In his second NFL season, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder finished 21st in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics among qualifying quarterbacks and threw 18 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. But more will be expected of Ponder if the VIkings are to get further in the playoffs than they did in 2012, when Ponder suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale, and the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers, 24-10, in the wild-card round. The Vikings have taken Adrian Peterson's greatness about as far as any team can take the efforts of any running back. And in the interest of moving Ponder along, head coach Leslie Frazier has taken an unusual step in bringing former NFL quarterback Jeff George in as a "guest coach" during this week's OTAs.
"We told our players just to be able to pick his brain, our quarterbacks, and talk with him about some of the things he saw as a young quarterback and what he saw as a veteran and just his maturation over the course of his career," Frazier told 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero. "He was a very good player for a long time, high draft pick, and I think he can really help our players with some of his background and his knowledge as well."
Ah, but there's more to the story, in George's case.
Before Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell hit the NFL and went "splat," George may have been the biggest draft bust in the league's history. Selected with the first overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. George had a decent rookie season, but things soon fell apart. He held out, argued with head coaches Ron Meyer and Ted Marchibroda, and eventually demanded a trade. The Colts acquiesced after the 1993 season, trading him to the Atlanta Falcons. George threw 41 touchdowns and 46 interceptions in his four-year Colts career. He was a bit better in Atlanta, but he's best known for a sideline tirade in the 1996 season involving head coach June Jones. He moved on to Oakland for the 1997 season and impressed with a 29-touchdown season on a 4-12 squad, but his time in the league was soon to be over.
George had a nice little ride for the Vikings in 1999, replacing Randall Cunningham and starting 10 games in a totally stacked offense, but he signed a large contract with the Washington Redskins in 2000 after Vikings head coach Dennis Green told him to "shop around." He never played in a regular-season game after the 2001 season, though he made noises about comebacks through the next decade.
“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,” George told Y! Sports' Michael Silver in 2009. “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?’”
What teams may have been thinking was that whatever George had left, it wasn't worth the trouble.
The great Ralph Wiley may have put it best in a 2001 article about "Coach Killaz."
My own all-time personal favorite. Did Ron Meyer in Indy, then June Jones in public on the sidelines in Atl when he was with the Falcons (and only with them because they went Run and Shoot, inflating his stats and ego). Where Magic and Elway had real philosophical differences with the coaches they offed, and were vindicated when their teams won multiple world titles, Jeff George's big concern is not how well the team does; it's how well and deep and often he throws the ball regardless of how the team does. And he does throw a beautiful ball. Just look at it, or ask him.
Once a season, with each new team he joins, like clockwork, some media-friendly DB like LeRoy Butler gets beat by one of George's 45-yard deep seam bullets, then after the game says, "Yeah, I got beat, but Jeff George is the only man in football who can throw that pass," which might or might not be true but definitely takes the heat off the DB for not getting there in time. Of course, they usually do get there in time, because George has this annoying habit (it must be annoying to his receivers, anyway) of holding the ball long after they've come out of their break, holding it, holding it, holding it, so he can challenge himself by getting the ball there deeper downfield, and coincidentally after the DBs have begun to recover. He hates to throw little checkdowns. Blitz him up the middle and his raison d'etre is gone.
It's interesting that George may mentor Ponder in any capacity, because the one thing Ponder can't really do is throw the ball deep consistently, and that's the one thing George could always do. From the perspective of intangibles, Ponder has George beaten, hands-down.
"We haven't talked a whole lot," Ponder said. "He has come up to me a few times. He understands the game. Obviously, he was around for a while. He's got a great knowledge of the game. He's sat in the meetings and stuff with us. Just another guy that you can bounce something off of him, and he's good to have around."
George may be good to have around now, but this sounds more like a favor to the old guy than something to benefit Ponder. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was the Raiders' quarterbacks coach in 1997 and worked well with George, so it's possible that Musgrave is doing a solid for his old buddy. Frazier said that George is interested in coaching, which would be an interesting karmic exercise for a man who tortured most of the coaches he played for.