B/R has made it worth my time to be here, I tell you what. The experience of my editing internship, the chance to read some great writers, meeting some friends, offering me a featured columnist position, building my library of clips, setting me up with a phone interview of Falcons head coach Mike Smith and now...
Another, with former Falcons quarterback Jeff George! The name stirs some deep, primal memories for me: rolling around in ecstasy on the blue (yes, blue) carpet of the den in my old house, celebrating our 1995 playoff run; wrestling the Sega Genesis controller away from the bullies at daycare so I could use my hometown guy in NFL Quarterback Club...
But I'm boring you. Here's the transcript of our immensely enjoyable little talk.
John McCurdy: Since it was Gatorade who hooked us up, the first thing I want to talk about is back when you won the Gatorade Player of the Year Award. Now that it’s been some years and so many great athletes have been named for that award, can you kinda put it into perspective for me? What does that mean to you?
Jeff George: You know what, I’ve really been asked that a lot. It’s hard to believe it’s the 25th anniversary of the Player of the Year. To be quite honest with you, that was probably one of the greatest moments of my high school career. Being the first-ever national Player of the Year was pretty special. I felt like it was something they could never take away from me. I think if you ask any high school athlete “Which award would you rather get?” (and I know there’s a lot of them out there now), the Gatorade award would probably be the Heisman of high school football to them. So it was an honor to get that.
JM: For sure. Well, I’m a Falcons writer myself, live in the Atlanta area, was born down here, so I’m going to go ahead and jump to some Falcons questions. Your name is the first quarterback name that I remember in terms of Falcons. That was right when I started [watching], in the 1995 playoff run, that’s one of my earliest football memories. So tell me how your skills fit into that run & shoot offense that we ran back then.
JG: Well, the thing about the run & shoot is there are really not a lot of people that can play in that. I don’t know if you remember, but Brett Favre was there two years before I got there. You take a lot of hits, and you need to be able to have a quick release and get rid of the ball. What’s amazing is the negative press that you get about the run & shoot, which we heard every year, that “You score too much, you score too soon, you don’t give the defense time to rest.” That was always the negative point, but I loved it. I was great friends with [then-Falcons head coach] June Jones, who’s now at SMU. He’s one of my best friends. I wish the time that I spent there would have been better than it was, but timing’s everything, and it wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t the right time for me in Atlanta.
JM: To tell you the truth, I look back at your numbers, including one season of more than 4,000 yards, I think you did alright. I think you did OK taking us to the playoffs.
JG: Well, you wanna get to the playoffs and ultimately you want to go to the Super Bowl. But it was transition years when I was in Atlanta. You had new ownership going over. You can’t just go get new coaches year-in and year-out. Even before I got there, it seemed like every two or three years there was a new coach. You need some stability, you need that continuity, and you need to develop chemistry, not just in the organization but as players. But I tell you what, Atlanta’s a team to beat now, I believe. Wonderful organization, they’ve got a great quarterback. They’re obviously going to do some good things.
JM: Speaking of the current Falcons, what do you think it would be like to play for Coach Smith, and have Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez in your offense? How would that be different from when you were playing?
JG: Well, the difference would be the run & shoot, obviously. If you don’t run the run & shoot, you’re a totally different team, your concepts are totally different. Your thoughts on defense are a lot different. Nowadays I would love to go and play in a system for more than two years. I’d love to be in that same system for 10-plus years and have the type of defense that Coach Smith has there. You hear the old cliché “Defense wins championships,” and that’s the honest-to-goodness truth. So they have what it takes now. They’ve got a great owner, got a great coaching staff, and they make it easy on the players. In the offseason, they make the free agents want to come there and play, and I’m not so sure they could say that in the past.
JM: Mr. George, just talking to you, I’m kinda getting the feeling that you might be able to coach or take a front office position. What do you think about that?
JG: Yeah, that’s always a possibility, but coaching takes a lot of your time up. I have a family, and you kinda want to see your kids grow up. I don’t want to be one of those dads that’s never around for his kids. But if the opportunity came around, and maybe something in the organization, not coaching but something else, that’s something I obviously know. I know a lot about football. There’s no doubt that I could help somebody out, in whatever capacity that may be.
