I remember the first time I saw Devin Hester in the Bears locker room after a big game. We reporters stood quietly behind him as he sat and took off the soaked T-shirt he’d worn under his shoulder pads. His back was so covered with tattooed Scripture from the Bible that I didn’t know whether to talk to him or read him.
When he did speak, it was quietly, without much embellishment. Talking to reporters was not really his thing. He wasn’t arrogant, just shy.
The speedster return man/wide receiver is now in Atlanta with the Falcons, and the other day he said some stuff to ESPN about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler that we never heard from Hester before. While praising his new quarterback, Matt Ryan, for the way the two can communicate, the way Ryan will talk to Hester about things they both can do to improve routes and timing — for the ultimate benefit of the Falcons — Hester let us know that Cutler stands alone and aloof.
‘‘If we weren’t on the same page, Jay just didn’t say anything to me. He just wouldn’t [throw] to me. That’s just how he was.’’
Yes, that is how he is.
Hester might not have been the greatest wideout in the world, even though he might go down as the greatest kick returner in NFL history. But if he ran bad routes or screwed up in other ways, it wasn’t because he was trying to do so.
A team leader’s role is to lead. A quarterback must be a team leader. And a quarterback has to talk. And his body language means almost as much as his words. It is another form of communication.
When I first wrote about Cutler when he came to Chicago almost seven years ago, I said that he had been a standoffish cipher with the Broncos in Denver, his first team. I listened to what people in Denver told me, what I saw just observing Cutler from the get-go: an immature, self-centered, non-communicative, unconcerned-with-you loner.
And I said that would be a problem for the Bears, his cannon arm and athleticism be damned. Readers blizzarded me with rants about how they didn’t care how Cutler treated the media. That I and my kin were selfish jerks, as always. That we were the real problem.
Leave Cutler alone and the Bears will have their first great quarterback since Sid Luckman, people said.
They were right about that, as far as stats go. The ones that don’t include winning. Cutler likely will end up with every major Bears passing record to his name.
But teamwork? Intangibles? Communication? Leadership?
None. There was a reason Cutler was the youngest Pro Bowl quarterback to be traded. That simply doesn’t happen at age 25. It did with him.
And there will be a reason why Cutler’s last season as a Bear — this one — will be a goodbye and farewell and ‘‘Don’t let the door hit you on the rear on the way out.’’
How can you miss someone who never missed you?