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BEST ROUND EVER IN PRIMETIME
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We've come to the end for our
top bottom ten draft busts in Indianapolis Colts history, with the No. 1, all-time, absolute worst draft pick ever made by this franchise.
Before we get into the selection (which, at this point, is so obvious it might as well be twelve stories tall, green, and breathing fire), I'll be honest with you and say I approached this sort of flying by the seat of my pants. I didn't plan this series out two weeks ago. I didn't thoroughly research each and every pick over a period of days. I pretty much knew ten guys I saw as disappointments, put them in the best order I could, and wrote about them. When one takes into consideration the investment the team placed in the person labeled a 'bust,' the trust they had in the pick only to see the player's potential crumble to dust before their eyes, it factors into the very subjective evaluation for this series.
Also, I felt it was important to only include players drafted while the team was in Indianapolis. Thus, players like Art Schlichter of Ohio State were excluded. Art's been making a lot of news of late (and is spending some time in jail because of it), but the former-OSU quarterback was drafted in 1982 by the Baltimore Colts with the No. 4 overall pick. The very next year, Baltimore used the No. 1 overall pick on another quarterback, John Elway from Stanford. Because those moves happened in Baltimore, and because (in many ways) they accelerated the team's move to Indianapolis, it didn't make sense to include them in this series.
And with that said, we now turn our focus to the worst draft pick ever in Indianapolis Colts history. A guy known for throwing interceptions, whining to his coaches, quitting on his team (s), and being friends with a fat, loud-mouthed, former offensive linemen from Warren Central High School who now writes for the Kansas City Star.
Colts Draft Bust No. 1: Jason Whitlock's Friend Sucked As A Quarterback
For many of you, I'm sure you're looking at the length of this article and asking yourself, 'WTF does his high school and college career have to do with Jeff George being a draft bust for the Indianapolis Colts?' For those of you who have only been fans of this team during the Peyton Manning years, that's a valid question. I'll simply state that is is impossible to fully understand the complete and absolute bust George was in Indiana without knowing his entire football career prior to getting drafted. All of these things factored into him being taken first overall in 1990, and they added to the level of expectations that George very much failed to live up to.
Jeff George has been, and probably always will be, the poster boy for the pampered, spoiled, entitled athlete. All this man's life, he was told how wonderful he was throwing a football. In many ways, people were right. Few people in the history of professional football displayed the freakish talent Jeff George was born with.
The man could throw a ball, on a frozen rope, 70-plus yards.
Yet, despite this awesome talent, the first overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft was simply terrible playing the quarterback position. As we have seen with quarterbacks in recent years named JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Matt Leinart, and Vince Young, great talent in throwing a ball does not mean one is a good quarterback. Key traits like leadership, dedication, accountability, toughness, selflessness, diplomacy, and 'coolness under fire' are all more important than how far a person can throw.
Many of these key traits Jeff George sorely lacked.
4 Oct 1992: Quarterback Jeff George of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass the ball during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Colts won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran /Allsport
The Warren Central High School Darling
Long before he shook hands with Jim Irsay and put on a white uniform with a blue horseshoe, Jeff George was well known in the state of Indiana. Back then, George was a star football player in a state that, quite frankly, didn't care about football. Basketball was king in the Hoosier heartland in the mid-to-late 1980s, but it is a tribute to George's celebrity that he was viewed almost in the same realm as 1980s high school basketball star Damon Bailey.
While in high school, he guided powerhouse Warren Central to two high school championships, back-to-back, in 1984 and 1985. In '85, he won the prestigious Dial Award given to the nation's outstanding male and female American high-school athletes of the year. He was also the first recipient of the Gatorade Player of the Year award in 1986. Future winners of this award included Emmitt Smith in 1987 and Peyton Manning in 1994.
While at Warren Central, George's teammate and offensive line buddy was Jason Whitlock, nationally recognized columnist and writer for the Kansas City Star.
Pissing On Purdue
Like Bailey in basketball, George was heavily recruited by in-state schools. He eventually committed to Purdue University, and played there for one year under coach Leon Burtnett. However, after Purdue's dreadful 1986 season, which saw them win only three games, Burtnett was fired and replaced by Fred Akers. Akers, who had made his reputation at the University of Texas, utilized an offensive system that was not pro-friendly for a quarterback. It relied heavily on running the football and was very option-heavy. For those that don't know, Akers was the man who made Earl Campbell a college star in the 1970s. His mantra was run, run, and run some more. Passing the football for Akers was akin to punting.
