|Cutler tackles diabetes, Elway's legacy head-on|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 22 November 2008 08:58|
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.
rter, 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.
now 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.
rgy. 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.
He couldn't explain his 35-pound weight loss, which everyone around him chalked up to the stress of the job. In the weight room, he couldn't lift as much, and when he and teammates Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler gathered in Atlanta over the winter to work out together, Cutler was so exhausted it was all he could do to just hit the snooze button.
Neither he nor the Broncos heeded warning signs until team medical personnel noticed a high blood sugar reading in routine tests in March and sent him to a diabetes specialist.
The day he learned he was diabetic was both shocking and liberating, Cutler said.
od and my energy, it was like I hadn't felt like that in years.''
Cutler said his most recent glycosylated hemoglobin test, or AIC, which reflects average blood glucose levels over the past two to three months and is a truer gauge than daily finger pricks, was 6.9 percent. It's not ideal but very close to target range and about half as high as when he was first diagnosed.
A reading under 7 percent shows Cutler has his diabetes in pretty good control, particularly given the stress he's under as an NFL quarterback.
Like many newly diagnosed diabetics who find there was a reason for their stumping symptoms and that the disease can be controlled, if not cured, by the proper balance of diet, medication and exercise, Cutler is starting to see his condition as more a blessing than a curse.
He said he's in better tune with his mind and body and more mindful of nutrition because of diabetes and the necessity to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Get too low and he'll feel shaky and find it difficult to concentrate and react quickly. Get too high and he'll have headaches, feel tired, moody, depressed.
None of those are conducive to leading his team downfield.
w exactly when I'm going to get high and when I'm going to get low and you've got to plan ahead. You've got to be organized. It's just a whole different lifestyle that you've got to get used to. It takes time.''
During joint workouts last summer, Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach and 19-year NFL veteran signal-caller Wade Wilson huddled with Cutler to give his fellow Type 1 diabetic advice.
``I told him it's not a big deal if you take care of yourself,'' Wilson, who played 14 seasons after being diagnosed as insulin dependent in 1986, said last summer. ``You have to go about your business of diabetes just like you do your football job. If he can go out and handle that, it should be no problem for him.''
Thanks to synthetic insulin and a drastic change in diet, Cutler's blood sugars are down, his weight and spirits are up and his frozen rope throws are back.
Cutler won't wear his $5,000-plus insulin pump during games for fear he would get hit in his abdomen, crushing the contraption and maybe sending an overdose of the hormone into his belly. He often wears a glucometer on his left arm that provides constant blood sugar readings. Occasionally, he comes to the sideline for finger pricks to test his blood sugars. High-fructose energy drinks are on hand if he needs them.
``We're extremely careful. We're extremely aware of it during games, during warmups,'' Cutler said. ``That first quarter, we check it a lot and just make sure I'm at a healthy number, I'm not too high, I'm not too low. I think there was one instance in the preseason in pregame when I got down (too low) and we got it up pretty quick. But once that first quarter is over, I kind of plateau there and I know I'm good the rest of the game.''
Cutler said he looks back in amazement at what was happening to him last year, when he was losing even his desire to compete.
``This time last year I was losing two, three pounds a week,'' Cutler said. ``I kind of just wanted the season to be over. I couldn't stay awake, I had to go to the bathroom all the time. I was waking up six, seven times a night and just kind of I wanted the season to be over and see what was wrong with me.
``I was ready to get back to the person and the player I was before all this happened.''