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Watson deserves support despite controversial football career

Nov. 21, 1997

This Christmas, Baylor quarterback Jeff Watson will sit with his family in the den of their College Station home, maybe next to a crackling fire, and watch some of the country's top football squads compete in bowl games.

At some point, Jeff -- one of the most prolific passers in the history of Texas high school football -- will probably realize how it could've been, how different things would be for him right now if he had accepted an offer to sign with a Top 25 team four years ago instead of with the Bears. How he could be on television this December rather than watching one.

Baylor, though, was just too darn pleasant. That recruiting trip, he said, made everything seem so right. The students. The campus. The coaches and players. Everything.

'Pleasant,' he said.

Saturday, Jeff will start his 35th and final game when the Bears take on Oklahoma State at Floyd Casey Stadium. In four seasons, he has won only 17 of the 34 contests he's started while leading the Bears to just one postseason berth, a spot in the 1994 Alamo Bowl. If Baylor loses as expected Saturday, it will finish with a 2-9 record, the worst finish by a Bear team since 1971.

Obviously, Jeff's stint in Waco, for the most part, hasn't been a successful one -- certainly not pleasant. But man, has it been remarkable.

Remarkable? Heck yes! Remarkable.

Since signing with Baylor, Jeff has conquered obstacles far more fierce than the opposing defenses he's faced. In his four seasons with the Bears, he has been challenged by six blue-chip quarterbacks, a coach that said he couldn't win and a student body that, pathetically, didn't seem to want him to.

And he has beaten them all.

For that, Jeff Watson deserves to be cheered Saturday. Not so much because of what he accomplished on the field the last four seasons, but for what he accomplished in his life. Jeff, you see, has become a man. He was forced to.

Those comments will do that to you. Walking through campus and hearing a student whisper, 'There's 'Ole Jeff Watson. Man, does he suck,' will toughen you up real quick. Jeff hears that a lot, especially these days. Still, he smiles and keeps his head held high.

Even as he sat handcuffed, on his knees, in front of Cricket's Grill and Drafthouse for 35 minutes July 3rd, he fought through the criticism. After being arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, he sat, with tears trickling down his face, as people gathered to point and laugh.

'Look,' snickered some of the group, many of them Baylor students who could've been charged with the same misdemeanor that evening. 'The quarterback's getting arrested.'

For what it's worth, Jeff wasn't drunk that night. He recalled Monday that he had only three beers during a two-hour period. But when officers, responding to a false report that he was getting 'aggressive' with his girlfriend, refused to give him a test to determine whether he was intoxicated, Jeff admittedly got a little lippy, something of which many people have been guilty. After his girlfriend tried unsuccessfully to convince the men he had done nothing wrong, Jeff was incarcerated for a night. But even that, he said, is behind him now.

On the field, Jeff has held just as strong. When he enters a game and people boo, he responds by throwing a touchdown pass. And when his coaches have shown a lack of confidence in him by signing taller, faster quarterbacks each season, Jeff has always proved himself better and maintained his starting position.

In becoming Baylor's all-time pass completions leader this fall, he has played on basically one foot. He hurt the other early in the year. Against Nebraska, he hopped up after six crunching knockdowns and limped back to the huddle unfazed. And when the Bears played Texas, he engineered a miraculous third quarter comeback that led to a win and a revitalization of the program.

Still, though, some of you will boo him Saturday, maybe because you blame him for the losing seasons the past two years. Or maybe because you think Odell James, Baylor's 'quarterback of the future,' should be the starter.

Maybe you will be attending your first Baylor game and it seems like the thing to do.

If you decide to jeer, Jeff probably won't be affected. In fact, here's betting that he may have saved something special for his last game.

But wouldn't it be nice to cheer for him? Wouldn't it be nice to make him feel appreciated for once, to stand and clap when his named is announced or when he walks off the field -- with his held held high -- for the last time?

For Jeff Watson, just this once, wouldn't it be nice to make Baylor pleasant again?

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