JM: That’s what I’m thinking. Now, I read recently that you’re still staying in shape. You still keeping that up, you still throwing the ball?
JG: Yeah, I do, three or four times a week. I’m 40 years old, and I know that sounds ancient to a lot of people, but if you take care of yourself, watch what you eat and drink, you never know. I just want to make sure that if I do get that call, if somebody needs me to play next week, I just want to make sure I’m ready for it. That’s what I do and I would definitely be ready for that.
JM: Going back to your years in Atlanta, just some rapid-fire questions, just say whatever comes to your mind first. Who was your favorite teammate from back then, those ’94 and ’95 Atlanta Falcon teams?
JG: It’s hard to pinpoint one. I was close with Eric Metcalf, who was my receiver, and Terance Mathis. Jamal Anderson wasn’t playing at the time, I had Ironhead Heyward, I don’t know if you remember him or not. Those guys, just from being around them all day, and hanging out with them, I’d probably say Terance Mathis and Eric Metcalf.
JM: Sounds good. Thinking about that particular playoff year, would it be that playoff game that you played in, or maybe was it an earlier game that season, that was your favorite memory from that season?
JG: Absolutely. The Falcons hadn’t had a lot of success before that, and to take any team to the playoffs is an accomplishment. I still have that game jersey of when we played at Lambeau Field. From a couple of the hits that I took, the jersey’s still stained with the grass on it. That’s in my basement. That was a wonderful memory for me, and that was a great accomplishment for our team. Obviously we wish we’d gone farther than we did, but we made great strides, and Atlanta became a team to be reckoned with two or three years later after I left. I like to think I had something to do with that.
JM: You certainly did. That team very much set the foundation for that Chris Chandler-Jamal Anderson tam that came along later. Now, if you’d be so bold, can you give me a number: How many games the Falcons will win this year.
JG: Number of games? I'm gonna say 11.
JM: Alright. We have a much more difficult schedule [than last season] because we finished second in the division and because we’re matched up with that AFC East.
JG: That’s OK though. You have the right guys: You have the right quarterback, you have the right running game, you got a great defense. Most importantly, you got a great leader in the head coach. When guys believe in that guy [the coach], and you want to play for guys like that, it’s amazing what you can do out on the field. The environment that’s there in Atlanta is nothing like it used to be.
JM: I’ve actually gotten the privilege to talk to Coach Smith a couple of times, and you’re dead on. That is a guy that those players would follow to the ends of the Earth.
JM: Now, I’ve read that you and Randy Moss are pretty good buddies. Tell me what you think about the Pats this year.
JG: Yeah, Randy’s a good friend of mine, I played with him that year in Minnesota. If you stay away from the injury bug, and you keep your stars out on the field, your receivers, you quarterbacks, and your defensive guys, you always have a chance. Whenever you have a guy like Randy who’s out on the field, it doesn’t matter if you two or three guys on him, the guy seems to be always open. It’s just our job [as quarterbacks] to give him the ball. He was a pretty special guy to throw to, and it’d have been nice to have more than a couple years with him.
JM: I’d say so. OK, it’s very early, obviously, but if you had a feeling as for who might make it from the NFC, who might make it from the AFC, to the Super Bowl, could you make a call?
JG: Boy, that’s a tough one. It’s early. I’m all about defenses, who has the strongest defense. In the AFC, I’d probably have to say…well, I don’t want to go with the obvious, because everybody’s probably picking the obvious, but I’m gonna say Pittsburgh can probably get back if they get their guys healthy. They’re gonna be back in it. And then in the NFC, I think if Donovan McNabb can get healthy and stay healthy, I kind of like Philly’s chances.
JM: That’s actually exactly what I was thinking. I was saying in the NFC, we might have Vikings and Eagles, and then over in the AFC we might have Steelers and Pats.
JG: Yep, that’s pretty good.
JM: Well, I really appreciate your time, Mr. George, I know you gotta fly. It was excellent to talk to you, and thank you for what you did for the city of Atlanta.
JG: I appreciate it John, good talking to you.