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Madden: George would be plus for Steelers

Saturday, October 06, 2001

During the weekly radio broadcast we co-host, Jack Ham suggested the Steelers sign Jeff George, the Looney Tunes quarterback recently released by the Washington Redskins.

He was serious. I was incredulous.

George's arm never has been questioned. He has been called a cancer so often that he should be on the surgeon general's list of carcinogens. George was cut by Washington, a bad team that's getting worse. How good could he still be?

But then, after a moment's thought, I agreed with Ham. Hey, he didn't get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by being stupid.

The Steelers' quarterback position is in shambles. In the NFL, instant retooling is possible because of widespread free agency. That fact has changed the league's whole philosophy, making immediate results the usual goal and long-term building rare. At any rate, seven years is long enough to spend developing any athlete in any sport. Kordell Stewart just can't play.

The Steelers have a good team. The defense is among the NFL's best. Jerome Bettis is one of football's elite backs. The offensive line is becoming a major force. But all that will go to waste if the Steelers can't throw the ball, and they can't.

The Steelers are one of just four NFL teams to miss the playoffs each of the past three seasons. They're in real danger of missing them again. At some point, the Steelers will go from being a good franchise enduring a rough stretch to being a bad franchise. They're losing credibility fast.

So sign George. He is clearly better than Stewart. Longer arm, more accurate arm, unafraid to use the entire field, very adaptable. He hits receivers in stride consistently, making yards after catch more than a myth.

Kordell's apologists too often cite Stewart's career merry-go-round of offensive systems, offensive coordinators and receivers as a primary source of his problems. Well, George has switched teams -- not systems, not coordinators, not receivers, but teams -- five times in his 12-year career, and he still has managed to outthrow Stewart by an average of 109 yards per game.

OK, so George's last great year was 1999, when he threw for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns with Minnesota. Beats having your last -- and only -- great year in 1997.

For his career, George has averaged 7 yards per passing attempt, a yard more than Stewart. George has completed 57.9 percent of his passes compared to 54.6 percent for Stewart -- and George's percentage is better despite not relying on a plethora of 2-yard dump passes.

George has taken two teams to the playoffs in his career. That's not much worse than Stewart doing it once in four seasons at quarterback. George couldn't get along with Bill Cowher crony Marty Schottenheimer in Washington. Then again, who can?

George is a classic quarterback in terms of style. He's 6 feet 4, 214 pounds, and has long been known for having one of football's best arms. He's 33, not young, but hardly too old. At any rate, the Steelers would turn to George as a stop-gap, not a long-term replacement. Pay him the NFL's veteran minimum, hope he gets the Steelers into the playoffs, then look for a more permanent quarterback.

George is, admittedly, a jerk. But I've seen a bad passing game cost the Steelers wins for too long. I'd use Mussolini at quarterback if he could hit a wide-open receiver in the end zone.

Why is George considered a jerk? Because he blows up on the sideline occasionally? Stewart has done that, with tears thrown in. Because he avoids accountability when he plays poorly? Kordell "It's a team game" Stewart wrote the book on that.

At the very least, George's presence on the Steelers would finally determine who's responsible for the team's passing problems, the quarterback or the receivers. George would deliver accurate throws to Plaxico Burress and Troy Edwards. It would be up to them to catch it. Malign the work ethics and attitudes of No-catchico and Edwards all you want, but it's unfair to demean their receiving abilities when the ball consistently arrives off-target.

It seems like everyone is piling on when it comes to criticizing Stewart. But, Stewart has consistently disappointed since 1997. His stats have been at or near the bottom of the NFL in almost every significant passing category. The Steelers haven't made the playoffs for three seasons. Stewart's fragile psyche makes leadership on his part impossible. His most recent "highlight" was a stretch of mediocre play last season that only served to show how low expectations for him have fallen.

If you're tired of reading columns that bash Stewart, believe me, I'm tired of having to write them.

Sign George. He's hardly an ideal choice. But he's a much better choice. He might recognize the Steelers as his last chance and make the most of it.

Incidentally, here's my biggest fear regarding the Steelers' quarterback job. Let's say Stewart stumbles all season. The Steelers miss the playoffs. Stewart gets cut. The job goes to Tee Martin, another ath-a-lete who has to learn the position. That would be like a horror movie sequel. "Kordell II: The Nightmare Continues."

Mark Madden's talk show is heard 3-7 p.m weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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