The boat is gone now, Repossessed by the marina that allowed him to use it in exchange for the goodwill that once attached itself to Jeff George's name, like barnacles to a hull. Indeed, that wasn't the only barnacle attached to the boat's hull, for almost as soon as he got the boat, George named it after himself. Those were palmier days for George, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
Now there is a new boat moored behind George's house on Geist Reservoir in Indianapolis, but it remains unnamed and virtually unused. The skipper of this unhappy vessel can see it from the house in which he has made himself a prisoner, but he will not come out and play. George failed to show up when quarterbacks, rookies, free agents and injured veterans were expected at the Colt camp on July 15, and as of Monday he had been neither seen nor heard from by teammates or the Indianapolis front office. "I've seen guys hold out because their contracts were up," says Kirk Lowdermilk, the $6.5 million free-agent center whom the Colts brought in to help protect George. "But I've never seen a guy just not show up."
Even players who consider themselves friends of George's say they haven't heard from him in more than a month. "I don't think he's coming back," says wide receiver Reggie Langhorne, "and I think the reason nobody has talked to him is that he's trying to break his ties to this team in his mind. When I held out [with the Cleveland Browns, in 1991], I knew everything that was going on, including when it was time to get my butt back into camp. Jeff hasn't talked to anybody."
George's agent, Leigh Steinberg, had to persuade his client to attend the Colts' minicamp in May, and though George seemed eager for the season to start—he had cut back on his consumption of beer and shed 15 pounds—he was still seething at having been benched and booed during Indianapolis's season-ending flourish of five straight wins. "Jeff had said things at the end of last season, so I wasn't surprised," says backup quarterback and newly appointed starter Jack Trudeau. "Part of me says he's crazy, but if this makes him that miserable, maybe he's doing the best thing for Jeff."
Doing what's best for Jeff has always been George's primary concern. Two days before training camp was to begin, he ambled into the office of Colt general manager Jim Irsay, told him he no longer wanted to play in Indianapolis, his hometown, and insisted on being traded. "It's insulting for you to be in my office," replied Irsay, who then warned George. "Don't do it [sit out]. It's going to be a disastrous move."
Which it has been, at least for George. For one thing, he has succeeded in turning the team's once-reviled owner, Irsay's father, Bob, into a sympathetic figure. Even Lowdermilk, who has met George only once, says, "I've heard he's a public relations nightmare."
George has become football's Flying Dutchman, a lonely mariner whose strange voyage began eight years ago as a highly touted freshman at Purdue. He played there for one season and then quit when the coach who had recruited him, Leon Burtnett, was forced to resign. A day after the press conference announcing Burtnett's resignation, the 18-year-old George made his own pronouncement to the press, warning the school's administrators that they had better consult him before they hired Burtnett's replacement.
When they didn't, George appeared to be charting a course for Miami, which was holding a scholarship for him, but he changed his mind and set sail for Illinois. After sitting out for a year, he played two seasons in Champaign and with a year of eligibility remaining, moved on again when Indianapolis made him the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NFL draft.
"He's never finished a thing his entire life," said one Colt fan when interviewed in a telephone survey about George by The Indianapolis News. "He didn't at Purdue. He didn't at Illinois. Now he wants to cop out on us. He needs to grow up."
George's lack of maturity was never more evident than during last season. He missed the first three weeks of the season while recovering from an injured right thumb, then led Indianapolis to three wins in their next four games before two consecutive shutout losses set Colt fans to booing their hapless quarterback. "Why do I get booed?" he said several days after the second blanking, a 28-0 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins. "Here's the honest answer: Because I'm good and I'm good-looking. That's number one. But number two is that I think people still remember the Purdue situation, and I don't think I'll ever live that down, whether I lead the team to a Super Bowl or I'm the top quarterback in the league." George looked anything but that a month later while laboring through a 16-for-30 passing afternoon, which also included five sacks and an interception, against the Jets at the Meadowlands. With the Colts trailing 6-3 midway through the fourth quarter, coach Ted Marchibroda benched George for Trudeau. It was the first time that George had ever been pulled from a game. He threw his helmet at the bench as he left the field and had heated words with Marchibroda. Then he stood in stony silence on the sideline as Trudeau guided Indianapolis to a 10-6 victory. "Ted made the decision, he'll have to live with the consequences," said George in an otherwise jubilant Colt locker room.