future hinges on more fundamental changes and maturation from fully learning the QB position and all it entails.

    This offseason is Cutler’s biggest not because of how he’ll respond to this game and its effects. I dont question Cutler’s toughness physically or mentally. But its about whether Jay Cutler will finally do the things he MUST do to truly become a great QB. Granted, Angelo needs to beef up the OLine and WR corps but this offseason needs to be the time where Cutler devotes himself to his craft and his profession. It starts with QB fundamentals and mechanics. Its not Cutler’s toughness I worry, its his stubborness. Maybe the post-game events will spur him to look inside to change. It then continues in OWNING the playbook and knowing it inside and out. It finishes with taking Olsen, Knox, Bennett, and Hester and working with them this offseason to form a bond and to build a rapport. This is what it takes to be great QB in the NFL especially when you have the arm strength and can make every throw. Your fundamentals, Your playbook, Your receving corps. Look at Manning and Brady.. flawless fundamentals, photographic knowledge of the playbook, and working with your WR”s so they clearly know what you expect from them.

    One more thing… I’ve always wondered about Jay Cutler’s inconsistency and I wonder if maybe a better management of his diabetes before game and during game is in order. Diabetes is a tricky thing to manage and predict especially with adrenaline levels which can easily overamp someone or make them very lethargic. I am concerned of Cutler’s ability to play in big games and I believe this has produced such drastic inconsistency in his play. Just my theory.

    Regardless, this offseason is about Cutler’s commitment and resolve to be a great QB. If he OWNS it and wins football games, he’ll be more than fine and this game will not be one that defines him.

  • DOB

    As a lifelong Bulls fan, Pippen’s folly with 1.8 seconds left was much more damning than the “migrane game.”

    His sitdown with 1.8 seconds left against the Knicks came when he was supposed to be the leader of the team. I remember when Bulls fans wanted to strangle Pippen then, much like some Bears fans feel about Cutler today.

    However, Pippen’s legacy isn’t the sitdown or the migrane game. He bounced back to win titles. If Cutler can do the same, this will be a distant memory.

  • JB

    Regarding Cutler’s diabetes, I wonder why there hasn’t been more discussion concerning how that played into the decision to keep him out of the game. For instance, we’ve been treated to tales of “heroism” by other NFL players who continued to play despite ligament damage or other problems in their knees, legs, arms, you name it. But it’s my understanding that in such situations, docs and trainers can inject them with pain killers, such as cortisone, in addition to taping and braces, to help them manage the pain and play through it. However, for diabetics, such injections can be very, very dangerous, as they can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. And that can be fatal, if not managed properly. Diabetic shock is not something you can just “rub some dirt on,” grit your teeth and deal with.

    I’d like to know more about what impact this had, if any. Maybe someone with the ability to put the pieces together is reading this and can follow on it. For instance, did Philip Rivers in his now-famous ACL game get an injection of cortisone? Are there other alternatives to cortisone out there that won’t impact a diabetic? What is the proper procedure to help a player fight through pain caused by injury? What can be done to stabilize a knee, so a player can go back out on the field and play with some expectation of success, perhaps at an 85 to 90 percent level (because only a true Cutler Hater would actually believe at a 75-percent Cutler is not better than a 100 percent Caleb Hanie. And this is no slight to Hanie.)

    • ATC

      JB, I do not know what impact if any a cortisone injection would have on his diabetes. I am not sure if cortisone (a corticosteroid) affects blood sugar in any way shape or form. When injected, the cortisone is mostly local as opposed to systemic (meaning in the blood). However, the thing that few realize or mention, and if you listen to Zack Zaidman, Cutler tried to play after treatments and being told he couldn’t go. By treatments, they probably used some sort of drug for the pain. What most people fail to realize is that with significant tearing of a ligament, which is what a grade II tear is (grade III being a complete rupture), there is significant instability in the knee as well as swelling, and, the swelling would inhibit the muscles surrounding the knee from working appropriately to try and make up for the ligamentous instability.

      When Cutler went out for that first series, he probably realized that he could not plant properly and throw the ball the same way as a result of the instability NOT the pain. With the instability, he risked by continuing to play, even more serious injuries that could potentially end his career. Furthermore, let’s not forget a somewhat ineffective offensive line at protecting Cutler against a GREAT defense and great scheme where he had no ability to escape pressure with the injured knee. Look at the game again, and you will see that Caleb Hanie was running and moving in the pocket A LOT to make the throws he did. With the instability, Cutler would not have been able to move that way and he would have either been sacked repeatedly, injured further, or thrown numerous interceptions. I’m even willing to go as far as to say the Bears would have been shut out if Cutler played the whole game following the injury.

      As for your question about stabilizing the knee, there are braces with metal hinges that can be used. One has to realize is that Cutler to my knowledge has never suffered an injury that would have had him ever in a brace, and anyone who has worn one will tell you it takes some getting used to. Again though, one cannot discount the swelling that can inhibit muscle function as well as affect fitting a non-custom knee brace. The swelling he would be suffering would be blood from the torn ligament, a Dr. could stick a needle in and drain it, but with an acute injury like that, it is still going to bleed and continue to swell.

  • Bernard Smith

    What do Jay Cutler and a waterskiing squirell have in common? Not much – this lil guy didnt quit half way through his show!


    What a miserable way to freeze my butt off at the game!

    Sure Scottie let us down in that game, but the next couple years sure eased the pain! I’ll compare Cutler and Pippen as soon as we have won a Super Bowl (or 6)

    • ATC

      We???? Let everyone know when you sign that contract with the Bears

      • Wando

        haha, love that you took issue with a point of grammar and not how mean the comment was!

  • abe gibron's inevitable return

    Yes he will follow in Pippen’s footsteps – he will be wrongly named as one of the 50 best NBA players of all-time.

  • Chad's CO twin

    I take back what I said about Cuttler on your FB post, namely that he was a bitc-you know what. But I still don’t get the feeling that he’s a team player, just from watching his actions on the sidelines. I like to see heart, not a QB going back to the locker room alone before 1/2. No question he’s a good, potentially great, QB, but Haine appears to love the game more… although all 3rd strings might look that way when they get some play time. I would have liked to see Cuttler win the game just to make a stronger bond with the players, fans, and city. Not to mention defeat Green Bay.

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