George, at 6'4, 200 pounds, was a straight pocket passer, and had the mobility of a turtle on Quaaludes. It was obvious he wasn't going to fit within Akers' system, and he left Purdue prior to his sophomore year in search of a school that would better utilize his passing talent.
Now, for some, this was the beginning of George's reputation as a 'quitter.' Regardless of the reasons (and in this case, the reasons were logical), Purdue football fans don't take it kindly when their prized in-state recruit up and left the program because he 'doesn't like the offense.' Purdue has a rich and hallowed football tradition, and whether Jeff George knew it or not, by leaving Purdue in 1987 he was pissing on that tradition.
I Need Certain Guarantees
For me, a more accurate 'beginning' to George's reputation as a 'whiny quitter' was immediately after he left Purdue. George found a home at the University of Miami, committing to the school due in large part to the pro-style offense run by then-coach Jimmy Johnson.
However, despite publicly stating he had no issues with competing against other quarterbacks for the starting job with the Hurricanes, when Johnson insisted that George had to earn the job, that it was simply was not going get 'guaranteed' to him because of his high school awards, Jeff balked and refused to play for the Hurricanes. He eventually landed at the University of Illinois, a move that (once again) irked Purdue fans because Illinois plays in the Big Ten Conference.
At Illinois, George posted some truly impressive statistics. In 1988, he helped them reach the All-American Bowl, the school's first bowl game since their 1985 loss in the Peach Bowl. In 1989, George led Illinois to an impressive 10-2 record and a win over Virginia in the Citrus Bowl. In that 1989 season, he completed 62% of his passes for 2,738 yards and 22 touchdowns for a QB rating of 134.
Quite simply, George was a man playing among boys in the college football arena. His teams were also 2-0 against Purdue, which went 13-31 under Fred Akers, never reaching a bowl game.
The No. 1 Overall Prospect And The Trade That Killed The Colts
After the '89 college football season, George was the toast of the amateur football world. People called him the next John Unitas, and for Robert Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts, six years removed from their infamous Mayflower move from Baltimore, George was an intriguing prospect who could solve two major problems the franchise was dealing with.
1) Talent at the quarterback position.
2) A 'hometown boy' that would connect Indiana fans with the franchise.
You see, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, people in Indianapolis simply did not care for the Colts despite the fact that the team had won their division in 1987,
hosted a playoff game played in the playoffs that season, and were coming off a 9-7 season in 1988 where they had just missed post-season play.
However, the work stoppage in '87, and the overall odious mannerisms of Robert Irsay, had tuned out the local fans. I.U. basketball and high school basketball were the sports entertainment kings for the state at that time. With no 'stars' on the Colts roster (save Eric Dickerson, who Colts fans were growing to loath), and plenty of empty seats each Sunday in the now torn down Hoosier Dome, Irsay felt the franchise needed a name local fans could support and cheer for (and spend lots of their money on).
Thus, with one year of college eligibility, Jeff George left Illinois and declared for the 1990 NFL Draft when he received a guarantee that he'd be the No. 1 overall pick that year. I trust you are noticing the trend here.
Sensing an opportunity, then-Colts general manager Jim Irsay pulled off a trade that will forever live in infamy. He sent Colts players Andre Rison, Chris Hinton, a 1990 fifth round pick, a 1991 first round pick, and a 1991 conditional pick to the Atlanta Falcons for the first overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. The Colts used that pick to draft George.
Now, we look at that trade today, and we all collectively drop jaws at the utter stupidity it took to execute it. Prior to this trade, from 1981-1990, the Falcons had never won more than seven games in a season. After this trade, they became a playoff team. Andre Rison and Chris Hinton would quickly become Pro Bowlers in Atlanta, and the birth of Primetime with Deion Sanders and the high-flying Falcons was born.
A Rookie So Shaky He's Practically A Fault Line
For the Colts, the hope was that 'hometown boy' Jeff George would be the the team's franchise quarterback for the next 15 years. But, it was apparent early on that George simply wasn't up to the task.
Right away, the old issues of entitlement began to creep into the Colts lockerroom, with the center of the vortex on George. He reportedly resented the presence of longtime starting quarterback Jack Trudeau remaining on the team as a back-up. Trudeau had quarterbacked the Colts to their only playoff appearance in Indianapolis back in '87, and it's quite possible that Trudeau had the loyalty of several players in the lockerroom. Unlike Trudeau, George hadn't earned the right to start. But, because of his pedigree, he had been given the job.
The situation started terribly for Indy, as the club opened the 1990 season 0-3 and looking awful in the process. They hadn't won a September game in ten straight tries, and George was looking particularly bad as a rookie starting QB. Against the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, and the Houston Oilers, George had thrown one touchdown, five interceptions, and was completing just 48% of his passes. The situation started to reach critical mass when, after halftime of the Week Three Oilers game (down 14-0), coach Ron Meyer sat George and inserted Jack Trudeau into the game.
