Jay Cutler has been a Bears fan since he was a small child growing up in Santa Claus, Indiana. But he was stumped when asked if he could remember the last time Bears fans had the kind of over-the-top expectations for a quarterback as they do for him.
"I don't think I was alive," Cutler said, drawing laughs all around the Halas Hall auditorium late last week at his first press conference as a Chicago Bear. "It's been a while. I think expectations are high everywhere in this league. Obviously, in this town it's going to be a little bit higher because of the fans and how much they do love and cherish the Bears."
Most Bears observers have to go back to the 1940s and Sid Luckman to find a comparison to Cutler, who has already thrown for more yards in a season than any quarterback in Bears history. Cutler was stumped again when asked if he could live up to Luckman, a five-time All-Pro quarterback who played on four Bears NFL championship teams but retired 33 years before Cutler was born.
"I'm going to have to do some research on Sid," Cutler said.
The 6-3, 233-pound, rocket-armed Cutler turns 26 at the end of the month but is already considered one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. He leaves the impression that he knows he's something special, but he's good enough that he doesn't have to convince anyone.
Fans seem to be unanimous in their adulation of and excitement over the prospect of Cutler leading the Bears to the Promised Land, even though there are more than five months until the season opener.
"It's a little humbling," he said. "To grow up a Bears fan and watch this organization for so long and then to come full circle and have an opportunity to play, it's a dream come true."
Cutler threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. That's 688 more yards than Erik Kramer's Bears record, and Cutler's career passer rating of 87.1 is well ahead of Kramer's franchise-best career mark of 80.7.
But Cutler shuns the "savior" label.
"I don't see myself as that at all," he said. "In this, what I've learned over the past three years, is that it takes offense, defense, special teams and great coaching. If you don't have all four of those, you're not going to go very far."
Last season on a Broncos team that featured one of the NFL's worst defenses and was hit by an epidemic of season-ending injuries at running back, Cutler was forced to throw 616 times. Only the Saints' Drew Brees put it up more often.
That's in direct contrast to head coach Lovie Smith's mantra that the Bears "get off the bus running the football."
That's fine with Cutler, who would rather throw less and win more. But he said he might try to persuade Smith, who was sitting next to him at the press conference looking as happy as a kid with a new toy.
"I might maybe sway him a little bit," Cutler said with a grin, "but you have to run the football in this league. I found out the hard way last year. We threw and threw and threw and threw. Certain times, when we needed to run it, we weren't able to. Guys did a great job of trying to make up for it. But if you can't stop the run, or if you can't run the ball in this league, you're not going to win the big one."
The addition of Cutler makes the Bears believe from top to bottom that they now have what it takes to win a lot of big ones.
"Each and every year our goal is the same: It's to win the division, make the playoffs and win a championship," said general manager Jerry Angelo, who swung the deal for Cutler. "We put ourselves in a position to [be] one step closer to doing that. When that opportunity presented itself to us, we seized the moment. We feel very good about not only his play but what he's going to add to our football team and our locker room through his leadership as well."
Those positive attributes weren't on display in the weeks leading up to the trade, when Cutler was vilified in the media. He was described as a "petulant, spoiled cry baby" and worse for forcing a trade. But he hopes to change the minds of those who have a negative opinion of him.
"I think that all will come in time," he said. "My teammates will see what kind of guy I am. The fans will see what kind of player I am, on and off the field. I'm going to be active in the community. My foundation (the Jay Cutler Foundation, which benefits at-risk youth) is going to get involved in Chicago."
But Cutler said he knows he won't win over everyone overnight.
"I'm not going to change everyone's mind [right away]," he said. "It's just not going to happen. There's going to be good articles, there's going to be bad articles, but hopefully over time I can win everybody over."
There's no question Cutler left Denver on bad terms, and he takes some of the blame, but he's anxious to get past the whole situation.
"There are some things that I'd do differently, and I think there are some things the Broncos would do differently," he said. "In the end, it was just a situation that I think both parties felt that it was best if we part ways. I think the Broncos are happy with the decision, they're happy with how it turned out, and I think the Bears are, too."
He's definitely right about the Bears.