So which quarterback does America hate most?
What Does "Hate" Mean?
To answer that question, we must first discuss the word, "hate." As I have noted in my weekly "NFL Hater's Guide," the word "hate" has taken on a new meaning in recent years as the advent of Internet culture—especially in the world of sports—has changed the landscape of how sports fans talk sports and interact with both each other and sports media.
"Hate" cannot be the concept so many talk about. It is not and has never been about a negative opinion. Rather, true hatred of a quarterback is a negative opinion that is based on flimsy or zero evidence. Hatred is the complete inability to see any positive in an athlete and actively rooting against that athlete to fail at every turn.
Hate, then, needs to be a question of motive, not a question of opinion.
With few exceptions, the media doesn't hate athletes. In fact, fans would be surprised at how many friendly and colloquial interactions happen between athletes and media, regardless of what those members of the media write or say about those same athletes. Media can be incredibly wrong in their opinions, but very rarely is that inaccuracy driven by motive.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the media doesn't have biases. Everyone does, and we shouldn't pretend that every single member of the media is so pure as to not create and cling to biases that they shouldn't. But again, is that hate? Probably not.
This is hard for sports fans who have intense positive feelings toward their team and its athletes. Any opinion that differs from their own positive opinion is met with an ad hominem attack because they don't want to leave any chance for a negative opinion to be about anything other than the writer's (or other fans') personal and emotional biases.
Many fans, on the other hand, are certainly driven by hatred for athletes in other towns—especially those athletes on rival teams. Green Bay Packers fans are not going to do any favors to Cutler, just as Philadelphia Eagles fans are not going to go easy on Romo.
Again, this is not to paint every single fan with such a broad stroke. Just as media have their internal biases, so also can fans have objectiveness with athletes (even regarding teams they dislike).
Why Do People Hate Jay Cutler?
The case against Cutler didn't really begin until he got to the NFL. Surprisingly, the pre-draft scuttle around Cutler was positive, even in the point of positively spinning remarks that may turn up eyebrows today.
"I'd like to see the other guys come in here and not throw off their back foot," Cutler says of some of the desperation passes he made while under pressure from SEC defenses. "Back in my early days, you just didn't have a lot of time to throw the ball. You're just trying to make plays out there."
In a vacuum, that statement can be taken either way—a neutral (and fair) assessment of the talent around Cutler at Vanderbilt or a clear attempt to deflect criticism by throwing his teammates under the bus.
The article itself doesn't even allow for that second possibility, and it even goes so far as to use the phrase "team guy all the way" as a subheader for a later section. In hindsight, that isn't the Cutler we know, but it is the Cutler the public was presented with as he started in Denver.
The early scouting reports on Cutler as a Denver Bronco were not pleasant, as words like "lazy," "streaky" and "poor conditioning" were thrown around to describe his play. The talent was clearly there, but Cutler would go through long streaks where he simply looked like a different quarterback.
In reality, Cutler was a different quarterback during those stretches, and eventually, the public learned (shortly after Cutler himself learned) that he was diabetic. Once that information was known, Cutler bulked back up and put together some truly great quarterback performances. Eventually, that turned into a trade to the Chicago Bears for multiple high draft picks.
As a Bear, Cutler has had to deal with near-constant pressure to succeed on a team that has just started to put talent around him. No quarterback has done less with less, and while it's easy to demand better play from a quarterback who cost so much, it's also important to be realistic about expectations.
The Bears are currently 2-1 and lead the NFC North. The primary reason for their improved play in 2012 is not only being healthy (a stark contrast from the end of last year), but also the investment in receiver resources for Cutler—reuniting him with Brandon Marshall and adding Alshon Jeffery through the draft.
The Bears offense is not complete however, and Cutler has played much like he was forced to at Vanderbilt—constantly under pressure. Now, the media and public's perception of Cutler's response to his line's play is the polar opposite that it once was.
Cutler has not earned and no longer gets the benefit of the doubt, regardless of if he is in the right or truly acting like the petulant child many perceive him to be.
The Case Against Tony Romo
Since we talked about biases earlier, this anecdote seems relevant.
Romo was my first professional athlete interview. While covering the Minnesota Vikings for local AM radio, I went to my first Vikings game—a preseason matchup with the Cowboys—and interviewed Romo and Jerry Jones.
My personal interaction with Romo that day (and the few times since) was incredibly positive. The Romo I met that day was interested in talking about his football camp in his hometown of Burlington, Wis., and completely tired of questions from other members of the media about his then-relationship with Carrie Underwood.
Most of all, he just wanted to put his pants on before being overrun by media and gave this young columnist a question for the sole reason that I gave him that chance and didn't jump in with the rest of the "horde."
That's the Romo I know—the Romo who grew up in a tiny town in Wisconsin and went to school with my wife's sister. He's the Romo who hates the coverage his personal life has received from E! Network and People magazine and could not care less about other people's opinions of how he spends his personal time.
However, that laissez faire attitude about public perception is probably what people hate about him the most.
This same Romo that doesn't care what other people think, doesn't worry about what people may think about a quick road trip to Mexico when he should be preparing for the NFL playoffs. This same Romo doesn't care that people will criticize the time he spends on his golf game rather than working on chemistry with his wideouts.
Of course, with Romo just like Cutler, the results also have much to do with the perception of their overall play. Fairly or not, winning has a lot to do with how people view a quarterback, and (Dan Marino aside) it's hard for people to accept a quarterback as elite (or even great) unless they take their team to the proverbial mountaintop.
With Romo more than Cutler, however, some of this is media-driven, but not in the way people may think. Dallas stopped being "America's Team" around the same time Troy Aikman stopped being the Cowboys quarterback. That didn't stop TV executives and other forms of media for continuing to push the Cowboys down the country's collective throat. The construction of Cowboys Stadium and Romo's personal life only increased that spotlight.
Familiarity, as it often does, bred contempt between Romo and the American people as NFC East fans in huge media markets (New York City, Washington, Philadelphia) got tired of the assertion of Romo as an elite/noteworthy quarterback. The rest of the nation followed suit.
So, Who Is Hated More?
To some extent, the argument should be made that both of these quarterbacks are hated more than they should be. It's become en vogue to be overly negative about these two, and the media coverage reflects the popular sentiment.
A year ago, maybe less, the answer to this question was clearly Romo. Not enough people cared about Cutler for him to be even relevant on the scale of which Romo was hated on a national level. Romo was consistently mentioned in "most overrated" discussions across the country, and any mention of anyone else as overrated immediately meant that Romo would be evoked in the comment section.
However, there's been, quietly, a sea change regarding Romo. As sometimes happens, Romo has been "overrated" for so long that many people are now coming 180 and considering him "underrated." As we talk about every other NFC East quarterback ad nauseum, Romo gets lost in the shuffle—something that would be insane to think about just a few years ago.
On the other side of the spectrum, as the Bears continue to increase their level of play, the spotlight around Cutler has increased. Every mannerism or piece of body language is going to be written about or dissected on T.V., and as noted earlier, he no longer has the benefit of the doubt he once enjoyed.
Neither of these men are as great as their ardent fans believe them to be or as horrible as their critics think. In 2012, for better or for worse, Cutler has taken the title of "most hated quarterback" away from Romo and will run with it into the future—or at least until he's strip-sacked by Clay Matthews.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."