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.
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.