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Take Him...Please
Peter King
October 07, 1996
A fire sale for Jeff George attracts few shoppers, A top pick hits bottom, Centers's mysterious conversion
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October 07, 1996

Take Him...please

A fire sale for Jeff George attracts few shoppers, A top pick hits bottom, Centers's mysterious conversion

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Tough Hombres

Though only one of Its five teams has made it to the Super Bowl in this decade (the Chargers, in 1994), the AFC West is staking its claim as the Division of the '90s on the fact that all live teams have winning records outside the division during that period. Here's how AFC West teams have fared in and out of the division in the '90s.

Inside

Outside

Team

Division

Division

CHIEFS

39-13

29-20

RAIDERS

26-24

30-21

BRONCOS

24-26

29-22

CHARGERS

25-26

28-22

SEAHAWKS

13-38

26-24

Here's how far the stock of Falcons quarterback Jeff George has plummeted: The Cardinals would rather have Kent Graham, a 1992 eighth-round draft pick who has thrown a total of 10 touchdown passes with three NFL teams, be their starting quarterback than George, the No. 1 pick in the '90 draft, who has 91 TD passes to his credit. But doesn't Arizona have at least scant interest in George, the free-falling former phenom?

"Scant interest?" Bob Ferguson, the Cardinals' assistant to the president, said last Friday. "Wrong. There's no interest. Ask our players. I think you'd probably find 52 players who'd rather play for Kent Graham than for Jeff George. Nobody here wants to put up with George. He has to realize he's 28, not 15, and grow up."

Ferguson isn't alone in his low estimation of George. Last week most teams in need of a quarterback showed a similar lack of interest after George was suspended by the team and put on the trading block. The suspension came in the wake of George's repeated heated exchanges with coach June Jones on the sidelines after George was pulled during the Falcons' 33-18 loss to the Eagles on Sept. 22.

The Steelers are playing journeyman Mike Tomczak at quarterback, but director of football operations Tom Donahoe was incredulous last week when a report circulated that Pittsburgh supposedly was interested in George. "That would be like Madonna marrying Bob Dole," Donahoe said.

George is healthy, has a rifle for an arm and last season threw for 4,143 yards. At a time when there are more oceans in the world than promising NFL quarterbacks, it speaks volumes that the Falcons have heard from few teams about George's availability.

Wherever George ends up before the Oct. 8 trading deadline—as of Monday the Raiders, the Rams and the Seahawks were the only teams that had appeared to express any interest—his toughest job will be image rehab, not learning a new playbook. Yet after braving a firestorm of criticism all week, George expressed amazement that so many people thought of him as childish and unprofessional. "I'm bewildered," he told SI last Saturday. "How did I get to be so evil all of a sudden?"

Not evil, just selfish. It appears that most NFL teams prefer to have a quarterback who has a mediocre arm than one who throws darts but has a me-first reputation. George also has come up short in the win column. In his seven seasons with the Colts and the Falcons, his teams have lost 64% of his starts, and he has played in exactly one playoff game. Granted, his supporting casts have been ordinary. But the buck stops with the quarterback, and the Falcons were 3-7 in his last 10 starts.

George has sparred with teams before. In 1993 he was a training-camp holdout with the Colts and was traded to Atlanta the following year. Last season he rejected a five-year, $25 million contract offer from the Falcons, claiming that the deal was too heavily back-loaded.

On the field George's unwillingness to conform was apparent in the way he directed the Falcons' run-and-shoot offense. In that scheme the quarterback has as many as five options on any pass play, but one Falcon said George often would go for the deep route even when the short one was clearly the better option. "If Jeff would stay within the system, he'd be a great quarterback and we'd be better off," the player said.

George expresses little regret for his outburst, which came after he had followed 11 straight completions with an interception. "Am I sorry for what I did?" he says. "Yes. Would I do it again? Probably. I'm a competitive guy. Things happen on the sidelines during a game. It's hard for me to believe that what happened is enough for them to feel like they have to trade me."

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