NFL quarterbacks know there can be a fine line between cockiness and overconfidence. Jay Cutler has been living on that line since the day he arrived at his first pro training camp. After experiencing the highs and lows of playing in John Elway’s shadow in Denver, Jay found a home in Chicago—where strong-armed, strong-willed QBs have been making headlines since the 1930s. A high-profile star on a team constructed primarily of role players, he is the focus of attention before, during and after every game he plays. Those who know Jay know he wouldn’t have it any other way. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Jay Cutler was born on April 29, 1983, in Santa Claus, Indiana. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) (The Broncos website lists his birthplace as Columbus, Georgia, but it’s the only media outlet that does.) Jay’s parents—Jack and Sandy—would later welcome two daughters into the world, Jenna and Joy. The Cutlers lived in a subdivision called Christmas Village—a manageable trip south of Evansville. 

Jay was a chip off the old block. His dad also grew up in the Hoosier state and had been a great athlete in his youth. An All-State running back in high school, Jack accepted a scholarship to Indiana State. But he dropped out after his freshman year—a decision he regrets to this day. Next he became a police officer. That life didn’t suit him either. Eventually, Jack started his own concrete business, Cutler & Son Concrete. Already he had Jay’s future in mind.

Jack was a hard worker, and he passed this same ethic onto his son. By the time he turned five, Jay was helping out on concrete jobs. By his 11th birthday, he was laying driveways and sidewalks. The work was grueling—and Jay loved it.

Jay’s other passion was sports. He started watching Monday Night Football with Jack as a three-year-old. During commercials, the two would play catch with a Nerf football in the living room.

Jay got his first taste of organized football in 1989. His parents signed him up for a flag league. Jay hated it—he wanted the real thing. Jack found a full-pads, contact league for his soon in Evansville. The two happily made the 40-minute drive for practice and games.

By then, Jay had become a diehard fan of Chicago teams. Nothing was more agonizing for him than watching Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers beat his beloved Bears. But at the same time, Jay couldn’t help but admire the quarterback’s brazen style of play. 

That was clear on the field. Jay was blessed with a strong arm that youth league coaches noticed immediately. He was also a natural leader. Jay began playing quarterback in Pop Warner. A powerful and fast athlete, he was also a terror on defense.

By the time Jay entered Heritage Hills High School in the fall of 1997, he was a known commodity to Patriots football coach Bob Clayton. Jay spent his first season on the freshman team. The following year, he was tabbed as as a two-way starter on the varsity, at quarterback and safety.

Heritage Hills—in Lincoln City—draws students from about a dozen surrounding towns. For most sophomores, walking into a locker room full of unfamiliar faces is an intimidating experience. Not for Jay. He assumed control of the team from his first day on the varsity. In his first start, he passed for a touchdown, ran for another and ran back a punt for a third. Jay finished his sophomore season with 1,000 yards and 10 TDs through the air.

Jay improved on those numbers as a junior, passing for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns The Patriots went 11-1, and he earned All-Area, All-Conference and All-State honors.

Jay’s senior year was one for the record books. He led Heritage Hills to a 15-0 mark and the state championship. The Patriots averaged an astounding 51.4 points a game. Jay completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,252 yards and 31 touchdowns. He ran for 493 yards and six more scores. He also returned six kicks, an interception and a fumble al the way. Not surprisingly, Jay was named first team All-State and the Indiana Offensive Player of the Year.

His best moment came in the state semi-finals against Roncalli High School. Nursing a sore sprained ankle, Jay picked off three passes and handled the offense from the shotgun. Heritage Hills won easily.


 

 

 


Brett Favre,
Black Book Partners Archive

     
 

Before the final against Zionsville High School, the Patriots got a pep talk from Indianapolis Colts tight end Ken Dilger, who had graduated from Heritage Hills 10 years earlier. Despite Dilger’s speech, the team struggled. Jay was uncharacteristically bad, throwing three interceptions. The Patriots regrouped and took the state title.