Trudeau's presence ignited a spark.
He lead the Colts back by hitting tight end Pat Beach on a 16-yard touchdown pass, and just like that, the Colts opened the fourth quarter down only 17-10 to a pretty good Oilers team. Houston would eventually win the game 24-10, but the whispers started growing louder that Trudeau was better in the Colts offense than George.
Those whispers became full blown shouts after Indy's game the following week against the Eagles. Jeff George did not start that game. Jack Trudeau did, and he played quite well against a very good Eagles defense. Trudeau threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Bill Brooks in the final seconds of the game! When kicker Dean Biasucci kicked the extra point, the Colts had won the game 24-23 on the road in Philly. It was Indy's first September win in ten tries, and everyone was elated.
Everyone but Jeff George.
3 OCT 1993: JACK TRUDEAU QUARTERBACK OF THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS PREPARES TO PASS AGAINST THE DENVER BRONCOS. Mandatory Credit: Tim Defrisco/ALLSPORT
Despite being the club's franchise quarterback, Jeff George sat while Jack Trudeau quarterbacked the team for the next two weeks. The Colts lost games to the Broncos and the Chiefs, and at 2-5 the team's prospects of making the playoffs looked dim. As a result, coach Ron Meyer (who was on shaky ground with Robert Irsay) re-inserted George as the starter once again. Against the Miami Dolphins, the Colts were blown out 27-7. George threw no touchdowns. He started the next week against the then-undefeated New York Giants. Another blowout loss, this time 24-7.
At 2-7, the season was practically over and the team looked as if it had given up. But, with the burden of winning and high expectations lifted, the Colts seemed to start to find their groove. Over the next eight games, they played well. Indy went 5-3 during that stretch, including wins over the AFC powerhouse Cincinnati Bengals and the NFC's Washington Redskins.
During this hot streak, George seemed to come alive. His 'coming out party' was Week Twelve against the Bengals in Cincy. The Bengals were the defending AFC Champions, and George went into their building and threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns with zero picks in a 34-20 Colts win. During the 5-3 stretch, George threw for 1,301 yards, twelve TDs, and five picks. The cries for Jack Trudeau were silent, and despite missing the playoffs at 7-9, there was optimism heading into the 1991 season.
Worst. Season. Ever.
The positive feelings people had heading into the 1991 season, with Jeff George firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, died after the first four games. Indy started the season 0-4, getting blown out in three of the four loses. After losing 31-3 in Week Five against the lowly Seahawks, Robert Irsay did what Robert Irsay always did when things got bad: He blamed others and fired the head coach mid-season.
Ron Meyer was canned and Rick Venturi took over as interim head coach. The season only got worse from there as the culture of losing became so comical that a local radio station promoted a campaign to abstain from having sex as long as the Colts continued to lose. It was called 'No Trim 'Til The Colts Win.'
The Colts wouldn't win a game until Week 11 against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, a 28-27 nail-biter. I remember that game well because it was the first Colts game I ever watched, start to finish.
The Jets win was Indy's only victory that year. They went 0-8 at home, and averaged an appalling 8.9 points per game on offense. Jeff George was sacked for a then-NFL record 56 times. He completed 62% of his passes, but all the sacks and the total lack of a running game (combined with the off-the-field issues surrounding malcontent runningback Eric Dickerson), George simply had no chance.
The Colts reached the absolute bottom of the barrel in 1991 as that team was one of the worst ever fielded, statistically, in NFL history.
The Beginning Of 'Boy George'
1992 was the beginning of the end for Jeff George in Indianapolis. It was quickly becoming apparent that, despite his tremendous talent, the Colts had been utterly foolish to trade so much to acquire him. While Indy was languishing through a terrible 1-15 season, the 1991 Atlanta Falcons (behind star wide receiver Andre Rison and Pro Bowl guard Chris Hinton), went 10-6 and won a playoff game.
In Indianapolis, Ted Marchibroda was now the Colts head coach for the 1992 season. Ole Teddy was well known to Colts fans, having been the head coach of the Baltimore Colts in the 1970s when Bert Jones was the quarterback. Marchibroda had also made his mark as offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He groomed Jim Kelly into a future Hall of Famer, and developed the legendary 'K Gun' offense (aka, the no huddle offense) that is so en vogue even today.
