By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Comedian Gary Gulman does a bit about watching “The Karate Kid” as a child and how differently he sees it as an adult. It’s funny, so you should check it out.READ MORE: Man Shot And Killed In East Garfield Park
The basic premise is that after the initial unsolicited beatdown on Daniel, he can understand why the Cobra-Kai continues to beat him up. Gulman can more easily identify with Johnny and the crew now than he did 25 years ago.
This is how I feel about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. I find myself rooting for him to succeed this year, more than any other since he was acquired in a trade in 2009.
That’s not to say that I believe in Cutler. That would be foolish. His NFL resume is representative of who he is as a quarterback (he led the NFL in turnovers last season with 24). This is stuff you already know. You know that he has intoxicating measurables that for myriad reasons don’t manifest themselves during games. He’s infuriating and maddening to watch. His inability to reach his potential has led to plenty of offensive coordinators and a couple of head coaches getting fired. I freely offer this up and won’t make an attempt to defend what has been underwhelming stint as the Bears’ signal-caller.
The reason I find myself rooting for Cutler this year is because there’s a bit of role reversal going on. Where before it was easy to assign Cutler the role of Johnny from the Cobra-Kai — especially since Cutler’s public demeanor is reminiscent of plenty of the bully characters that Billy Zabka brilliantly portrayed in the ’80s — the last year saw Cutler being treated more like Daniel, with no Mr. Miyagi in sight.
There are three instances from last season that helped shape my opinion:
1. The hatchet job that the ESPN crew did on him during the Saints game: Jon Gruden isn’t really known for attacking players. Everyone is usually “great” or “unreal” or “a genius.” This felt different. Only a year after praising Cutler as a “gun-slinger,” Gruden was now taking him to task for it.READ MORE: Ed's Tech Notes: Apple Cutting Production On iPhone 13, Twitter's New Feature, Drone Delivers Lungs For Transplant
Let me tell you a bit about how this works. When a game is being televised nationally, the national crew usually gets the run of the complex. They get incredible access to the facility, the players and the coaches. It allows them to set up their storylines for our viewing pleasure. That’s not inherently wrong. TV crews need to prepare production for things that might make the broadcast better. Yet it seemed clear that Gruden’s talking points about Jay were coming from the coaches. And one can assume that’s true considering instance No. 2.
2. Aaron Kromer breaking bad on Cutler to Ian Rapaport: Kromer, the team’s offensive coordinator in 2014, anonymously criticized Cutler for his game management and decision-making, then outed himself as the leak and apologized to Cutler in front of the whole team. It was so messed up that it angered Aaron Rodgers, who told the NFL Network, “If you have unnamed sources, people out there cutting you down, and then you find out it’s the person calling the plays — that would be really hard to deal with, to look at him the same way.” It was open season on Cutler. Most teammates stayed out of the fray, but one in particular didn’t.
3. Brandon Marshall goes in on Culter: To stick with our Karate Kid theme, this was the “sweep the leg” moment. Marshall became the loudest voice in the choir of people going after Cutler when he admitted to ESPN that, “I’d have buyer’s remorse too.”
No one fought harder to get Marshall to Chicago than Cutler. No one was a bigger cheerleader or advocate for Marshall than Cutler. It felt like a betrayal, and the floodgates of criticism opened up. The war of words has continued, with Marshall offering further negative opinions about Cutler, as recently as last week. In return, Cutler hasn’t said much about Marshall, except for the quality retort, “No one really likes their ex-girlfriend just after a breakup.” Marshall offered up that the two haven’t talked since the end of the season.
(Side note: In the last 20 years, there have only been four players in the NFL that have been traded three times. Marshall is one of those four. Even with his incredible catching radius, ridiculous level of toughness and statistical Hall of Fame numbers, Marshall might need to look at the man in the mirror.)
In all three of these cases, Cutler — perhaps surprisingly — took the high road. He could’ve acted childishly but didn’t. He was a better teammate to Jimmy Clausen, who replaced him as the starter after the Saints game, than Marshall had been to Cutler.
Cutler hasn’t always been particularly polite to broadcasters and writers, and in turn they have taken every chance to kick sand in his face. You’ll see it more as season previews continue. Bad behavior from eight years ago pops up in the Cutler discussion, even today. He’s an easy target, a hack punchline and a mascot for Marlboro. It doesn’t seem fair, especially when there’s on-the-field evidence that makes arguments against him sufficiently.
When you add it all up, in my eyes it’s made him a sympathetic character. It’s made him a flawed anti-hero. My hope, not expectation, is that Cutler can get it right this season. You think he knows how to do a Crane Kick?MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Warm Temps For The Bears Game
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.