The clock is ticking, the camera is clicking, and you have to
wonder if Jeff George is a human time bomb. George, purportedly
the world's most belligerent quarterback, is wearing the black
jersey and silver helmet of his new team, the Oakland Raiders,
and two streaks of eye black, but he's struggling to get in
character under the glare of the lights. At the Hollywood studio
where George is being shot, the photo crew is looking for an
"I need a snarl," the photographer says. George tries, but the
best he can offer is a scrunched-up smile. Soon he has allowed
the makeup artist to apply eye black above his eyebrows and
upper lip, apparently in homage to Groucho Marx. Jeff George as
Groucho? What's next, Michael Irvin as Marcel Marceau?
Finally the photographer calls it a day. "You don't look very
mean," he tells George.
"I'm not," George replies. "I'm the quarterback." Pardon George
if he can't wipe that smile off his face. Last month the Raiders
signed him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract and asked him
to do what he does best--throw the ball downfield. The deal with
Oakland also gives George an opportunity to repair his mangled
reputation, one sullied by failed stints as the would-be
salvation of the Indianapolis Colts and the Atlanta Falcons.
"I've been blessed in so many ways, and one of them is getting
the chance to come to an organization that has respect around
the league and the talent to win," George says of the Raiders,
who, in fact, have missed the playoffs three straight years and
finished 7-9 in '96. "I've been through a lot of turmoil, but
it's made me a better person."
Jeff's wife, Teresa, refers to his signing with Oakland as "a
perfect match." Cynics would agree. The Raiders, known in recent
years for their excessive number of dumb penalties and
dysfunctional locker room behavior, seem ideal for George, a
quarterback infamous for alienating teammates, coaches,
management and fans. During his seven-year NFL career, George,
29, has been known as being aloof, hotheaded, arrogant,
immature, selfish and more pampered than a Clinton campaign
"I think he's an arrogant guy in the sense that he feels like
he's the best quarterback in the league," says Carolina Panthers
linebacker Duane Bickett, who played for the Colts from 1985 to
'93. "He felt like that even as a rookie. When you walk around
like you're the best and you haven't done anything, people tend
to look at you and say, 'He's full of it.'"
Bad Boy George joining the bad boys of the NFL is an obvious
angle. In their glory years, from the late 1960s until the
mid-'80s, the Raiders were a home for the wayward and the
unloved, as owner Al Davis provided second chances to such
maligned players as Lyle Alzado, Ted Hendricks and Jim Plunkett.
Now, for the first time since Plunkett retired in '86, Oakland
has a quarterback capable of executing the Raiders' vertical
"There have been some misconceptions about him, just as there
were with Plunkett," says Oakland senior administrator Bruce
Allen. "But he really does fit us like a glove, and getting him
is a shot of adrenaline for the whole team."
George possesses awesome arm strength, a rapid release and an
uncanny ability to throw on the run. Though he has played for
just two winning teams (both 9-7), George has been an accurate
passer--he has the ninth-lowest interception percentage in NFL
history. If he has a weakness, it's his lack of mobility. But
even Bickett concedes, "As a thrower he's so good it's scary.
The only person I've ever seen who compares to him is [John]
Elway, and that's because Elway can just run away from you. But
Jeff can roll out and throw 50 yards, and he'll throw it
perfectly, even better than Elway. He throws the best deep ball
I've ever seen, and his touch is incredible."
For all his excesses--including last September's celebrated
sideline shouting match with June Jones, the Falcons' coach at
the time--George wants you to believe he is not nearly as bratty
as advertised. And, indeed, in some cases he has been a victim
of circumstance, and there is reason to give him a break. In
fact, here are six good reasons to do just that.
1. He got off to a shaky start in college and has been
backpedaling ever since.
After being named the 1985 USA Today national player of the year
while playing for Warren Central High in Indianapolis, George
committed to Purdue, where, he says, officials assured him that
the man who recruited him, coach Leon Burtnett, would be on the
job for at least the next five years. But Burtnett resigned
under pressure in George's freshman season, during which George
had mixed results in seven starts, and the Boilermakers finished
3-8. After the run-oriented Fred Akers was brought in to replace
Burtnett, George first announced he was transferring to Miami
but instead enrolled at Illinois. The Purdue bookstore was
selling anti-George T-shirts soon after he announced he was
leaving, and some people in Indiana have never forgiven him.
Then, before George became eligible to play for the Illini in
1988, coach Mike White--a big reason that George had chosen
Illinois--also resigned under pressure. Nevertheless, in two
seasons under White's successor, John Mackovic, George led the
Illini to a 20-4 record and drew raves from NFL scouts in
controlled workouts before the '90 draft. The Falcons held the
No. 1 pick in that draft, but the Colts made a bold move,
trading promising wideout Andre Rison, Pro Bowl tackle Chris
Hinton, a fifth-round selection in '90 and a first-round choice
in '91 to Atlanta for the No. 1 pick, which they used to select
George and a fourth-round choice in '90.
Indianapolis gave George a six-year, $12.5 million contract and,
naturally, fired coach Ron Meyer, with whom George had become
comfortable, during a 1-15 season in 1991. Over the next two
years George took a beating--from defenders, who feasted on the
Colts' porous offensive line, and from Indianapolis fans, who
held him responsible for the Colts' struggles. Fed up, George
tried to force a trade by staging a 36-day holdout during
training camp in '93. He was finally shipped to Atlanta the
following March, leaving behind a legacy of bad feelings. "The
guy was sort of poison, just negative," says one former Colts
teammate. "He's just a baby. He thought he was hot s---. Nobody
liked him. And he was surrounded by sycophants, [family and
friends] telling him how great he was."
