FURMAN BISHER: The Bears' cookie that crumbled

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Ben Rothlisberger opened his season in Milledgeville, chasing a Georgia peach through the back rooms of a night club. It cost him a suspension, but he made up for it when the Pittsburgh Steelers called his number Sunday, and now they're in the Super Bowl again.

When the Chicago Bears needed Jay Cutler in a most urgent cause, you found him coddled in a swaddling wrap on the bench, wearing an expression of angst.

This was to have been Cutler's moment of crowning glory, his passage to the championship of the NFL, and the Bears' return to the glory of the moment when they won pro football's first prelude to the Super Bowl, played in 1933.

Instead of Super Bowl anticipation around Chicago today, that great city is wallowing in anger and wonder -- wonder why their quarterback had sacked them.

Mike Ditka, who coached the Bears to their last championship, put it about as bluntly as it could be said. "I'd have had to be paralyzed to come out of that game," he said on a Tuesday morning broadcast.

Cutler had his defenders, teammates such as linebacker Brian Urlacher. The third-string quarterback, Caleb Hanie, who got into the game only because 16-year veteran Todd Collins was even more miserable than Cutler. Hanie came out of high school in Forney, Texas, by way of Colorado State, ignored in the NFL draft, and he gave the Bears hope. He led them to two touchdowns -- and yes, he was intercepted twice, once for a touchdown by a waddling tackle, B.J. Raji -- and all this without any team involvement in the last month or so.

Hanie was baffled by the criticism of Cutler and spoke out. (Remember, now, this is a guy whose NFL career was represented by 66 pasing yards before this game.) "I know he's not a quitter," Hanie said.

"He has been the most sacked quarterback in the league, and he kept getting up and coming back. He's not going to quit on his teammates," he also said, a team man to the end.

"He was a big help to me. 'Stay calm,' he told me. 'Trust the O-line.'" (That's "O" as in offensive.)

There was another uncommon angle to the matchup of Cutler and Aaron Rodgers -- whose tackle of Urlacher after the linebacker's interception was more a swing and a miss, and Urlacher's clumsiness Rodgers' younger brother, Jordan, is enrolled at Vanderbilt, after transfer from a junior college. His most attentive host on the campus has been Cutler, who was coach Bobby Johnson's Commodore quarterback. The two became good friends, and Aaron Rodgers showed Cutler his appreciation, so it has been written. "He has shown Jordan a lot of time," Aaron said.

Nevertheless, in Chicago, Bears fans are in a sullen mood. They want some proof of Cutler's condition, and that wasn't forthcoming when it developed that the quarterback came down with a knee that was sprained, rather than torn, as first indicated.

Whatever, the better team won, the superior quarterback prevailed and the other quarterback has a more critical injury to mend than one physical. These next days are going to be sensitive in the career of Jay Cutler in his relationship with the Bears fans, and there's nothing more nasty than a bear in a bad mood. This is a relationship that will simmer for a long time.

Cutler comes from Santa Claus, Ind., and even old Santa would have a tough time bringing joy into this grumblesome mix.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books profiling major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Citizen.