During an era in which National Football League teams often elected to run the ball more than they passed the ball, Eddie George established himself as one of the league’s best running backs.
His height, size and strength made him a formidable opponent for the front sevens of opposing teams during his nine seasons in the league.
Back in the day, he played an integral role in revitalizing a dormant franchise and helping it endear itself to a new cadre of fans.
After retirement, George has been very active in multiple ventures and has been enjoying a productive second career for himself.
Childhood in Philly
Edward Nathan George Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pa. on Sept. 24, 1973 to Edward Nathan George Sr. and Donna George.
The elder George wasn’t in the picture as far as being a father figure for the younger George, leaving Donna Geroge as his main parent growing up. She had help from her older sister Leslie in raising the younger George.
Donna George worked several odd jobs to help support her family, including working as a flight attendant at the now-defunct airline Trans World Airlines (TWA) and as a production administrator at Ford Aerospace.
She used her work ethic to inspire George to put in a sincere effort towards being a productive citizen himself.
As a young child, George dabbled in theater, ballet and music, but he would find his calling on the football field, and it would quickly become not just his favorite activity, but also his life’s ambition.
“Growing up in Philadelphia, football was everything,” said George. “High school football. Little league football. Backyard football. Thanksgiving football. You name it. It was not only a passion, it was life. It was also a vehicle for me to pursue my dreams.”
George was driven to reach lofty heights even from a very young age. He idolized Marcus Allen and Herschel Walker, two of the better running backs of the 1980s, and a big reason why was that they both won the Heisman Trophy.
In fact, when George was just 11, he would practice his acceptance speech for winning the esteemed college football award.
He started pushing for that goal by participating in Pop Warner football for the Abington Raiders, then he moved on to Abington Senior High School. After the 10th grade, George transferred to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, a private Christian military boarding school that has a strong reputation when it comes to sports.
It was there that George started to emerge as a star running back. He made what seemed like an unusual decision to stay at Fork Union for an extra year after his senior season, but it turned out to be a prudent decision.
In his postgraduate season there, he registered 1,372 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was also a standout track athlete at Fork Union, and he managed to win the state title in the high and low hurdles competitions.
Waiting to complete his secondary education allowed him to strut his stuff for college recruiters, and it earned him a scholarship to Ohio State University.
A Bustling Buckeye
Soon after arriving in Columbus, Ohio to attend Ohio State, George started to shine for the Buckeyes. They had been a storied football program over the years, but it had been several years since they had last won a bowl game.
George could’ve chosen one of several other schools, but he decided to be a Buckeye for an important reason.
“Growing up, I knew I wanted the ball in my hands and be in a position to carry the ball as much as possible,” George said. “I wanted to be in control. I didn’t want to change and that is why I chose Ohio State. They gave me a chance to run the ball.”
Ohio State head coach John Cooper was willing to give George the ball instead of typecasting him into being a linebacker.
“Not many colleges recruited him as a running back,” Cooper said. “They all figured he would make a great linebacker. He came here focused and with the goal of becoming a Heisman winner and he did just that.”
As a freshman, George showed that he was for real by scoring three touchdowns in a win versus Syracuse University. However, in a contest against Illinois, George fumbled the ball twice near the goal line, and both times Illinois gained possession and ran it back for a touchdown.
Even though it led to him being benched, he didn’t get down on himself. He used it as motivation to continue to improve at his craft.
“Reflecting back, the game against Illinois (freshman year) was pivotal,” George said. “I was known for the longest time as the guy who fumbled twice inside the five (yard line). People said I couldn’t make it here and I should transfer out. I believed in myself and continued to work hard.”
His sophomore season was quiet. He was used as a third-string running back and had 223 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games.
In 1994, his junior year, George became a starter and scored 12 touchdowns while recording 1,442 rushing yards. He improved on those numbers the following year with a monster campaign: 1,927 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, as well as 417 yards and an additional touchdown as a receiver.
In a contest against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that year, George put up 207 yards, and he made amends for his weak game against Illinois as a freshman with 314 yards and three touchdowns in a ’95 game against the Fighting Illini. He had at least 100 rushing yards in 11 straight games and at least 200 yards in three games as a senior.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY EDDIE GEORGE pic.twitter.com/Eu3CAADgZZ
— Arrogant Urban Meyer (@ArrogantUrban) September 24, 2019
Even better, he drastically improved his ball security after his blunders against Illinois as a freshman by recording just six fumbles in his last three seasons with the Buckeyes.
George certainly got his flowers for his dominance as a senior. He was a consensus first-team All-American, and in a very close vote, he won the Heisman Trophy, fulfilling his childhood dream.
“I’m glad this is over,” George exclaimed upon accepting the trophy. “First and foremost, I would like to thank God almighty for giving me the strength and health to be here tonight.”
“It’s hard to describe how I feel right now in words,” George continued. “This is everything I dreamed of when I came out of high school to Ohio State.”
The running back also won several other honors, including the Maxwell Award as the nation’s most outstanding player, the Doak Walker Award as the country’s top running back and the Big Ten most valuable player award.
Many men may have been content and satiated at that point, but in a way, it motivated George even more. There is the notion of a “Heisman curse,” where the winner of the award fails to have success at the pro level.