The Colts also used the 1992 Draft to stock up on additional talent. They drafted Steve Emtman with the No. 1 overall pick, and with the No. 2 pick they took Quentin Coryatt. With a respected head coach, talent on defense, a new free agent acquisition in wide receiver Reggie Langhorne, and an offense catered to his talents, the thought was Jeff George would finally begin to consistently showcase his abilities and help win football games.
During the team's third preseason game, Jeff George injured his throwing hand by knocking it into a helmet. The diagnosis was a 'stretched ligament,' with George missing four weeks. This promoted the Colts to re-sign George's nemesis, Jack Trudeau. But since Trudeau hadn't participated in training camp, he needed time to get ready. Thus, onetime Purdue football star Mark Herrman started Week One against the Cleveland Browns, and to everyone's shock, he helped the team win the game! It was the Colts first ever Week One victory in Indianapolis. The fans were elated. The team seemed energized. Everyone was smiles abound when talking about the Colts.
Everyone except Jeff George.
4 Oct 1992: Quarterback Jeff George of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Colts won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran /Allsport
For reasons that still baffle fans and media today, after the Week One victory, the Colts cut Mark Herrman, inserted Jack Trudeau as the starting QB, and waited for George to return from injury. The decision was disastrous. Herrman was a fan favorite, and it didn't help things when the Colts followed up their Week One victory with two straight loses, including a 38-0 butt-kicking at the hands of Marchibroda's old team, the Bills.
After the Week Four bye, George returned and helped the Colts to two straight victories; one over the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the other against the Jets. However, despite the wins, it was obvious that George was not comfortable working in Marchibroda's offense, which required the QB to make quick reads and timely decisions at the line of scrimmage. George was never a cerebral quarterback. If anything, one of his knocks coming out of college (other than being an entitled prick) was that he was stupid.
The Week Six win against the Jets was especially troubling. The Colts won the game by a score of 6-3... in overtime! The
bloodletting play of the offense was enough to make your eyes melt. George threw for 194 yards and a pick against the Jets defense that surrendered 20 points per game that year.
Other the next six games, the Colts would go 1-5, ending any hope they had of making the playoffs. More importantly, the attitude projected by George, the team's franchise leader, was one of indifference. The man seemed to accept, and even tolerate, losing. It got so bad that after a 37-34 loss to the Patriots, a game which saw the 'immortal' Scott Zolak make his first start for the Pats and absolutely torch the Colts secondary, Jeff George found himself sitting on the bench once again. Replacing him, once again, was the cockroach of back-up QBs, Jack Trudeau.
With the Colts now being quarterbacked by Trudeau, they suddenly started playing well. They went 3-1 with him under center, including an overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, the very same Bills which had blown the Colts out in Week Three.
But while Trudeau was quarterbacking the team to victory after victory, George was quite visible sitting on the bench, sulking like a child. This display of indifference prompted some to tag Jeff as 'Boy George.' George would return to the starting lineup in Week 16, playing a brilliant game against the Cardinals and leading the Colts to a 16-13 win. The game had significance for George because, prior to the kickoff, fans and media were highly critical of the team sitting Trudeau once again in favor of George.
After the win, which saw him throw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, 'Boy George' seemed to flaunt his stats in the faces of fans and media alike, taunting and waving at the crowd in the Hoosier Dome, which had spent much of the 1992 season booing him. This behavior would come back to haunt George, because the following week the Colts traveled to Cincy. Though out of the playoff picture, a win would give the Colts a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 1988. The game started terribly for George and the Colts. At halftime, the team was down 17-0. The offense looked putrid, and George seemed to care less. It was then that Teddy Marchibroda made the tough decision:
He sat Jeff George (again), and started Jack Trudeau in the second half (again).
Just like with the Eagles game in 1990, Trudeau's presence lit a spark for the Colts. They scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, and won the game 21-17. 'Boy George' was now a nickname that would stick, and while the 1993 off-season was looked at with (false) optimism, it was very much the beginning of the end for George.
The Summer When You Learned What AWOL Meant
With the NFL's labor situation becoming settled in 1993, paving the way for true free agency, the Colts rode the mojo of their 9-7 season to signing key free agent offensive linemen Will Wolford from Buffalo and Kirk Lowdermilk from Minnesota. With their line solidified, and with a pretty solid draft haul in 1993, netting players like Roosevelt Potts, Ray Buchanan, and Ashley Ambrose, it really seemed as if the Colts finally had the talent to make a serious playoff run.
Just like every other season, the Colts opened training camp with optimism and confidence. But, despite the new talent and the good vibes, something was missing when the Colts reported to camp in Anderson, IN.
That something was JEFF GEORGE!
