The University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame commenced in 2017, and it wasn’t until this year’s class, announced today that a quarterback made the cut. Hard to believe, given all the great QBs that have donned orange and blue, that it took this long, but the drought ends with Jeff George.
Yes, the Indianapolis native and Purdue transfer, who led Illinois to a Top 10 national finish in 1989, and a Citrus Bowl win over Virginia on New Year’s Day 1990. He was the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick in 1990, getting selected by him hometown Colts.
George, who has an estimated net worth of between $1-$5 million (although that’s a very big spread, and I question the validity of that) currently resides back in Indy.
According to SB Nation’s Hammer and Rails founder Travis Miller, George owns a Dairy Queen on the outskirts of town where his photo is prominently placed.
Jeff George played in the NFL for 12 years, with five teams, and signing for an additional three for whom he never threw a single pass.
He just never completely gelled with coaches, coordinators, teammates etc. His career was marked by frequent conflicts with coaches and management, which resulted in his departure from most of the teams he played for.
At the end of the day, Jeff George couldn’t find the right fit anywhere, and that means the problem was indeed him. That was too bad, because he had all the physical tools and skill sets to be among the elite.
George even rivaled Dan Marino in his prime when it came to having a lightning quick release.
After being a massive bust with his hometown Colts, he found some success with Atlanta, before wearing out his welcome there. He had his best season in Oakland (ah, the sea forgives all! So do the Raiders) in 1997; when he threw for 29 TDs and 9 INTs.
Then in ’98 he blew off his Offensive Coordinator to call his own plays all season.
As you can imagine, this act of defiance didn’t sit well.
He was replaced by the eventual 1998 NFL MVP Rich Gannon.
Jeff George finished his career with a 46-78 record; 151 TDs vs 133 INTs, and one playoff win (1999, while with the Minnesota Vikings)
His NFL legacy, whether it’s justified or not, was one of someone who had it all physically, but didn’t have what it took in between the ears.
Whether that is fair or not, depends on who you talk to and what their point of view is. Former Bears QB Jay Cutler, for what it is worth, has often drawn Jeff George comparisons.
In college however, Jeff George was a legend. He was named Second-Team All-B1G in ’88 and First-Team in ’89, after leading the Fighting Illini to back-to-back bowl games. Jeff George earned Honorable Mention All-America honors in 1989.
During his two seasons at Illinois, George threw for 5,189 yards and 31 touchdowns. He set the Illini single-season record with 22 touchdown passes 1989, which still ranks tied for third.
Kurt Kittner broke the single season TD pass record twice. The only other football player for this class is Bill Burrell, who finished fourth in 1959 Heisman Trophy balloting.
Illini football and Heisman Trophy candidate are not phrases that often go together, and thus the OL/LB (yes, a two way player) was long overdue.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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