On display yesterday was one of the things I dislike most about sports, especially the NFL. No, it’s not the losing. That I can handle. (I’m a sCrUBS fan, remember?) What I can’t stand is the idea that if you play through injuries, you are tough and if you don’t, you are a wimp.
On the surface, I get it. Sports take a physical and mental toll on you and if you can’t trust that your teammate is giving his or her all, then they are no good to you as a member of the team. If it’s not broken or bleeding, then keep playing. While there is some degree of bravery to this, there is a larger dose of foolishness, too. Is it really the brave thing to go out there and risk your body to keep playing? Or is it the brave thing to say, I’m injured and I have become a detriment to the team, so put somebody else out there (knowing that the world is probably going to be questioning your gonadal fortitude)?
This is why I have never been that impressed by the consecutive games played streaks by Brett Favre and Cal Ripken, Jr. Sure it takes a lot of toughness (and some luck) to play all of those games in a row. Especially so for Brett Favre, who had multiple documented roadblocks of injury to over come (bone chips, tendon tears) where people continue to ask, “Is This The End of The Streak?” But you know what else it required? A lot of selfishness.
How much better could Cal’s Orioles been in the 80’s and early 90’s if their star shortstop would have sat down and rested a few days? Would the 2008 Jets been better off if Brett Favre would have put his ego aside and sat out because his torn biceps rendered him much less effective? (Sure he threw only 2 TD’s versus 8 interceptions, but he was so tough! He played through the pain!) Even when the streak was already broken, Favre still couldn’t help himself, basically saying “Look at me! I’m tough!” when he somehow pulled himself together enough physically to be able to start the Bears-Vikings Monday Night Football game. This despite the fact he had no business playing in this meaningless game where the Vikings had nothing to play for and would have been better served trying to evaluate the prospects of the other quarterbacks they have on the team. The brave and right thing to do was act in the best interest of the team. But as usual, Brett only acted in the best interest of Brett.
The times when players play through remarkable pain/injuries successfully (Jack Youngblood playing Super Bowl XIV with a broken leg, Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals (although of course no one remembers that he really didn’t play much in that game. He walked out for warm-ups, scored a quick 2 points and then pretty much sat on the bench the rest of the game), Michael Jordan’s flu game in the 1998 NBA Finals) are commemorated in the lore of sports, but no one remembers all of the players who have gone out and played injured and been relatively (or even largely) ineffective, because that is not memorable and no one writes glowing prose about players who performed hurt, but in a mediocre fashion.
Looking back at the game yesterday, Jay Cutler clear was not playing particularly well. From the beginning of the game he was missing throws badly on receivers who were relatively open. Because of this, there is no way to differentiate when “Playing Poorly” Jay morphed into “Playing Poorly and Injured” Jay. On his last pass attempt he threw poorly off while leaning backwards on his right (and non-injured) leg. Jay does not exactly have the best mechanics and has been known to make throws off his back foot on occasion, so no one can say for sure if this was because of injury or not. But having watched the game, I believe it points to the fact that he didn’t feel comfortable planting on his injured knee to throw effectively. And if your quarterback can’t plant his leg and throw effectively, then what the heck is he doing out there? (Add in trying to avoid the frenetic rush of the Packer defense on a gimpy leg and this is becoming a recipe for disaster.) Getting out of the game appears to have been the right thing to do.
The worst part about all of this is the “commentary” from all sorts of current and former players. Some of my favorites include Maurice Jones-Drew bragging about how he played the whole season with an injured knee (although he seemed to have forgotten that with his team’s playoff hopes on the line in each of the Jaguars’ last three games, he played ineffectively injured against the Colts and then DIDN’T PLAY in the last two games of the season) and then Derrick Brooks saying that 50% of Jay Cutler would be better than no Jay Cutler at all (which made me say… Were you watching the game? Clearly 50% of Jay Cutler was not better than 100% of Caleb Hanie).
Saddest of all is that, by and large, NFL players seem to indicate that they want their teammates and competitors to be drama-free. Yet what was everyone’s biggest complaint about Jay? If he really was hurt, he wasn’t acting hurt enough. Where were the ice bags and crutches and being wheeled off on a stretcher or cart, he was just standing on the sideline stoically etc. etc. etc. Of course, this is all nonsense, because if he did make a big show out of being injured, he’d be getting ripped for that too.
Whenever someone outside of the situation starts questioning the way you are acting in a certain situation, that is an open invitation to actively disregard what ever ridiculousness that person is spewing. In the end, all those “Twitter QB’s” are right about one thing, what this is all about is image. Jay Cutler doesn’t fit what everyone’s image of a quarterback should be (outgoing, gregarious, playful with the media) and instead appears to be aloof and curmudgeonly. So they find another reason to find fault with him and they start ripping him.
I don’t know Jay Cutler at all. I’ve never met him and I don’t know anyone who has. But from what I have read lately, it sounds like his biggest problem is that he is a very private and introverted person who lets his frustrations show visibly on his face (and he has questionable taste in women, at least if you were more of a fan of LC). And after all of this (and in no small part because of my penchant for Underdogs) I now have a new player to root for. I only wish that the season was just starting for him and the Bears instead of just ending. Because with the way his teammates have been voraciously defending him, I can easily see this being something that can galvanize a team, forge an identity and carry them to greatness. Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis anyone?