Daily Herald
Cutler already brings 'new energy level' to Bears' gathering of fans
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/18/2009 12:11 AM

Before ever throwing a pass for the Bears, Jay Cutler already has achieved rock-star status among the thousands of faithful who attended the team's fan convention Sunday at Soldier Field.

Cutler's No. 6 jersey already rivals Brian Urlacher's No. 54 and Devin Hester's No. 23 for popularity. The ovation he received upon his introduction drowned out the receptions for any other Bear.

Just imagine the celebrity Cutler will enjoy if he lives up to the hype. That might be impossible, although his acquisition has energized the off-season like none in recent memory.

"The energy level has been unbelievable," said Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips, "and not just with the fans, but internally, with the staff, the coaches and the players.

"It's just a new energy level. I hear it from the fans now. Even as the Bulls were going through their great playoff run, the Blackhawks still are, but fans still want to talk about the Bears and what this season holds for them."

The fanatics attending the Bears' annual lovefest are nearly always pumped up over the prospects for the coming season, but ever since Bears general manager Jerry Angelo swung the trade for the Pro Bowl quarterback, optimism has kicked into overdrive.

"Without question," Angelo said. "Everybody has hope about the upcoming year - not that we didn't have hope regardless of if Jay were here or not. But just bringing in a player of his caliber at his position speaks for itself."

Cutler prefers to characterize his role as just a part of the Bears' process of getting back to the playoffs, but he also appears completely at ease amid the adulation.

"We've created a little bit of buzz throughout the city, and it's going to be fun. Expectations are pretty high right now. I'm looking forward to it and I appreciate it," Cutler said to thunderous applause before a question-and-answer session with fans that included running back Matt Forte, tight end Greg Olsen and seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace, a free-agent acquisition who will be guarding Cutler's blind side.

The crowd for that feature dwarfed the turnout for the session with Angelo, Phillips and coach Lovie Smith, which usually is the most popular attraction at the annual convention.

Even during that session, at least half of the fans' questions were prefaced by praise for the trade that brought Cutler from Denver.

"The expectations are very high, and rightfully so," Smith said. "Any quarterback in the NFL, especially a quarterback here in Chicago, there are big shoes to fill, and Jay came here knowing all of that.

"But you can't worry about all that. He just has to do what he's done all his life, play great football at the quarterback position, and we expect him to do that."

Thousands of Bears fans expect all that and more - much more. But Angelo cautions against overly optimistic expectations, at least in the beginning.

"Can he ever live up to these expectations?" Angelo said. "That's hard to do. Very few people are going to come in and meet the expectations that they have for him this year. He still has to transition into a new offense, and he's learning a new terminology, coupled with learning new players around him.

"I know he's going to do very, very well for us. To come in and see a great player right off the bat, that would be unrealistic."

Great expectations are nothing new for Cutler, who was a first-round draft choice in Denver, where the shadow of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway still loomed large.

"When I was at Denver, there was a lot of pressure on us to score points, and we had to do it in a hurry," Cutler said. "But these guys, with a great defense and the running game, it's going to be fun.

"I just have to manage the ballgame and let the defense do the work and let Matt (Forte) get his carries in, and we're going to win some ballgames."

Some won't be nearly enough to satisfy this year's expectations.