LAKE FOREST, Ill. Talent was never Jeff George's problem. His personality, well, that's a different story.
Cocky. Hardheaded. Selfish. Egotistical. Arrogant. He heard them all as he hopscotched around the league, a nomadic journey that had as much to do with his attitude as his ability.
''I really don't concern myself with that, to be quite honest with you,'' George said Monday after signing a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears. ''I'm 36 years old, and if people want to harp on what I did when I was 26 years old, that's one thing. But I can just say this ... I am a blessed man.
''To get another opportunity to play football at whatever role I have, I'm definitely going to take advantage of that,'' he added. ''I know there's people that always doubt me and doubt other people, but that's the nature of the business. I'm not any different than any other quarterback out there.''
Oh, but he is.
George was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 draft, blessed with a strong and amazingly accurate arm. He threw for 27,602 yards and 154 touchdowns in 12 years, completing almost 58 percent of his passes while throwing 113 interceptions.
But he's never lived up to the expectations that come with such talent, going 46-78 as a starter. The Bears are his seventh team, and he hasn't played in a game in more than three years. George, who turns 37 on Dec. 8, has been out of the NFL completely for the last 1 1/2 seasons.
The Bears, though, are desperate enough to give George another chance. Chicago (4-7) has already burned through three quarterbacks because of injury or ineffectiveness, and its offense has scored only one touchdown in the last three games.
''Football is all I know,'' George said. ''But I know the business and I know what it's like, and unfortunately what's happened to me in the past has continued to follow me, I guess.''
George has been a magnet for criticism since he was in college, when he transferred from Purdue to Illinois after just one season. He infuriated fans of his hometown Indianapolis Colts with a 36-day holdout in 1993, squabbled with coaches and alienated teammates with his aloofness and cockiness.
His reputation was sullied even further in 1996, when he had a sideline argument with Atlanta Falcons coach June Jones in full view of television cameras. The Falcons suspended George for four games, then cut him.
He swore he was a changed man, that he'd learned from the experience, and he had trouble-free stops in Oakland and Minnesota. But any repair George did to his image was quickly erased in 2001, when he was with the Washington Redskins.
In the season opener, he had an animated sideline discussion with coach Marty Schottenheimer when George was pulled after four turnovers. He played one more game before the Redskins cut him. He had a quarterback rating of 34.6, completing just 23 of 42 passes with three interceptions.
George signed with Seattle midway through the 2002 season but never played.
''Jeff has been through an awful lot, which he will acknowledge to you. He learned an awful lot from it,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''When I met him, I really got a good feel about him and where he is at this time in his life. ... He's at a stage in his life where he wants to be a part of a team and help the team win.''
And George wasted little time reaching out to his new teammates. The Bears' offense is a complex one, with a playbook bigger than a Manhattan directory. But after spending the weekend studying the offense, he was already giving his younger teammates tips Monday.
''He's going out there with a mission to try and get something accomplished, which is trying to get the team better right now,'' receiver Bobby Wade said. ''He was coming up to me, telling me little techniques, little things he was able to see that we need to improve on. It being his first day, I'm comfortable with him coming up and doing that.''
Though the Bears have already said Chad Hutchinson will start against Minnesota on Sunday, receiver David Terrell was practically giddy about the chance to play with George.
''We've got Wyatt Earp and we've got the gunslingers,'' Terrell crowed. ''It's going to be a fun last five games for us, I'm telling you.''
While George thinks he can pick the offense up in a couple of days there isn't much he hasn't seen in his career, after all he won't push to start. But the Bears can't afford to be patient with another struggling quarterback.
If Hutchinson has any trouble, George could find himself back in the game only a few days after having to recruit buddies to catch passes at his old high school.
''Whatever my role is, I'm ready to take that on and just run with it,'' George said. ''All I wanted was just an opportunity, a fair shake just like the other guy. To be a third-stringer, to be a backup, to play whatever role that the Bears want me to do, I'm willing to do that.
''I can't say enough how happy I am really and how thankful to be out here and get this opportunity.''
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