When veterans were scheduled to report to camp on July 15th, 1993, the Colts starting quarterback and No. 1 overall pick in 1990 simply wasn't there. Not only was he not at camp, but no one in the organization had seen or heard from him. From SI, circa 1993:
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."
Why was George not showing up for work?
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.
Two days prior to the start of camp, it was reported that George had marched into Jim Irsay's office, flat out old him he'd never play in a Colts uniform again, and demanded a trade. Again, this is the same Jeff George Jim Irsay had traded the farm to get; the same Jeff George Irsay had spent millions to protect in signing linemen like Lowdermilk and Wolford. George then threatened Irsay by saying if he wasn't traded, he'd sit out the season.
"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."
Two days later, George was AWOL from training camp. Jack Trudeau was then named the starting quarterback for the season opener. Without taking single snap in 1993, the team and the city had already turned on Jeff 'Boy' George.
Lowdermilk on George:
"I've heard he's a public relations nightmare."
Trudeau, after hearing George was AWOL from camp:
"Jeff had said things at the end of last season, so I wasn't surprised,"
The distraction would doom the Colts season before it even started. Indianapolis limped to a 2-3 start and, once again, despite an off-season of childish antics, Jeff George did report to the team and was (unbelievably) given a chance to start again. He played terrible, guiding the Colts to nine loses in eleven starts. He finished the season throwing for 2,500 yards, eight TDs, and six picks. All the while, he was booed religiously at home (by those who bothered to show up to games), and displayed the same indifferent attitude that had characterized his entire tenure in Indianapolis.
The Colts ended the 1993 season 4-12. Following that year, Jim Irsay would lose his job as general manager, handing over the personnel decisions to new V.P. of Football Operations, Bill Tobin. One of Tobin's first moves as the personnel czar was cutting Jack Trudeau and trading Jeff George.
They Actually Traded Him To The Stupid Falcons
On the final day of the owners meeting in March of 1994, the Colts traded Jeff George. But, in typical Colts fashion, the trade was not done without a sense of bitter irony with just a dash of contempt. As previously stated, in order to acquire George in 1990, the Colts had to swing a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, sending draft picks and Pro Bowl caliber players off to Georgia.
Four years later, the Colts made another trade with Atlanta. This time, it was to get rid of George.
Indy sent George to Atlanta in exchange for the Falcons No. 7 overall pick, a third round pick, and a conditional 1996 second round pick, which would become a first rounder should George play 75% of the snaps in nine Atlanta victories in 1995 (more on this later). Bill Tobin would then take that No. 7 overall pick and use it in a package deal with the Rams to move up at get the No. 4 overall pick, which he then used on the Colts No. 2 all-time draft bust, Nebraska's Trev Alberts.
Thus, the Jeff George era was closed in Indianapolis. He'd been sent to the team that would have very likely drafted him in 1990 if they hadn't sent their first overall pick to the Colts. George's career stats in Indianapolis were 9,551 yards, 41 TDs, and 46 INTs. The Colts record when he started during that span was 14-35. When another QB not named Jeff George started during the same span, the team was 7-8.
The Rebirth Of The Colts
As you can hopefully see, when you count up all that was lost in the drafting of Jeff George, and just how horrible he was as the franchise's starting quarterback, it's pretty much a no-brainer to call him the worst draft pick in franchise history.
It's worth noting that George would go on to play another eight years in the NFL, with his best seasons being in Atlanta with the Falcons. He put up tremendous numbers throwing to the guy the Colts traded to acquire him (Andre Rison) and he got great blocking from the other guy Indy gave up to draft George (Chris Hinton). However, like in Indianapolis, Jeff's tenure in Atlanta was short due in large part to his immature attitude. His famous sideline explosion with then-coach June Jones seemed to sum up his whole career. George would bounce around to teams like the Raiders, Vikings, and Redskins. But, it seemed everywhere he went, Jeff just didn't do enough to win the hearts and minds of his fans, teammates, and coaches.
It's also worth noting that the 1994 George trade was the beginning of the Colts rebirth. With George gone, it paved the way for Jim Harbaugh to be signed as a free agent the off-season. Also, while the Trev Alberts pick was a colossal bust, because George did play 75% of the snaps and helped Atlanta win nine games in 1995, the conditional 1996 second round pick the Colts got in exchange for George was bumped up to a first rounder.
With that pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, Bill Tobin took Syracuse wide receiver Marvin Harrison. The rest is, as they say, history.
12 Nov 1995: Linebacker Bryce Paup of the Buffalo Bills sacks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jeff George during a game at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills won the game, 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport
No. 1 Draft Bust: Jeff George
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