Jay assumed he was headed to Illinois to continue his football career. The Illini had showed more interest in him than any other major program in the area. But coach Ron Turner changed his mind and settled on prep star Matt Dlugolecki to be his quarterback of the future. Cutler later learned that former Notre Dame star Ron Powlus, a cousin of Dlugolecki's, had sold Turner on the high school All-American.

Unsure of his next move, Jay heard from the coaching staff at Vanderbilt. A perennial SEC doormat, the Commodores were looking for a new quarterback after the graduation of Greg Zolman, the school’s all-time leading passer. They saw Jay as a potential four-year starter.  

ON THE RISE

Vanderbilt’s Nashville campus proved to be a big change for Jay. “Music City” was home to celebrities of all kinds, including Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, supermodel Niki Taylor, and Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. Players from the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators were regular denizens of the downtown scene. 

Jay, however, was focused on two things: football and education. He redshirted as a freshman in 2001 but spent hour after hour in the film room. On the field, he showed the intelligence and athletic ability that made him a blue-chip prospect.  

Away from the field, Jay took his studies seriously. His parents—Jack, in particular—had long impressed upon Jay the importance of a good education. They didn’t want to see him squander the opportunity in front of him.

Jay’s freshman season was a learning experience. He won the starting job, but the speed of the college game overwhelmed him at times. Compounding the problem was the fact that Vandy ran the option. That limited Jay’s ability to strike from the air. The Commodores had a typical year, posting a 2-10 record. Jay was a bright spot, throwing for 10 touchdowns and running for nine more.

Vandy didn’t improve the following season, in 2003. The Commodores went 2-10 again. The same couldn’t be said of Jay. Named a team captain, he upped his completion percentage and quarterback rating, and demonstrated real courage under fire. Though Jay was picked off 13 times, his mistakes were understadnable. With the Commodores usually trailing in games, he was often forced to play fast and loose to rally his team.

The Commodores limped through another season in 2004. For the third year in a row, they won only two games. Again, however, Jay displayed great promise. Vandy suffered several injuries along the offensive line, robbing the team of any semblance of a running game. Under constant pressure—Jay was sacked more than 30 times—he remained poised and confident. Jay set a school record by completing 61 percent of his passes, and he cut his interceptions to five.


Ken Dilger, 1998 Upper Deck Choice
     
 

Jay had developed into an interesting player in the eyes of many NFL scouts. He had all the raw tools, and his attitude and work ethic suggested he would only get better. Jay toyed with the idea of entering the draft after his junior campaign, but his parents preferred that he finish school. Besides, with a good senior season, he could potentially turn himself into a first-round pick.

Jay headed into the 2005 campaign as the SEC’s most experienced quarterback. He was voted to the preseason all-conference first team, ahead of Florida's Chris Leak and Alabama's Brodie Croyle. He was also named to watch lists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Davey O'Brien Award.

Jay’s leadership skills were tested when teammate Kwane Doster was shot and killed in the offseason. Doster was one of his best friends on the team. Jay helped spearhead a trip by Vandy player to attend the funeral.  

Eager to start the year, Jay guided the Commodores to wins in their first two games. In the opener at Wake Forest, he hit on 25 of 36 passes for 276 yards. A week later in Arkansas, he threw for two touchdowns in a rousing comeback victory.

Vandy’s most impressive win came in the last game of the year against the school’s fiercest rival, Tennessee. Jay was spectacular. He tossed the winning touchdown with 1:11 left in the game to cap a textbook 63-yard hurry-up drive. The victory marked the first time since 1982 that the Commodores had beaten the Vols (and the first time since 1975 that they had won in Knoxville). 

Vandy finished at 5-6, a miraculous accomplishment for a team that normally struggled to win a single conference game each season. Jay passed for 3,073 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was named the SEC's offensive player of the year and ended his college career with 20 school records. 

Jay had done just as he had planned—his draft stock had risen considerably, and he had earned his degree. Now came the next step. Good showings in the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine would convince teams that he was the real deal. Jay’s upside was obvious. At 6-3 and more than 220 pounds, he had great size and strength. He was a gritty competitor and willing student who had been tested against the best the SEC had to offer. 

