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.