- Michael Wilbon, Pardon the Interruption co-host
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Apparently it has been so long now people have forgotten that December Monday night in 1985 at the Orange Bowl in Miami when the Chicago Bears lost the only game of their greatest season.
OK, it's not the loss that's important to this discussion but the drama, specifically the halftime dustup featuring Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan. To recap: Ryan was trying to cover the Miami Dolphins' explosive receiver, Nat Moore, with linebacker Wilber Marshall. It wasn't working, but that didn't dissuade Ryan one bit. So an enraged Ditka told his defensive coordinator, "We can do it any way you want to. We can go right out back and get it on or you can shape your [butt] up."
Which brings me to Jay Cutler and Mike Tice and their little episode on Monday night in Dallas. In the age of relentless Facebook posts and anybody with a pair of thumbs tweeting after every down, an annoyed quarterback walking away from his coach in a heated moment during a football game equals an enormously big deal, to be chewed on all week.
OK, it can't be ignored when former Bear Desmond Clark tweets during the game, as was reported by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, "Jay has to stop with his antics." Because Cutler's got a bad behavior video reel now and because he walked away from Tice on national television during MNF, Cutler has taken some shots this week.
I'm just not sure he should.
Look, it's fair to wonder if a quarterback with Cutler's demeanor can lead a team to a Super Bowl because when have we seen a sourpuss QB do it? But suppose Cutler jumping people now and then actually works for the Bears? Hasn't J'Marcus Webb played better since that whole screaming, bumping thing with Cutler in Green Bay? I'm just asking. For that matter, didn't the Bears begin a five-game winning streak last season after Cutler dropped that F-bomb on Mike Martz, which led to the offensive coordinator calling much smarter plays? I'm just asking. Didn't the Bears' offense get a whole lot better Monday night after Cutler blew off Tice for a few minutes?
I guess you can call these coincidences until we get a larger sample size. But if it keeps working, you shrug and let Cutler keep doing his thing, even if he does look petulant or sour during games. But the larger issue here is the presumption that everybody on a team has to hold hands and sing "Kumbayah" every day. That's nonsense. Folks who've followed the Bears really should know better.
Ditka was ready to meet Ryan out behind the Orange Bowl to duke it out. At least one Pro Bowler I know of on that team couldn't stand Jim McMahon. It didn't matter. It never does if you win. Chemistry is such a mysterious thing. Maybe Webb plays better if he's annoyed with Cutler. Maybe Cutler has a better feel for play calling than Tice, and had every right to be impatient. Maybe Cutler is the excitable ying to Lovie Smith's flat-line yang.
I like the engaged and animated Cutler, even if it's high-rish and over-the-top. It seems to be naturally who he is. What I didn't like was the Cutler from a couple of years ago who would sit by himself, pouting, at the end of the bench after throwing a pick. I know the Bears' defensive players hated it, too, because it suggested to them he was detached from the rest of the team, unaccountable. Getting after Webb and Tice was anything but that.
And also well taken is Cutler's assertion on ESPN 1000 last week, "If I yell on the sideline, I get killed. If I don't say anything, I get killed. If I walk away, I get killed. It's a no-win situation."
Anybody who can remember the daily goings-on of the '85 Bears and '96 Bulls, the two greatest teams in Chicago sports history and perhaps the greatest football and basketball teams in the history of sports in America, should know better than to invest too heavily in the notion that vanilla behavior is necessary to win championships.
Those Bulls, remember, had Dennis Rodman, who in the middle of that historic 72-win season, asked for and was granted days off to go to Las Vegas. Rodman, if that team was playing now, would monopolize Twitter sports conversation. Can you imagine the depth and volume of the coverage now if a celebrity as big as Rodman was just to show up in Vegas during the middle of a historic season? As smart a player as Rodman was, he was two handfuls to manage and it took every moment of Zen Phil Jackson could muster plus enormous assistance from Michael Jordan, on a daily basis, to keep Rodman in line and make the whole thing work.
You think Jackson, Jordan, Rodman and Scottie Pippen didn't walk away from one another, annoyed as hell during a game?
Cutler, by the way, wound up playing his best game by far this season in Dallas, and it really didn't get started until after blowing off Tice. Perhaps Tice, embarrassed as he must have felt, has to simply grit his teeth and take one for the team. What, Tice never embarrassed a player in the 16 years he has been coaching in the NFL? Never went back at an assistant coach during his 13-year NFL playing career? Spare me the "poor Mike Tice" rant, as if Cutler so humiliated Tice that he can't function at capacity going forward. Nonsense. If Tice wants to grab Cutler by the collar the next time in response, then Cutler will vent or walk at his own risk. Why should anybody confuse professional football with the Glee Club?
Creative tension may be exactly the elixir that gives the Bears real chemistry.
In the meantime, the most impressive thing about the Bears, postgame, may have been the calm of the locker room after throttling the Cowboys in Dallas. There wasn't a strut or a jersey pop in the room. The Bears acted as though they'd just finished a mid-week practice, which bodes well for Jacksonville on Sunday, anyway, that they didn't waste time celebrating a third win of the season.
Maybe the offense will function in a way that Cutler won't need to jump anybody, teammate or coach. If he does, that would be a helluva lot better than acting like nothing happened.
I liked the Cutler I saw Monday night in Dallas, the 275 passing yards, two touchdowns thrown, even taking exception with Tice. Most people saw in that act a lack of leadership. But I'm allowing, at least for now, for the possibility that Cutler was showing leadership, at least in his unorthodox way.
The only thing he needs to do afterward is own it, step to the mic after the game and say, "Yeah, I was ticked off at Coach Tice in the moment, but we're done with it now."
If walking away from an assistant coach in the competitive heat of a game is the biggest criticism of Jay Cutler over the next few weeks, the Bears could be onto something.
5dEric D. Williams
5dMel Kiper Jr.