Jeff George could’ve been one of the best quarterbacks in recent memory.
His rifle of an arm was his biggest asset.
Regrettably, George came with excess baggage.
He was brash and he butted heads with coaches, teammates, and fans.
He also lacked arguably the most important trait of a franchise quarterback: leadership.
Throughout his colorful 12-year NFL career, Jeff George made headlines for the right and wrong reasons.
Had he straightened himself out sooner than later, the sky would’ve been the limit for him.
Jeffrey Scott George, who is of Lebanese descent, was born in Indianapolis, IN on December 8, 1967.
George attended Warren Central High School in the east side of the city.
He was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and baseball for the Warren Central Warriors.
Years later, his oldest son, Jeff, Jr. would follow suit.
George told MaxPreps.com’s Mitch Stephens in 2009 the three sports he played helped him develop in later years:
“Each sport helped me with the other. Baseball helped me with my hand-eye coordination. Basketball helped with quickness.”
“My advice to kids is to enjoy every moment of your high school days, play all the sports you can, and most important, drink your Gatorade.”
George mentioning the famous sports drink shouldn’t come as a surprise.
He became the first-ever recipient of the Gatorade National Player of the Year honors in 1985.
George beamed when he spoke with Stephens about the accolade:
“Really, that was a fantastic honor – the Heisman for high school sports.”
“To be awarded that – that was real special not only because it singled out my athletic achievement but academic and community work.”
“That’s (one) award no one can ever take away.”
Even during George’s high school playing days, he already had exceptional arm strength for a quarterback.
today's former Illini football card, Jeff George. top ranked recruit in the HS class of 1986, 1st pick in the NFL Draft 1990, few ever have done that. originally picked Purdue out of Indy Warren Central, got knocked out vs. the Illini 86' game, ended up in Champaign 88 89🏈 pic.twitter.com/y37iMz3n1h
— Jeff Johnson (@therealJeffJ97) June 23, 2021
With George under center, he led the Warriors to consecutive undefeated seasons and two state titles in 1984 and 1985.
During his three-year stint as Warriors quarterback, George threw for 8,128 yards and a national record 543 completions.
During his senior season alone, he threw for 3,594 yards and an insane 45 touchdown passes.
Little wonder he received another accolade, the 1985 Dial Award as the national scholar-athlete of the year.
Jeff George was ready to take his gunslinging ways to the college ranks.
College Years at Purdue and Illinois
Jeff George didn’t have to travel far and wide for his college choice.
The 6’3″, 190-lb. George committed to Purdue University, a school which is just 70 miles northwest of Indianapolis.
At the time, he was the No. 1 prospect in the nation, thanks in large part to his otherworldly high school football stats and his rifle of an arm.
Purdue Boilermakers head football coach Leon Burtnett recruited the highly-touted George, who passed up on the Miami Hurricanes, a college football powerhouse.
UCLA was also in George’s Top 3.
However, he ultimately chose Purdue because he “wanted to start as a freshman,” per The New York Times’ Peter Alfano.
Another factor was the Boilermakers’ rich passing tradition, which featured past quarterbacks Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Ron DeGravio, Mike Phipps, and Scott Campbell.
What if … Jeff George didn't transfer from #Purdue? Would the fortunes of the program have been changed? Share your thoughts on https://t.co/mDoTru6Xb8.https://t.co/Hc8ZK62XGB pic.twitter.com/nbgni6Mg25
— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) April 20, 2020
He also told Alfano proximity to his family was another important consideration:
“But I knew that here, when the pressure started and I went through some bad times, my family would be around me.”
“I can hop in a car and go home for a night.”
George’s early-season trepidation was spot on.
Despited 264 yards and two touchdown passes, he threw five interceptions, lost two fumbles, and was sacked six times in Purdue’s 41-26 loss to the Pitt Panthers on September 20, 1986.
A week later, he redeemed himself with 28 completions for 241 yards in a 41-9 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
For the most part, Jeff George was a shadow of his old self during his freshman year at Purdue.
Battling through several injuries, he threw for four touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and 1,217 yards in 11 games.
Purdue was a dismal 3-8 during the 1986 NCAA season.
The school promptly fired Burtnett and replaced him with Fred Akers.
After just one season in West Lafayette, Jeff George was already on the move to a different school.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Scott Howard-Cooper, Akers’ run-oriented offense didn’t resonate well with George.
George gave a verbal commitment to Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes before having a sudden change of heart.
