They called it "Bears South.'' It was a couple of training sessions last March in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., featuring Chicago Bears teammates. It was hosted by receiver Brandon Marshall.
New Bears safety Ryan Mundy attended the second one. Mundy said 15 or so players were there.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was among them.
"Jay walks up to me and greets me,'' Mundy said. "He said since I was new, he wanted to personally welcome me to the team and to the city. He said he knew a realtor if I needed help finding a place. He said he knew my wife was pregnant and that he knew some great doctors who helped him when both of his sons were born. He just made himself available. People don't know these kinds of things about Jay. The perceptions don't account for the type of leader at quarterback and beyond that he is for this team and franchise. Jay is not an outspoken guy. But I've gotten to know him well. He's a real guy."
It just doesn't sound like the Jay Cutler many know.
But maybe we just don't know him.
"Bears South" selfie from OT Jermon Bushrod
Oh, we've seen enough of the other stuff.
Enough of the scowls and petulant looks and rutted body demeanor that have long put him in a box of arrogance, stubbornness and immaturity. Enough of his wild throws and risky plays that drive fans nuts. Enough of his nippy answers and tightly-vested public persona that make some people quick to jump to the conclusion that he is not only unlikeable, but also a bad dude.
He has been a Chicago Bear now for twice as long as his three seasons with the Denver Broncos. He arrived in Denver via the 2006 draft, from Vanderbilt. After being run out of Denver in 2008 by then coach Josh McDaniels, after so many episodes where he is viewed by fans and football observers as standoffish more than embracing, Cutler, 31, a ninth-year player, has a soggy reputation that sticks.
This is what a 30-plus-year NFL coach had to say when just the name Jay Cutler was presented:
"Now, I don't know him, let me say that first, but from what I've seen I question the guy as The Guy you want. I question the dependability and the reliability. He's got the arm strength and the athleticism and is a natural passer. But I question the leadership and poise under duress. I've always thought there was something missing. Something just not there. And again, I'm probably judging him unfairly, because this is from the outside looking in.''
What can Cutler ever do to change that?
The answer is that he likely spends a nanosecond even giving it thought.
"Jay wants to be who he is,'' said Mike Shanahan, who drafted Cutler in Denver. ``He is a shy guy. He doesn't want attention; he'd rather not have it. He is a natural leader. But there is no schmoozing with him.''
"Jay is not arrogant," Bus Cook, Cutler's agent, said. "He is not cocky. He is not a rah-rah type of guy. He is intelligent and his desire to win and his competitiveness are strong. Sometimes people misinterpret that for something different.
"Coming out of college, he knew he was better than the two quarterbacks who were drafted before him (Vince Young and Matt Leinart), but he never bragged about it or was vocal about it. We tried to find him a camp and a professional to get him ready for the combine and the draft, someone to work with to prepare him for interviews with the league, and about five minutes into it, Jay said, `I don't need this. I'm not a complete idiot.' He was just bored with it. We sent him down to North Carolina to work with a quarterbacks coach. His name was Marc Trestman. After a couple of days, Jay was ready to move on from that, too. He's confident. He asks more of himself than he would from any teammate or anyone else.''
Yes, that Marc Trestman is his current Bears head coach.
This is their second season together, combining their intellectual approach to the game mixed with a real toughness in the pocket that Cutler possesses second to none.
Gloom settled in over Chicago when the Bears opened their season at home losing to the Buffalo Bills. But after road victories at the San Francisco 49ers and at the Jets, after Cutler assured all after Buffalo that the team would rise and then did, in Cutler, once again, they trust.
At least until Sunday when the Green Bay Packers arrive.
It will be Cutler's 71st start as a Bear. He already owns several of the franchise passing records.
"The demeanor coming out of that quarterback room defines everything that goes on in the building,'' Trestman said. "We try to make that room as productive as we can. The fundamentals, the technique, the science. And we try to make it as open, honest and thoughtful as we can. Not just Jay and I. All of us working in that room try to do that.
"I recognized early that Jay is very intelligent. Very observant and perceptive. He loves football and is stimulated by the game. It is a developing relationship. It is still an early relationship. Every day is an exchange of knowledge. That is exciting. And since I've been here, I've seen Jay do nothing but invest on and off the football field. He invests quietly. He is very generous but quietly generous. He is emotionally invested not just in the football side but also in the development of his teammates. And in the organization. He has done things for this organization that no one sees.''
This is a recurring theme with Cutler, a man who likes to work in the shadows, away from the glare, play the game in it but not live in it. Cook said Cutler has never run toward an endorsement or a commercial that he just had to have, never pushed Cook to make him more visible, more public. Football and family and friends have always been enough for him. And now a husband and father to two young sons, he is even more content away from the dazzle.
"He is focused on football,'' Cook said. ``Focused on his family. He is really proud of his boys (Camden Jack, 2, and Jaxon Wyatt, 4 months). They are his two little tigers. His two little bears.''
Photo via Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Marshall and Cutler share a special alliance. Cutler was there for Marshall in Denver when they first became teammates and has been supportive of him in Chicago. Cutler can reach Marshall like few can. But he never takes credit for it. Or talks much about it.
The public may often view Cutler as aloof and he may be comfortable with their views, but it matters most to him what his teammates think. He is squarely into the mix with them.
He is a do-it-for-the-guy-next-to-you guy.
He is a do-it-for-your-brother guy.
Coach Lovie Smith, linebacker Brian Urlacher and defensive end Julius Peppers -- all long-time Bears -- are gone. Somebody has had to fill huge leadership fissures with this team.
"There are a ton of leaders here, but you have to have your quarterback be a part of that leadership in this league,'' Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "That's the commercial role, but it's beyond that. He has to be a team leader. Jay is. He's a pro.''
"Jay is not going to be too vocal," Linebacker Lance Briggs said." He gives two-second pep talks. He is not your Ray Lewis type. But it works for him and it works for us. He's a one day, one game, one play and the next play type of guy.''
Veteran defensive end Jared Allen joined the Bears this offseason from the Minnesota Vikings. Allen figured things out quickly.
"Not everyone has to be a vocal guy,'' Allen said. "To me, it's the commitment of his work. He puts in his time. The biggest thing is the games and putting out on the field. He plays the game in angles. In escapes. Off balance sometimes. I played with Brett Favre. He takes chances like him. That's his game. But like with Brett, you expect it to go more in your favor than not.''
Cutler is more than a gambler as a 6'3, 220-pound quarterback with possibly the NFL's strongest arm. He knows his teammates' personalities, and, in studying them and in acting accordingly, he has set an atmosphere where they readily accept his own. He also knows their specific skills.
"Jay has a good feel for who can make plays for him,'' Shanahan said. ``He has a good feel for the talent around him and even the talent around the league. He is going to get the ball to the places it should go with both of those things in mind. He has vision and anticipation. A lot of guys with strong arms don't have those two things. They just wait for people to get open and try to win with their strong arm. Jay's vision and anticipation set him apart.''
Cutler did not let his Type 1 diabetes, discovered in 2008, deter him. His quest for a Super Bowl for the Bears -- he is signed through 2020 -- is passionate. His get-away-from-me attitude with the public is real. His lean-on-me attitude with his teammates is real.
He will keep doing it for the guy next to him.
He will keep doing it for his brother.
"If you get to know Jay Cutler, you love the guy," Shanahan said.
And if you don't know him, well, that suits Cutler just fine.