One question that lingered about Jay was his throwing motion. Some scouts felt his release was too low, a knock that gained momentum during the week before the Senior Bowl. To correct the problem, Jay worked out with NFL training guru Ton Shaw before the Combine. He left Indianapolis a surefire first rounder.


Jay Cutler, 2006 Press Pass SE
     
 

Most draft experts put USC southpaw Matt Leinart at the top of their boards for quarterback. After that, it was anybody’s guess. Junior Vince Young was another intriguing prospect.

The Broncos watched the first round unfold with great interest. The front office didn't view quarterback Jake Plummer as a long-term solution. Coach Mike Shanahan wanted a young passer he could mold into a winner. When Young and Leinart went in the top 10 picks, Denver swung into action. The Broncos traded up to the 11th spot and grabbed Jay. Next they dealt a second-round selection for Green Bay receiver Javon Walker. Denver later tabbed Eastern Michigan tight end Tony Scheffler.

Jay entered his rookie season as Plummer’s backup. Shanahan was content to let his first-year quarterback learn from the sidelines. There was no reason to rush Jay along. The Broncos had an eye on a playoff berth, and Plummer was under contract through the 2009 campaign.

Denver fans, however, saw things differently. They had never put the full weight of their support behind Plummer. When the Broncos dropped two in a row in November, Shanahan felt the heat to replace Plummer. He pulled the trigger after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thanksgiving night.

Jay made his NFL debut 10 days later in a Sunday night game against the Seattle Seahawks. The fans at Invesco Field roared their approval when he ran out for Denver’s first offensive series. The Broncos lost to Seattle, and then fell the following week to the San Diego Chargers.

Jay earned his first win as a pro in his third start, a 37-30 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He sparkled with a pair of touchdown passes and a 101.7 quarterback rating. One of his scoring strikes was a beauty to Walker, a frozen rope that traveled 64 yards in the air.

The Broncos ended the season at 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Jay was solid in five starts, throwing for 1,001 yards and nine touchdowns. His biggest problem was forcing plays and committing unnecessary mistakes. Jay was sacked 13 times and two of his five interceptions were returned for scores.

The offseason was a rough one for Jay and the Broncos. The team suffered two tragic losses. First, cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting on a Denver street. A short time later, fullback Damien Nash collapsed and died during a pick-up basketball game. Always a tight-knit group, everyone in the organization was in a state of shock.

MAKING HIS MARK

Jay went into the 2007 campaign facing the sternest challenge of his career. Dealing with the death of a teammate wasn’t a new experience for him—he had been through a similar episode at Vandy. But Jay was now Denver’s unquestioned starter at quarterback. That pressure, combined with the responsibility of being a locker room leader, was a lot ot handle. On the positive side, he had a firmer grasp of Shanahan’s offense, plus an up-and-coming star at receiver in Brandon Marshall.

Despite their best efforts, the Broncos never seemed to recover from their calamitous offseason. Denver hovered around .500 all year long and finished at 7-9. The defense suffered without linebacker Al Wilson, who was released before the season. The offense had trouble running the ball consistently.


Matt Leinart, 2004 Football News
     
 

Consistency was also a sore point for Jay. His numbers were fine for his first full campaign—3,497 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and an 88.1 passer rating. But he also threw 14 interceptions and lost four fumbles. Marshall proved to be his favorite receiver, catching 102 passes for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jay, however, sensed something wrong with his body. His weight dipped as the season progressed, and his arm strength weakened. Jay found it hard to focus. He was waking up a half-dozen times a night. He hurt his knee in a game against San Diego and didn’t bounce back the way he expected.

Over the winter, Jay continued to struggle. In March, a routine test revealed a high blood sugar reading. Jay was sent to a specialist who diagnosed him with diabetes. The news was actually a relief. At least Jay knew what was wrong—and now could begin to treat the condition.

Soon Jay was feeling healthy again. He was fitted with an insulin pump, though he decided not to wear it during games because of the fear it would be crushed on a hard hit. That could cause an overdose of the hormone into his belly. Instead, Jay strapped a glucometer to his left arm. (The device provides constant blood sugar readings.) Other precautions included occasional finger pricks on the sidelines to test his blood sugars and a full supply of high-fructose energy drinks at all times during games.