He changed his mind after the Hurricanes didn’t guarantee he’ll become their starting quarterback, per GoldandBlack’s Alan Karpick.
Instead, George committed to the Illinois Fighting Illini.
— HawkeyeHQ.com's Ryan Jaster (@Hawkologist) October 2, 2017
While George sat out his transfer year in 1987, Fighting Illini head football coach Mike White resigned during the height of an NCAA investigation, per Howard-Cooper.
Despite the coaching change, Jeff George was ready for a fresh start in Illinois.
Even though he sat out an entire year, George shook off the cobwebs and threw for 2,257 yards and nine touchdowns.
With George under center, the Illini went 6-4-1 during the 1988 NCAA season – a three-game improvement from the year before.
Consequently, Illinois received an invitation to play in the 1988 All-American Bowl.
Unfortunately, Emmitt Smith’s two touchdown runs helped the Florida Gators prevail over George’s squad, 14-10.
George threw for 194 yards and two interceptions in the loss.
Nonetheless, the upcoming 1989 NCAA season propelled him to greatness once again.
George took the field for his junior campaign like a man possessed, throwing for a gaudy 2,738 yards and 22 touchdowns in 12 appearances.
He led the Illini to signature wins over the USC Trojans and Northwestern Wildcats.
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) June 30, 2014
George went 15-of-18 for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone against Northwestern.
The Illini routed the Wildcats, 63-14.
The former wound up 7-1 in Big Ten Conference play that year.
Illinois capped off a great 10-2 season with a 31-21 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 1990.
In what turned out to be George’s final college game, he passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns.
A promising career in the National Football League was in the offing for Jeff George.
Who would’ve thought Jeff George would come full circle?
The Indianapolis Colts, George’s hometown team, made him the first overall selection of the 1990 NFL Draft.
Jack Trudeau did a respectable job for Indy during the 1989 NFL season, throwing for 2,317 yards and 15 touchdowns.
However, he didn’t have the upside of George, a fellow Illini.
The Colts, who had made just one postseason appearance since relocating from Baltimore in 1984, were dead set on drafting the Hoosier gunslinger.
They were so serious they traded Pro Bowl offensive lineman Chris Hinton and up-and-coming wideout Andre Rison to the Atlanta Falcons for the No. 1 pick, per The Indianapolis Star’s Phillip B. Wilson.
Indianapolis signed George to a six-year, $15 million deal which came with a $3.5 million signing bonus.
At the time, it was the biggest rookie contract in league history.
On April 22, 1990 the Indianapolis Colts drafted Indianapolis, Indiana born and Warren Central High School graduate, Jeff George with the first pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. The Colts traded to draft George and signed him to the richest rookie contract in … https://t.co/MFJcxXY54B pic.twitter.com/ch54FINrps
— Davenport Sports (@Davenport_SN) April 22, 2018
Clearly, the Colts were placing their trust in George’s cannon of an arm.
Regrettably, it didn’t work out the way George and the Colts had hoped.
He eventually played four seasons in Indy, throwing for 41 touchdowns and 46 interceptions.
The Colts also averaged just five wins per season with George as a starter.
According to Wilson, Indy went 14-35 in those games.
They also failed to make the postseason with George as their quarterback.
There’s no denying Jeff George was a talented signal-caller.
However, he didn’t get along well with everyone.
In Wilson’s words, “George fought with everyone, front office, coach Ted Marchibroda, teammates, and fans.”
Before the 1993 NFL season kicked off, Jeff George blasted the Colts and the city of Indianapolis in the media.
He also held out for 36 days so he could get traded to a different team.
George eventually got his wish on March 25,1994.
The Colts traded the disgruntled quarterback to the Atlanta Falcons for a 1994 first- and third-round draft pick and a 1996 second-round selection.
One good stroke of fortune the Colts received in that 1996 NFL Draft was future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison per The Indianapolis Star.
Harrison for George?
The Colts will take that any time,
HOMETOWN ZERO! @Colts owner @JimIrsay to honor Jeff George trade to the @AtlantaFalcons citing its enormous impact on the trajectory of the franchise. The one-time #Indy star was a colossal bust. Circle City Circulator has the scoop. @OnionSports @NuvoIndy https://t.co/YNByW9eLAg pic.twitter.com/FBeIhyXEi4
— Circle City Circulator (@cccirculator) December 7, 2018
For his part, George told The Washington Post’s David Aldridge at a news conference he felt he and the city of Indianapolis “outgrew each other”:
“Maybe we outgrew each other. Maybe the city got tired of hearing about Jeff George – maybe I wore out my welcome.”
