Longtime Naperville mayor George Pradel mentioned but downplayed the presence of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler at Sunday’s event for a local non-profit.
“Jay Cutler’s here today,” Pradel told attendees, “but that’s not the main focus.
“It’s for the kids.”
Just the way Cutler wanted it.
Event organizers made it abundantly clear to reporters and adults that Cutler wouldn’t be commenting at the benefit for NCO Youth & Family Services, held at the Calamos Investments campus in Naperville. And when the emcee asked Cutler to address everyone after the awards presentation, Cutler politely declined.
“He was here for the kids,” said NCO executive director Ron Hume.
Connected to the event by his six-year-old cousin, Cutler didn’t just make a cursory appearance.
He joined 300-plus kids in a one-mile run.
In fact, he was delayed at the start, when a young girl tripped at the slightly elevated starting line, causing a domino effect with a handful of children. While dozens of kids sprinted off, several of them flanked around Cutler for the entire run, which he completed in about 10 minutes and 12 seconds.
Sans gloves and a hat, Cutler donned shorts and the long-sleeve purple shirt provided to him by NCO. Afterwards, he signed bibs, jerseys, footballs and hats for every child that participated in all the races.
The autograph signing went without incident, except for one girl who, after getting his signature, yelled, “Go Packers,” as she walked jogged away.
“I think everything went great. It was a slam-dunk,” Hume said. “The kids really enjoyed it.”
But Cutler’s morning didn’t end there.
He headed to Cornerstone, a special group home for 13- to 17-year-old young men, who come from very challenged backgrounds, many of them neglected and abused. NCO provides around-the-clock care for them – up to eight at a time – and Cutler headed to the home to visit with them and encourage them.
He played basketball with the young men as well as catch.
“He threw some ropes, because they wanted to see what it was to catch an NFL pass,” said David Braner, the vice president of NCO’s board of directors. “The ball went through their hands, and out of their hands.”
Cutler also talked with them and signed personalized footballs for each one.
“That means an awful lot to us,” Hume said. “The kids at Cornerstone don’t get a lot of special things happen in their lives, so this gives them something special. They need to know they’re worthy of having special things happen for them.”