The publicity created by Jay’s bout with diabetes cast him in a different, more sympathetic light. At the same time, he downplayed his condition. Jay was eager to start the 2008 season. Marshall and Scheffler were back as prime targets, and the Broncos added two more pass-catchers, veteran tight end Daniel Graham and receiver Eddie Royal, a rookie with game-breaking speed.

Denver opened the campaign in Oakland and beat up on the Raiders, 41-14. Jay showed great chemistry with Royal and hooked up with Scheffler on a 72-yard pass play. He had an even better day the following week in a 39-38 win at home over the Chargers. Jay passed for 356 yards and four touchdowns. The game’s biggest play, however, was a missed call by the officiating crew late in the fourth quarter. With the Broncos driving for the go-ahead score, Jay fumbled inside the San Diego 10-yard-line, and the Chargers recovered. The refs incorrectly signaled an incomplete pass. With a second life, Jay got the Broncos into the end zone, and then connected with Royal for a two-point conversion and the victory.

Jay finished September with two more productive games and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. Denver fans was ecstatic. The Broncos looked like the cream of the crop in their division. That perception was shortlived, as injuries soon took their toll. Denver’s already thin defense was decimated, and the offense couldn’t keep a featured running back healthy.

Jay, meanwhile, drew the ire of the Denver faithful when he commented that his arm was stronger than Elway’s in his prime. It was an innocent enough comment made in response to a question, but many didn’t see it that way. With the Broncos in the midst of a free fall in the standings, fans were interested in hearing Jay talk about himself. Plus, no one messed with Elway in the Mile High City.

The finishing touches on Denver’s collapse came in the season’s final month. The team lost its final three games and handed the division title to the Chargers. The Broncos actually held their playoff destiny in their hands, playing in San Diego on the last Sunday in December. They were embarrassed 52-21.

Most of the blame was laid at Shanahan’s feet. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired his longtime coach three days after the loss to the Chargers.


Brandon Marshall, 2006 Topps
     
 

Jay was another convenient scapegoat, and he didn’t argue too much with his critics. Granted, he set several team records, including most passing yards (4,526) and most 300-yard passing games in a season (eight). Add in 25 touchdown passes and his first Pro Bowl selection, and Jay enjoyed a pretty nice year for a third-year quarterback.

But Jay was the first to admit that he had turned the ball over too many times. The Broncos were also plagued at times by a rash of three-and-outs. Better decision-making by Jay could have given Denver more cohesiveness on offense.

Despite the Broncos’ disastrous finish in 2008, the future seemed bright for the team. Josh McDaniels, formerly the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, was hired to replace outgoing Mike Shanahan. Rumors began immediately that the new coach would try to acquire Matt Cassel. This meant Jay would end up elsewhere—perhaps with Detroit or Tampa Bay as part of a three-way deal. Jay asked the Broncos to trade him (ideally to a better club), and they accommodated him by arranging an exchange of quarterbacks with the Chicago Bears. Kyle Orton headed to Denver along with three high draft picks.

Jay took the reins of an offense that included running back Matt Forte, receivers Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester, and linemen Olin Kreutz and Orlando Pace. The team clicked in the season's first month, going 3–1. Then the wheels came off. The Bears dropped eight of their next 10, including close games against the Falcons, 49ers, Eagles and Packers. Jay was guilty of trying to do too much, and the result was usually a crushing interception.

Jay righted the ship in the final two games, with scintillating victories over the division-rival Vikings and Lions, but it was too little too late. The Bears finished 7–9. Jay's numbers were good at first glance—3,666 yards and 27 TDs—but many of those stats were accumulated playing catch-up. His biggest problem was poor decisions. His 26 interceptions were the most in the NFL.

Heading into 2010, the rap on Jay was still the same. He had All-Pro talent but lacked All-Pro leadership skills. When Mike Martz joined Lovie Smith’s staff as the Bears’ new Offensive Coordinator, fans were split when it came to predicting how Jay would respond. Martz was the man who once helped Kurt Warner rise from obscurity to superstardom with the Rams. Many believed he could elevate Jay as well. Then again, Martz had been a harsh critic of Jay's in 2009 while working as a TV analyst for the NFL Network. An oil and water relationship was a possibility. A winless preseason had fans biting their nails as opening day approached.

