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 over-the-top performance.
"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 contributor.
"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 passing offense.
"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."