- Chris Jones
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I LOVE JAY CUTLER. I don't mean love the way teenage girls mean it, "luv" in big bubble letters, baby-faced idol love. My love is singular, and it will never be outgrown. I don't mean love the way a craftsman might admire a perfect object. My love is not so mathematical. I don't mean love the way the hunter loves the lion or the sailor loves the sea. My love is fearless. I don't even mean love the way I love my children, because my children sometimes make it hard to love them, but I always love Jay Cutler.
I'm being serious. Maybe you can't understand my love, or believe in it, but that doesn't make it any less real. Looking back, I can't remember the moment I fell for him, because it wasn't instantaneous, some crush doomed to fizzle. My love was built slowly but to last, like a railway. I know it didn't begin when he was at Vanderbilt, because who gives a crap about Vanderbilt? It must have started when he was in Denver. But even then my love was not complete, perhaps because he was all promise, and true love, enduring love, is what comes after the promise of it. Love isn't love until it can survive routine, Sunday after crushing Sunday.
No, our love -- I sometimes say "our" instead of "my," because I believe Jay Cutler would love me back, if only he answered my letters and accepted my calls -- was born in Chicago, where he always belonged. I will confess that my love is partly aesthetic: He was made to wear a Bears uniform, or it was made for him. Cutler and Chicago are a perfect confluence of man and city, two weary second-placers somehow still flush with the hope that this year they will be first.
I would guess my love became full on just such a bittersweet day, in November 2011, when he was often brilliant against the Chargers, but he also broke his thumb. In his postgame news conference, Cutler sat behind the microphone, wearing a white cardigan that would have made a laughingstock of a less confident man, his hair magnificent as usual, and he was asked about a touchdown pass he'd threaded to tight end Kellen Davis. "It's a window," he said with his dreamy smirk. "I know I'm going to fit it in there. I've never questioned it and I never will."
Therein lies the truth of our love: We're both blind to anything that might threaten it. Cutler can't see the men who will intercept him, because he refuses to accept that such men might exist. His arm is too good for nongods to stop him. And my own love won't let me see those same impossible interceptions, even when there are four or five of them in a single game and the score indicates that they must have taken place. My mind turns them into completed passes thrown to players who put on the wrong shirts.
Whenever Cutler does or says something that maddens others, I find only buttresses for my affection. When he shoved left tackle J'Marcus Webb during a game last September, I saw a passionate man on his way to being sacked seven times. (When Peyton Manning glowers, it's called leadership; when Jay Cutler does, it's petulance.) I am likewise deaf to the accusations of Cutler's softness. Yes, he left midway through the 2010 NFC championship game with a knee sprain, but the following season he survived a brutal tackle by Ndamukong Suh, who buried him into the ground. Cutler could not have been blamed for being dead, never mind on the sideline. Instead, he played on.
And yet some people still look at him and see apathy; they Photoshop cigarettes between his fingers and smoke coming out of his mouth. Maybe that's the real reason I reserve so much of my love for Jay Cutler: He can seem so selective with his. It's a mistake to think he doesn't care about anything. I believe he cares so deeply about only a few things that his soul doesn't have room for anything else. He loves football, throwing footballs in particular, and he apparently loves some tiny blond woman from TV and their baby boy. That nothing else catches hold in him -- including what any of us think -- is his gift, not his curse. We should all be so lucky to have such single-minded hearts.
Why do I love Jay Cutler? Because he has taught me that it's not who or what we love that matters. It matters only that we do love, and that we are certain in it.
Jay Cutler is one of the most disliked athletes in America, but in ESPN The Magazine's NFL Preview issue, Chris Jones writes that America has it all wrong.