Says Meyer, "He's not buddy-buddy. He doesn't go out with the
offensive linemen and buy them beers. Some people believe that's
the way you should be, but Jeff has his own agenda."
2. He puts his family first.
Rather than hang out with teammates, George chooses to run in a
large crowd of extended family members and friends. "You can
easily get 100 Georges together at the drop of a hat," says
Teresa, who has known Jeff since junior high. Their wedding two
years ago was a raucous affair--part Eastern Orthodox (Jeff's
family) and part Catholic (Teresa's family). "There were 600
guests," Teresa says, "and about 500 were from his side."
But George's family values have been received as warmly as those
of another Indianan, Dan Quayle. When George was knocked
unconscious against Minnesota in his freshman year, his mother,
Judy, accompanied him as he left the field on a golf cart.
Although Jeff says Judy was summoned by school officials, he was
labeled a mama's boy, a characterization that still makes him
bristle. "So many people don't have proper family values and
respect for their parents," says Jeff, who has an 11-month-old
son, Jeffrey David. "If I can be to my son like my mom and dad
have been to me, he'll be very lucky."
3. The Falcons weren't the perfect fit.
"The number 1 quality Jeff possesses is loyalty," says Kansas
City Star sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who played high
school football with George and remains his friend. "That can
work both ways. When someone is disloyal to him or his family,
he never forgets it. That's what happened in Atlanta."
During his second season with the Falcons, in 1995, George threw
for a club-record 4,143 yards and led the team to its first
playoff berth in four years. George wanted to put down roots in
Atlanta, where he had established the Jeff George Foundation to
aid abused and underprivileged children. Jones and Falcons vice
president of player personnel Ken Herock viewed George as
Atlanta's long-term answer at quarterback, but Falcons president
Taylor Smith wasn't convinced. Beginning in the summer of '95,
Leigh Steinberg, George's agent, made eight trips to Atlanta to
negotiate a multiyear deal. But Steinberg says the Falcons' best
offer was a heavily backloaded five-year, $25 million contract
that, in his eyes, reflected Smith's ambivalence. George settled
for a one-year, $3.6 million contract in '96. "People said,
'When is Jeff George going to grow up?'" Steinberg recalls.
"Well, guess what? He was ready to, and the Falcons didn't want
to step up."
George still considers Jones a close friend, but the fact is
that the coach allowed his quarterback to get away with behavior
that helped trigger George's undoing. When George blew up at
Jones after being pulled during Atlanta's third game last
season, a nationally televised loss to the Philadelphia Eagles,
it gave the public a glimpse of a team in turmoil. "What I saw
on TV that night I had seen many times in the locker room," says
former Falcons cornerback Vinnie Clark, who was released in 1994
following an on-field shouting match with defensive line coach
Bill Kollar. "Jeff got a bad rap. I think June felt that Jeff
was someone he had to baby, so when Jeff would get angry, June
would pacify him instead of putting his foot down. He didn't act
on it until it happened on national TV. If June hadn't done
something then, he would have lost the team."
Jones suspended George the day after the tirade, and the Falcons
released him in mid-October. George, who was pulled against the
Eagles after throwing an interception that broke a string of 11
consecutive completions, accepts the blame for the incident, but
he is quick to add, "I saw the benching as them giving up on the
4. Money is not his master.
Shortly before releasing George, the Falcons worked out a trade
for him with the Seattle Seahawks, but the deal was contingent
on George's accepting the Seahawks' six-year, $30 million offer.
It would have provided the security George craved, but he
passed. "I'd made a lot of mistakes in my career," says George,
"and I didn't want to make another one. The whole thing seemed
Later in 1996 Derrick Thomas, the Kansas City Chiefs' Pro Bowl
linebacker, struck up a friendship with George (Steinberg is the
agent for both players) and began selling him on K.C. Through
Thomas, George told Chiefs president Carl Peterson that he would
play the rest of the year for the NFL minimum ($275,000)--and
donate that money to charity. George also told Thomas he would
have no problem finishing the year as the third-string
quarterback. He saw getting back into the NFL as an opportunity
to rehabilitate his image, but nothing materialized with the
Chiefs. Kansas City had talks with George after the season, but
its three-year, $5.1 million offer fell far short of the deal
George would sign with Oakland.
5. He has a sense of humor.
George still laughs about the 30-bun salute he received upon his
return to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Illini's game against
Purdue the year he transferred. George and his parents had
parked in a fraternity lot, and 15 frat brothers mooned him in
unison. "A couple of them were heavyset," George says. "It was
not a pretty sight."
Then, before a Jan. 14 visit to the Raiders' facility for his
first meeting with Davis, George toyed with the idea of donning
a white warmup suit, an outfit Davis has made his trademark.
"But there's only one man who looks good in all white," George
says, "and that's Al Davis."
6. He wants to be loved.
Like most public punching bags, George tends to put up a brave
front. But the negativity has hurt. George says one of the most
meaningful moments of his career came during the 1994 season
when Falcons rookie running back Jamal Anderson told him, "I've
heard a lot of bad stuff about you, but I've been checking you
out, and you're nothing like what I thought you were."
George almost gets choked up recounting the moment. It's the end
of a long day in L.A., one that included an interview with ESPN
and about a hundred unsatisfactory snarls for a photographer.
Now he is clutching Teresa's hand at a West Hollywood restaurant
and grinning like a high school kid with a pretty prom date and
a lifetime of possibilities. "Everybody wants to be liked," he
says. "If somebody says, 'I don't care what people think about
me,' he's lying. You understand that you can't please everybody
and that you're going to make mistakes. All you can do is try to
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK HANAUER [Jeff George wearing Oakland Raiders helmet]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK HANAUER Teresa thinks that Jeff is more Groucho than grouch. [Teresa George and Jeff George]