“Whatever happened, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve had some good years, four good years.”
“Sometimes you have to leave home to become the best person you can be.”
George’s departure ushered in the Jim Harbaugh (a.k.a. “Captain Comeback”) era for the Indianapolis Colts.
The change of scenery benefited George, who produced slightly better numbers in Atlanta.
In his first two seasons with the Falcons, he passed for 7,877 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 29 interceptions.
During that stretch, Atlanta had a 16-16 win-loss record.
With George as their quarterback, the Falcons won nine games during the 1995 season.
It was their best record in four years.
Jeff George also had his first taste of NFL postseason football.
George held his own against Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers in the 1995 NFC Wild Card Game.
The Falcons quarterback’s stat line: 30-of-54 completions, 366 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
His efforts weren’t enough as the Packers won easily, 37-20.
After the loss, things quickly turned south for George and Co.
George confronted his head coach, June Jones, on the sideline after the latter benched him in the third quarter of Atlanta’s 33-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jones yanked George from the game after he threw an interception.
He had completed 10 consecutive passes before the miscue.
When he blew up at June Jones on national TV. pic.twitter.com/i6QEaEJsBu
— Joe S. 🇺🇸 (@GIJoeS916) May 15, 2020
The Falcons fell to 0-3 on the season.
Worse, the team suspended George after the incident.
According to Jones, the suspension was for conduct detrimental to the team.
He also told The Associated Press George used “abusive language” and went on a tirade which lasted for 10 minutes.
At that point, there were indications his career in Atlanta was over.
A remorseful George spoke with The Associated Press after the Week 3 loss to the Eagles:
“I guess some of the things I said on the sideline, I’m kind of upset about that. I need to learn a little bit about that, I guess.”
“In my mind, I think I could have brought the team back. We had the whole second half. There was a lot of football to be played.”
A month after the confrontation with Jones, the Falcons released George.
The Seattle Seahawks reportedly dangled a six-year, $30 million offer to George after his suspension.
However, George balked because “he felt he was being rushed into a deal and decided not to approve a trade,” per The Associated Press.
Since the Falcons couldn’t find any takers for George, they decided to cut him.
Falcons fans never accepted George despite his respectable numbers.
“Maybe he’s a little…standoffish,” Bobby Hebert, the quarterback who replaced him, told The Associated Press. “Maybe some people didn’t like that and perceived that as some form of arrogance.”
After his fiasco in Atlanta, Jeff George took his act to the Black Hole.
After backing up Bobby Hebert in Atlanta, Jeff George left to start for the Raiders in 1997 and threw 29 TDs to just 9 INTs. He threw the second most TDs in the NFL, trailing just MVP Brett Favre.
The Raiders still went 4-12. pic.twitter.com/gccNAVsedk
— Benchwarmer Brew (@BenchwarmerBrew) February 22, 2021
The Oakland Raiders signed the mercurial George to a five-year, $27.5 million deal in February 1997.
He told Sports Illustrated he was happy he got a chance with the Raiders, a team with a rich football tradition:
“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.”
“I’ve been through a lot of turmoil, but it’s made me a better person.”
George’s wife, Teresa, told Sports Illustrated her husband’s signing with the Raiders was “a perfect match.”
Jeff George’s play on the field proved her point: he started all 16 games for the Silver and Black during the 1997 NFL season.
George also produced the best stats of his 12-year NFL career: 3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions.
Alas, Oakland won just four games, missing the postseason for a fourth straight year.
George struggled with a groin injury during the 1998 NFL season.
The injury limited him to just eight total games and seven starts.
During his time on the field, he threw for 1,186 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Despite a four-game improvement, the Raiders didn’t contend for the Super Bowl yet again.
Al Davis and Co. promptly upgraded their quarterback position by signing free agent Rich Gannon.
That marked the end of Jeff George’s two-year tenure in the Black Hole.
The Minnesota Vikings then signed George as a backup to Randall Cunningham prior to the start of the 1999 NFL campaign.
Jeff George saved the 1999 Season for the Vikings when Randall Cunningham's 1998 magic faded quickly in early season. The Vikes don't make the playoffs w/out George. Look at his stats in the NFC Div playoff. Stunning that Denny did not even let him be a backup to Daunte in 2000 pic.twitter.com/FfPTLniblJ
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) June 19, 2020
After Cunningham struggled early in the season, George took over the reins.
