BY NEIL HAYES
For the Sun-Times
Jay Cutler doesn’t have to be a strong leader to be a successful quarterback. Ask former Bears backup Steve Fuller.
Fuller can think of at least one scenario in which Cutler could be a successful quarterback for the Bears without being a natural leader. Unfortunately, it involves the late Walter Payton.
‘‘The answer is probably not — unless there is a really, really strong personality,’’ Fuller said when asked whether a quarterback could be successful without being a leader. ‘‘I could have been a success with a guy like Walter Payton as the designated leader, but those situations are rare.
‘‘I don’t see how you can’t be a strong personality when the ball is in your hands and you have such a factor in winning and losing a game. I would put leader as the
No. 1 quality every quarterback should have.”
First-year general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are signing free agents and preparing for the NFL draft in an attempt to resurrect the Bears. At the same time, they seem resigned to the fact that their future quarterback isn’t on the roster and might not
be anytime soon.
This might be a good time to remind Bears fans that even when the franchise was at its best, the quarterback situation was far from ideal. Although Jim McMahon was entrenched as the starter, Fuller made four starts in 1984 and five during the 1985 Super Bowl season.
Is he the most overlooked member of the 1985 Bears?
‘‘I would say just the opposite,’’ Fuller said. ‘‘As a backup on a really good team, I think I’ve gotten as much attention and support as I deserve, especially from Chicago people. I have no worries or complaints whatsoever. To be even a small contributor was fabulous, looking back on it. The single fact that I was a 1985 Chicago Bear is a great benefit and joy to me.’’
It also has been sobering in recent years because so many of his teammates, including McMahon, are paying a physical price for all the hits delivered and absorbed in pursuit of the Bears’ only Lombardi Trophy.
‘‘It’s a function of us getting older,’’ Fuller said. ‘‘When you start getting into your 50s, I won’t say everything hurts, but everything does hurt. The cognitive issues are most worrisome because that really steps into your lifestyle and ability. You certainly want to be a friend and be there if they need you.’’
As the offensive coordinator at Hilton Head High School in South Carolina, Fuller realizes more than most that he’s teaching kids to play a game that’s inherently dangerous.
‘‘You try to be part of the solution with teaching methods and how you approach it,’’ he said. ‘‘You also have to call out guys who don’t have the proper mentality or willingness to stay healthy and do it the right way. It’s not the type of game you can half-ass. You have to commit to the training and weightlifting and agility work to better prepare yourself as a player. It’s going to be an issue as long as we’re playing the game.’’
Success at quarterback is dependent on a lot of factors, perhaps none as important as timing. Fuller wonders how things might have been different for him if he hadn’t been thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie for a mediocre Chiefs team in 1979.
‘‘Some guys make it strictly on talent without the work ethic,’’ he said. “There are a lot of guys who make it on preparation, work ethic, intelligence, football savvy. I think a lot of it has to do with fitting into the right system with the right coordinator and surrounding cast.
‘‘[Joe] Montana was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but what if he had gone to the Falcons? I’m sure he still would’ve been great, but his career would have been much different.’’
Fuller still has hope for Cutler.
‘‘I don’t know Jay, but I like Jay,’’ he said. ‘‘He gets a bad rap. I don’t know where all that comes from. He’s a talented player, but he’s searching for the right fit. The right fit might be a coaching staff, a coordinator or the guys around him.
‘‘I get a funny feeling it’s all going to work itself out, but it has to happen quickly.’’
THE STEVE FULLER FILE
Then: Bears backup quarterback.
Now: Husband, father, real-estate developer and offensive coordinator at Hilton Head (South Carolina)
Quote: ‘‘If we had not figured out a way to finish that season the way we did, [‘The Super Bowl Shuffle’] would’ve been a 30-year embarrassment.’’