Sports fans loudly cheer for buzzer-beating shots and the game-winning touchdown, but one thing they silently acknowledge is effort, essentially because they expect it.
Effort leads to all those amazing shots and catches, so perhaps the praise is implied. Still, fans tend to acknowledge a lack of effort with boos far more often than they cheer the presence of it.
The country saw evidence of this when Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler had to leave the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. Or rather, when he chose to leave the game.
Cutler left the game in the third quarter for what was simply reported at the time as a knee injury. As the game progressed, broadcasters for FOX heard that Cutler thought he had injured it sometime in the second quarter, but that he wasn’t sure of the exact play.
The injury had Cutler stranded on the sidelines, standing expressionless in one of those long winter coats.
The majority of fans were outraged by this development. I’m sure the Bears losing had a lot to do with it, but a lack of effort did too.
This issue has two parts: facts and perceptions. Both compose the reality that is the Jay Cutler and Bears fans world right now.
First, here are the facts:
The Bears were down 14-0 when Cutler left the game. They performed better in the final 18 minutes with third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie.
It turns out Cutler had a grade 2, medium or partial, MCL tear.
Teammates defended his toughness and the existence of a serious injury.
Now, here is the perception:
It seemed like Cutler quit. Many Bears fans expressed this during the week that followed the NFC Championship loss, saying how they were not too keen on the early exit.
The fact that Cutler is also known for his inconsistency and spent most of the second half standing expressionless on the sidelines didn’t help either.
“It just always seems like it’s ‘Good Jay this’ or ‘Bad Jay that,’” Butler junior and Bears fan Stefania Nikoloski said. “That good/bad game is getting old.”
Former and current NFL players shared a similar opinion, one on the same side of the issue.
Trent Dilfer, a 1997 Pro Bowler and quarterback of the Super Bowl XXXV-winning Baltimore Ravens, was not heated and did not jump to conclusions in his discussion of the injury, but even he said, “Regardless of what the injury is, you have to finish this game.”
Former lineman Mike Golic chimed in on ESPN Radio.
“You would’ve had to have dragged my dead body off the field to get me out of an NFC Championship game,” Golic said.
Additionally, like all great celebrity opinions in this digital era, they were expressed on Twitter.
The Twitterverse exploded with players giving their unedited opinions.
Another former lineman, Mark Schlereth, spoke about playing with an injured knee on the website. It said, “As a guy [who] had 20 knee surgeries you’d have to drag me out on a stretcher to leave a Championship Game! #justsaying.”
Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said he expected to see the surgery on Cutler’s knee live on television to prove the injury’s existence and severity.
Maurice Jones-Drew simultaneously took a shot at Cutler and former University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer: “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is in effect right now… When the going gets tough……..Quit.”
Jones-Drew is a former UCLA player currently trapped amongst Florida Gator fans as the Jacksonville Jaguars running back, so there is an unabated emotional side to his response.
However, his brutal honesty exemplified what sports fans truly care about: a display of effort above and beyond what any of them would show.
The fans want to see something greater than themselves—not a jacket-donning, partially-injured quarterback who wasn’t winning the game in the first place.
When watching sports, I am always a fan, not a fanatic. I see the game from a very intellectual perspective and tend to naturally experience the game as if I’m making the coaching decisions. I don’t understand the fans that scream at the referees for a good call against their team, and I shake my head at coaches who use timeouts at inapproriate times.
But I am with fans and fanatics alike on this issue. Cutler should have tried to grin and bear it through more of the second half.
If he had to leave the game when he did, I don’t need to see him carried off the field on a stretcher or constantly grimacing on the sidelines to confirm a serious and play-ending injury.
However, as much as the doctors may have told him not to play, he should have told them he was going back into the game, or at least sat down and iced his knee.
Fans and analysts alike are not mad that Cutler got injured, and they’re not entirely mad that he wasn’t shown putting up a fight to re-enter the game by FOX.
They’re upset because it seemed like he didn’t care about getting back in the game or its outcome. I never once noticed him suggesting adjustments to coaches or mentoring either of the quarterbacks who replaced him.
The effort just wasn’t there.
It’s easy to understand Cutler’s early exit from a medical standpoint, but it is incredibly difficult to respect his reactions and demeanor post-injury.