Fortunately, the Bears got off to a fast start again in 2010. Their lackluster offense showed some luster in the first three weeks, as Jay threw for six touchdowns in a trio of Chicago victories. In Week 4 against the Giants, however, the offensive line collapsed. Jay was sacked nine times. After the game, he was diagnosed with a concussion, placing his season in jeopardy. By the time he was back at 100 percent, the Bears were 4–3.

During the team's bye week, Martz retooled the offense to make better use of its run-blocking. By keeping enemy defenses on their toes, the Bears would give Jay more time and more options when he dropped back to pass. The tweak worked to perfection. Jay led the Bears to victories over the Bills, Vikings, Dolphins, Eagles and Lions to surge to the top of the NFC North with a 9–3 record. A 38–34 win over the Jets the day after Christmas clinched the division.


Jay Cutler, 2008 Donruss
     
 

Jay finished the regular season completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,274 yards and 23 TDs, with only 16 interceptions. He also ran for a career-high 232 yards.

After a bye week, the Bears faced the Seahawks in the playoffs. Seattle entered the postseason with a sub-.500 record but had beat up on the Saints in the opening round. The Seahawks had also beaten the Bears earlier in the season. This time Chicago clipped their wings in a 35–24 win that was basically over by halftime.  Jay opened the scoring with a 58-yard TD strike to Olsen. He also ran for a touchdown before halftime to make the score 21–0. Jay passed for 274 yards in the game, throwing for two scores and running for two more.

That set up a classic showdown with the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. The teams had split their two regular-season meetings, with the Bears winning at home 20–17 and losing what was technically a meaningless contest in Week 17 by a score of 10–3 in Green Bay. With Aaron Rodgers performing well in two playoff victories, the Packers were slight favorites in their third meeting, despite the fact that the game was being played at Soldier Field.

Green Bay took control with a touchdown on its opening drive. The Bears, meanwhile, could generate no offense. Jay was wild with a few throws, but his receivers did little to help. The Packers shut down the Chicago running game at the same time.

Down 14-0 at the half, the Bears were still within striking distance. But the game took a strange turn when Jay was sidelined with a knee injury. The sight of him standing on the sideline in no obvoius pain raised eyebrows across the country. NFL players everywhere tweeted that he had given up on his team. Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie ultimately stepped in and made the game exciting, but his comeback bid fell short in 21-14 loss.

Jay now faces a new kind of controversy. Teammates have stood by him, but public opinion in split. The bottom line is that Jay has yet to show the leadership skills of a championship quarterback. But there’s no denying his talent, even if such assertions ruffle some feathers. John Elway didn’t get his championship rings until after his first coach, the venerable Dan Reeves, was canned and replaced by an up-and-coming offensive genius in Shanahan. Jay finds himself in a similar position. Some day in the not so distant future he may give a whole new meaning to the term, Merry Christmas!

JAY THE PLAYER

The first thing anyone notices about Jay is his arm strength. Every throw he makes is on a line. Hand in hand with that is his confidence in his arm. If Jay sees a window on the field—no matter how small—he’ll try to fit the ball in it. This, of course, gets him in trouble at times. Many of his interceptions come on passes that he has no business trying to complete.

At 6-3 and more than 230 pounds, Jay is an ideal size for an NFL quarterback. He can take a pounding and dish out some punishment, too. Jay has good speed and continues to develop a refined pocket sense. He can buy himself time when need be or break the line of scrimmage and pick up a first down.

Because of his diabetes, Jay has become much more in tune with his mind and body. Proper nutrition is crucial for him. He must maintain proper blood sugar levels. When they get too low, he feels shaky and finds it difficult to concentrate and react quickly. When they get too high, he experiences headaches and mood swings.  

Jay doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. He’ll answer just about any question asked of him and call out a teammate who isn’t performing. His honesty is sometimes misunderstood by writers and fans, but teammates don’t seem to bothered by it.

 


Jay Cutler, 2010 Score


 

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