Peyton Manning didn’t get bulging disks in his neck mowing the lawn and four surgeries later he’s leading a new team to a familiar place: the playoffs. Steve McNair was never healthy and had considered retiring. A young Donovan McNabb hopped around on a broken ankle for most of a game where he threw 4 TDs against the Arizona Cardinals then returned later that season. Adrian Peterson began the tail end of his ACL/MCL tear rehab by beginning a season long assault on Eric Dickerson’s rushing record after all time great Jerry Rice offered unsolicited opinion against Peterson returning so early.
When the often disliked QB Jay Cutler limped off the field with a ligament tear in his knee two seasons ago it was a markedly different reaction than what you would expect from a lot of folks:
Fellow NFL players questioned Cutler’s toughness on Twitter during the game, and ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer called him out after the game.
“You can play this position (QB) hurt,” Dilfer said on ESPN. “Some of us have.”
Cutler said he hurt his knee late in the second quarter and said he was unable to play effectively after trying just after halftime. (Video of Cutler’s remarks below.)
“We gave it a go in that first series,” Cutler said, “but couldn’t plant and throw, so …”
Players such as Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew and Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett suggested on Twitter that Cutler had let his teammates down.
But Bears LB Brian Urlacher rejected those who would question Cutler.
“Jay was hurt,” Urlacher said.. “I don’t question his toughness. He’s one of the toughest guys on our — he’s tough as hell. He’s one of the toughest guys on our football team. He doesn’t bitch, he doesn’t complain when he gets hit, he goes out there and plays his ass off every Sunday, practices every day.
“So, no, we don’t question his toughness.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith said there was no hesitation to pull Cutler after officials determined his knee was too sore to play. He appeared to grow agitated by repeated questions about Cutler’s status.
The players are consistent with the cliches : gotta play hurt. ball ’til you fall. are you hurt or injured? The real answer is: I’m afraid to lose my job and place in pro football so if I can play, I’ll play. The same for coaches: I’m afraid to pull a guy with a rocket arm that can win me this playoff game because in two years I may end up with a 10-6 record and a pink slip (see Lovie Smith).
Many journalists, football analysts and the public questioned whether Cutler had guts after Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler did what ‘Skins fans and many journalists wanted RG III and Shanahan to do: take RG III out of the game.
Robert Griffin III is not the Redskin’s fans’ quarterback, He’s not some fantasy team’s quarterback and he’s not any of our responsibility. He’s Daniel Snyder’s employee and Mike Shanahan’s direct report. The decision to risk his health to play football was between RG III and his coach. It’s a standard decision. It’s not a “right decision” because this isn’t a moral decision it’s a decision warped by a hyper sensitivity to professional preservation in the most insecure employment contracts in professional sport.
Most of us spectators are happy to pressure players to “play hurt” and we lionize those that do until one of our favorites gets “injured” in a big game or we see what playing hurt looks like 30 years later.