|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler wasn't having it. Philip Rivers wasn't getting into it either.
Their well-publicized AFC West spat, dating back to 2007, is old news, unfortunately for us, and neither quarterback fired on the other in interviews Wednesday with a hopeful Chicago media.
Like most media sessions at Halas Hall, or anywhere really, Wednesday was a letdown. An expected one, sure -- I mean, what kind of psychopath would still be upset about a trash-talking episode from 2007? -- but a letdown nonetheless.
The Bears are on a roll, winners of four straight, and the San Diego Chargers come to town desperate to stop a four-game losing streak. This marks the first of four straight games against the putrid AFC West for Chicago, and the Bears will be favored in all four games.
There isn't enough pre-packaged drama in the run-up to an average NFL game, let alone two teams that play every four years.
Thanks to recent games, Bears-Lions is now a rivalry like the ones Cutler left behind in Denver. Now, Cutler makes nice with his NFC North quarterback brethren. He helped Aaron Rodgers' kid brother into Vanderbilt, for god's sake. I don't remember Henry Burris showing that love to Brett Favre.
So yeah, the Cutler-Rivers showdown is an easy storyline for this week's matchup between the Bears and Chargers.
But since they weren't really talking about it, I tried to start a dust-up between backups Caleb Hanie and Billy Volek. Hanie refused to admit one exists, though.
"No," Hanie said, laughing. "He's been in the league awhile, hasn't he?"
That's true. Volek should be Hanie's role model. The 36-year-old was signed by Tennessee in 2000, and he built a name as a solid backup who can put up the occasional 400-yard game, and even win a playoff game in relief.
While Hanie tried to fight off my entreaties, Cutler, as is his wont, stiff-armed initial inquiries into his rivalry with Rivers, which blew up when Rivers joined some defensive teammates in seemingly taunting Cutler on the field during a 2007 game.
Some frostiness continued and in a 2008 interview, Cutler told a now-defunct national talk show, "I'm just not that big of a fan of the guy. I don't like how he carries himself. I don't like some of the stuff he does on the field."
It was a natural rivalry as both quarterbacks were around the same age, operating in high-octane offenses, and both are pretty cocky.
Now, of course, Rivers is on Cutler's pay-no mind list. He's basically re-invented himself in Chicago as a sophisticated clotheshorse with the celebrity girlfriend. I'm not even sure Rivers could recognize his old foe without the abandoned Southern swoop haircut.
"I haven't played against him in a few years, so it's kind of different," Cutler said Wednesday. "It's something that's in the past.
"He's a great player. He's still putting up big numbers. They're going to throw the ball down the field. Defensively the way we're playing, hopefully we can shut him down."
In his conference call, Rivers, in his best aw-shucks Alabama tone, said the incident was overblown in the first place.
"We've spoken in the past since then, whether it was at the coin toss or postgame," he said. "It wasn't as if we were big buddies beforehand and had a falling-off. I have nothing against Jay. I think he's a heck of a player and one thing you know about him is he's a super competitor. One thing he's doing right now is leading his team. They've won four in a row and I'm fighting like crazy just to get a win."
That we even remember this incident shows how unlikely a quarterback-on-quarterback drama is in a league where the QBs are more likely to exchange advice about golf clubs or financial advisers.
"I think that's why it got blown up so much," Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said. "It's a rare moment when you see two quarterbacks going at it, because they really have nothing to do with each other. It just creates a little fire in their rivalry."
Rivers looked to be the winner there even before Cutler bailed out of Denver. He played in seven playoff games before Cutler made his first postseason appearance last season, and was generally regarded as a more complete player.
Now, things have started to shift, if only a little. The reeling Chargers are in a three-way tie for second in the AFC West at 4-5. They missed the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record, finishing one game back of the Chiefs.
Rivers is having his worst season as a pro with 15 interceptions, nine more than Cutler, who has settled down in his second year under Mike Martz. But Rivers is still beating Cutler in completion percentage, 61.4 percent to 58, despite throwing 69 more passes.
However, Cutler's team is 6-3 and looking good, and as Rivers alluded to, his team is fading fast. Hanie wouldn't say if Cutler is privately awaiting this matchup, but he also couldn't promise there wouldn't be some back-and-forth between the two quarterbacks.
Cutler, of course, is more likely to engage with the defense, like he did in the Detroit game after Cliff Avril nailed him with a late hit. Maybe he'll talk trash with former teammate Tommie Harris. Or if Rivers really annoys him, he'll just yell at quarterbacks coach Shane Day.
"He's pretty fiery in that way," Hanie said. "I think our whole team is like that a little bit. We're not going to take anything from anybody, but we're not going to go out and instigate anything either."
The real story of this game is the Bears needing to avoid any kind of letdown after beating Philadelphia and Detroit in consecutive weeks. And while I pray for conflict, and an easy story, Cutler's best bet is to let his play do his talking.Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.