Jay Cutler is refusing to be sacked by diabetes or John Elway’s legacy.


 Jay Cutler is refusing to be sacked by diabetes or John Elway’s legacy.
The Broncos’ third-year pro is taking both challenges head-on. He’s on pace to set a franchise record with more than 4,500 yards passing and also end Denver’s two-year playoff drought even though the team is tormented by injuries that have sent 11 players to IR and five more starters to the sideline.
Eight months after his diagnosis, Cutler is adroitly juggling the demands of diabetes with the pressures of being “The Man” in quarterback-crazy Colorado, where he raised eyebrows last month by saying he had a stronger arm than Elway, “hands down.”
That arm strength had started to soften last year when Cutler’s pancreas quit producing insulin in adequate amounts, sending him into a six-month spiral of depression, exhaustion and confusion before he finally learned what was wrong and began to regain his health.
The former Vanderbilt star was exceptionally candid in an interview with this Associated Press reporter, who regularly covers the Broncos and also is a Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetic.
“It’s difficult. Whenever I first learned what it was and started to deal with it, obviously it’s a little overwhelming. But you get used to it,” Cutler said. “Life as a quarterback, the pressures of having to deal with that on a day-to-day basis, it makes dealing with diabetes a little bit easier.
“People have a lot of problems out there. It’s as hard as you make it. If you have a positive attitude and you go about it the right way, it’s not that bad.”
Now that his diabetes is under control and his strength and stamina have returned, Cutler isn’t shying away from the incessant comparisons to Elway, who retired in 1999 after winning his second straight Super Bowl ring. Elway’s Hall of Fame career has cast a long shadow over all his successors.
Cutler’s comment last month that he had a stronger arm than Elway in his prime reverberated across the city. Particularly when Cutler followed his braggadocio with some turnover-filled performances that were decidedly un-Elway-like before bouncing back to keep the Broncos (6-4) atop their division.
“You know, it’s not like I took anything away from John Elway,” Cutler said. “He’s still a great player, still a Hall of Fame player, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. All I said was I had a stronger arm than his. That obviously caused some attention. But, you know what? I’m confident in my game. I’m confident in what I can do on a football field, and what I can’t do.
“And I know I’ve got a long way to go to even get mentioned in the same breath as John Elway. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try or I’m not going to be confident in what I can do out there.”
Coach Mike Shanahan likes that moxie and said it’s another example of the intangibles — along with his ability to shrug off mistakes and a fearlessness of going downfield rather than dumping the ball off to safe check-downs — that will one day make Cutler a great quarterback like Elway.
“No, I’m not going to shy away from John Elway and act like he wasn’t here,” Cutler said. “Because he still is here. There’s still pictures of him in this building. There’s still statues of him at the stadium. So, it’s not like if I don’t mention his name or utter his name he’s not going to be around. Because he is.
“It’s just something either you can deal with or you can’t deal with. I’m going to choose to deal with it and hit it head-on. And that’s a standard. That’s a goal you kind of want to get to. He set a level of play and the expectations around here are high. That’s something that I would love to live up to one day.”
And he loves his chances now that he’s got his diabetes under control.
About 21 million Americans have diabetes, meaning their bodies cannot properly turn blood sugar into energy. Either they don’t produce enough insulin or don’t use it correctly. With the Type 1 form that Cutler has, the body’s immune system attacks insulin-producing pancreatic cells, so that patients require insulin injections to survive. It usually, but not always, strikes in childhood.
Cutler, the 11th pick in the 2006 draft, threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, but the Broncos missed the playoffs for a second straight year. It was obvious as the season wore on that his arm strength wasn’t equal to what it was his rookie year, when he started the final five weeks of the season.