Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Perhaps the best year of Jeff George's career, and certainly the most tranquil, came in 1999 when he led Minnesota to nine victories and a playoff berth in 12 starts. He got along with his coaches and teammates. Beat reporters found him to be down-to-earth and honest. Fans loved his gunslinger mentality.
That's why I'm a bit surprised and saddened by George's continuing campaign to convince the Vikings he should still be their quarterback. He told Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports last week that the Vikings would have won the Super Bowl had they paired him with tailback Adrian Peterson, and he followed up by providing this quote to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
"Wouldn't the fans at the Metrodome want to see if I can do again what I did in '99?. That would be all [coach] Brad Childress, for bringing me back. It would be a storybook ending. It would be unbelievable."
Just a calendar update here: 1999 was 10 YEARS AGO. That's an eternity by NFL standards. Not many players pick up where they left off a decade earlier. George, 41, hasn't thrown a regular-season NFL pass since 2001, another eternity in this league. I don't doubt that he still has a strong arm, but George must know there is more to playing quarterback in the NFL than that.
To suggest the job would be "easy" with Peterson in the lineup is an alarming overstatement. Quarterbacks still have to avoid the pass rush. They still must absorb hits. They still must read defenses that have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. And I have a hard time imagining George in the Vikings' strict version of the West Coast offense. Isn't he best matched with a downfield passing game?
As a reporter, I always appreciate when a player honestly expresses his thoughts. But fair or otherwise, NFL teams do not. Thoughts and quotes like the one below are why the league largely moved on after his departure from Washington in 2001:
"I've been trying to figure out how to get back in, and it just amazes me that I'm not on somebody's roster. I've been throwing two or three times a week, and every time I go out there to throw, I can't believe I'm not a backup somewhere. I know it's a young man's game, but you can't tell me I'm not better than some of the quarterbacks that are out there. I look at teams like Minnesota or Chicago, and I want to scream at the people in charge, 'What are you thinking?' "
The Vikings and Bears deserve their share of criticism for the way they've handled their quarterback situations in recent years. But did they err by not signing Jeff George? I can tell you that most NFL coaches don't want a backup quarterback who so directly expresses his superiority over the likely starter. A backup's job is twofold: He must prepare to start, but in the meantime he must accept his subordinate status. There's nothing in George's current sentiments that suggests his aptitude for that role, which really was his only ticket back into the league.
The truth of the matter is that the Vikings wanted George to return in 2000. They spent almost two months trying to negotiate a contract that would allow him to be their starter while also recognizing that Daunte Culpepper, drafted No. 11 overall in 1999, would eventually get his chance. George balked at that arrangement, choosing instead a more lucrative offer from Washington.
We'll never know for sure. But if George had re-signed and continued playing at a high level, it's hard to imagine the Vikings jettisoning him the following year in favor of Culpepper. Receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter loved playing with him and a mini-dynasty -- at least offensively -- could have occurred.
But George made a business decision, the type that gets made every year in the NFL. It didn't work out, and thus his rocky career ended on a down note. But by continuing to push the Minnesota angle, he's diminishing the most positive legacy he produced in the league.
George is a proud man whose exasperation is understandable but ultimately unfounded. The last time he took to the public airwaves, Childress unnecessarily suggested he should attend a fantasy camp to continue playing. My suggestion is that he disconnect his phone. That way, he won't answer the next time a reporter calls to ask if he thinks he should still be playing. It's time for everyone to move on.