He passed for 2,816 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 12 games.
George also finished with an 8-2 record as a starter, leading the Vikings to the postseason.
George played his guts out in the Divisional Round against the then-St. Louis Rams.
He threw for 423 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception in the 49-37 road loss.
Despite the impressive showing, former ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock saw a different side of George during the game:
“I’ve never liked the way George reacted after throwing an interception or fumbling the football. That’s adversity.”
“I was at the Vikings-Rams playoff game when George didn’t dive to the ground for a loose football.”
“I’ve seen him walk away rather than chase the defender after throwing an interception.”
After a one-year stop in the Twin Cities, Jeff George was on the move again.
George signed a four-year, $18.25 million deal with the then-Washington Redskins during the 2000 offseason.
After an 0-2 start to the 2001 NFL season, the Redskins released George, who was set to earn a guaranteed $3.75 million.
Washington head coach Marty Schottenheimer told The Washington Post he hoped George would’ve worked out at quarterback.
Unfortunately, he didn’t:
“I was steadfastly hoping this thing would work with Jeff. Obviously had it worked, we probably wouldn’t be 0-2.”
“I was of the mindset that, as a teacher, I could teach and he could understand. I didn’t do a good enough job teaching, and he didn’t understand it.”
At this point in time, Jeff George had officially played his last down in the NFL.
11-20-2000, the Redskins beat the Rams 33-20 on Monday Night Football. Jeff George threw for 269 yards & 3 touchdowns in the win. @IrvingFryar scored the go ahead touchdown. 44 year old Eddie Murray hit 4 field goals. pic.twitter.com/DeqrXk5Mpn
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) November 21, 2020
After George’s departure from the Redskins, he donned Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears colors from 2002 to 2004.
However, he never took the field on both occasions.
He almost had a second tour of duty with the Raiders.
Unfortunately, they released him just before Week 1 of the 2006 NFL season.
In his 12-year NFL career, Jeff George passed for a total of 27,602 yards, 154 touchdowns, and 113 interceptions.
When Jeff George hung up his cleats in 2006, he thought he was far from finished.
According to USA TODAY High School Sports, George considered coming out of retirement five years later when he turned 44 years old.
In fact, he told the Pioneer Press in 2015 he could’ve helped the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl title had he played with the likes of Adrian Peterson:
“There’s no doubt about it. Because of the type of defensive personnel they have, and when you have an Adrian Peterson.”
“You line him up with a veteran quarterback, who knows where to go with the ball, it’s an unstoppable combination.”
In the summer of 2013, he worked as a guest coach for the Vikings.
In that capacity, George taught Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder the nuances of the signal-caller position.
George told USA TODAY High School Sports the opportunity piqued his interest in coaching football:
“That was a lot of fun. I talked with Coach (Leslie) Frazier about coming in, to see if coaching is what I want to get into.”
“I was up there for a week and got to work with (then-Vikings offensive coordinator) Bill Musgrave, who is a close friend.”
“I learned a lot. Who knows? Maybe coaching is in my future.”
When his NFL career came to an end, George savored the role of full-time dad to his children Jeff, Jr., Jordan, and Jayden, per USA TODAY High School Sports:
“The most important thing I’m proud of is being able to be home and spend time with the family, not missing a Friday night game.”
“I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
His oldest son, Jeff George, Jr., was also a three-sport athlete at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis who excelled in football, basketball, and baseball.
First career start for Jeff George Jr.
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 22, 2016
When the younger George was the starting quarterback of the Warren Central Warriors during his senior season in 2013, he told USA TODAY High School Sports his dad was like his “second coach” who helped him break down plays while they watched football on television.
Jeff George, Jr. eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in business from his dad’s alma mater, the University of Illinois, in 2017.
As a graduate student majoring in health and physical activity, Jeff, Jr. played quarterback for the Pitt Panthers.
Today, Jeff, Jr. is 25 years old.
His sister Jordan is 23 while his brother Jayden is 20.
For his part, Jeff George, Sr. revealed to USA TODAY High School Sports in 2013 he was interested in working with his brothers, who are involved in the food, real estate, and life insurance industries.
Jeff George, Sr. currently runs several successful Dairy Queen franchises in the Hoosier State.