George was determined to not join the litany of players who won the Heisman only to fizzle out afterward.
Instant Stardom In The NFL
In the mid-1990s, the Houston Oilers were mired in mediocrity. Although the franchise had made the playoffs numerous times in recent years, it had never reached the Super Bowl.
In addition, the team had a strained relationship with its city. Owner Bud Adams wanted a new arena that would be paid for mostly with public money, but his request was turned down, and it was announced the team would soon be moving to Tennessee.
Looking to get to the next level, the Oilers acquired George by trading for the 14th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft, which the Seattle Seahawks had used to select him. The Oilers targeted George as their tailback of the future after they struck out on the opportunity to trade for star running back Jerome Bettis.
George was immediately a revelation for head coach Jeff Fisher. The former Buckeye ran for 1,368 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie, earning him the Rookie of the Year award.
In just his second pro game, he exploded for 143 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As if to prove that his first season was no fluke, George fell just shy of 1,400 rushing yards in 1997, while scoring seven touchdowns, six of them on the ground. He set the tone for the season by putting up 216 yards in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders.
As a result, he got voted to his first Pro Bowl.
George continued to produce in 1998 with 1,294 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also expanded his game a bit by adding 310 yards and a touchdown in the air.
Playing In The Big Game
After playing in Memphis for the ’97 and ’98 seasons, the newly renamed Titans moved to Nashville for the 1999 campaign. The team would quickly attract a strong following from people in the area, as it would reach new heights that year.
With fullback Lorenzo Neal creating openings for him, George was named to the Pro Bowl for the third straight season with 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, and an additional four touchdowns in the air.
He helped the Titans, who had been offensively anemic for years, improve to seventh in points scored, and it resulted in a 13-3 finish, the best in franchise history.
But it was only good enough for second in the AFC Central, forcing them to start the playoffs with a wild card contest.
Thanks to an improbable play known as the “Music City Miracle,” they got past the Buffalo Bills, as George tallied 106 rushing yards.
In the divisional round, Tennessee would play the Indianapolis Colts, who had a 13-3 record and a fearsome young core that included quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and wideout Marvin Harrison, all of whom made the Pro Bowl that year.
But George feasted against the Colts with 162 rushing yards and a touchdown, helping the Titans to a 19-16 win. They then blew out the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XXXIV.
Their opponent there would be the St. Louis Rams, who boasted a historically dominant offense led by MVP QB Kurt Warner and superstar running back Marshall Faulk.
But the open secret to the Rams’ success was their defense, which ranked fourth in points allowed and first in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns, meaning that George would have his hands full.
The Titans’ running back, however, made mincemeat of St. Louis’ rushing defense by running for 95 yards. After his team fell behind 16-0 in the third quarter, George scored a pair of touchdowns, and Tennessee managed to tie the game with 2:12 remaining.
After Rams receiver Issac Bruce scored a touchdown, Tennessee found itself with a chance to win or force overtime.
From the Rams’ 10-yard line, QB Steve McNair found wideout Kevin Dyson, who was tackled by Rams linebacker Mike Jones just shy of the goal line with no time remaining. That’s how close George and the Titans came to winning the world championship.
January 30, 2000
I was 8 years old
I loved Air McNair, Eddie George, Kevin Dyson, & Frank Wycheck
I was pretty devastated as a kid 😅 pic.twitter.com/eeFnZDOVBe
— Ben Mark (@Coach_Mark_) January 10, 2022
If losing the Super Bowl by such a slim margin would’ve demoralized many teams, it seemed to give the Titans, and in particular George, some strong resolve and motivation for the 2000 season.
He took his game to even greater heights with 1,509 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 453 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Six times that year he rushed for at least 100 yards in a single game, and he had three touchdowns in a single game twice.
Although wideout Derrick Mason emerged as the team’s newest weapon, it still looked to George early and often. His 403 rushing attempts and 453 total touches led the NFL.
Yet again, George played in the Pro Bowl, and he was also named to the All-Pro First-Team for his first time.
After finishing 13-3, the Titans began the playoffs by facing the Baltimore Ravens, who possessed one of the greatest defenses in recent memory. That defense was led by All-Pro First-Team linebacker Ray Lewis, who would start to build a rivalry with George.
The two first established a relationship a few years ago, and their friendship was cemented when they both played in the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Unfortunately for George, Lewis got the best of him on this occasion. Trailing 17-10 in the fourth quarter, the Titans were marching downfield with an opportunity to tie the game, when McNair’s pass to George bounced off his hand and found Lewis, who took it all the way for a touchdown.
January 7, 2001. Ravens. Titans. Ray Lewis. Eddie George. AFC Divisional Round.
Just a little more than half dozen minutes left and this happened. [via CBS/NFL] pic.twitter.com/l8Rt6fUD90
— Kyle J. Andrews (@KyleJAndrews_) January 4, 2021
The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and the idea of a George-Lewis rivalry had become reality. The two would look forward to each of their battles from that point on.
“I was very aware of Ray,” George said of Lewis. “He’s the fiercest competitor that I ever played against, and there was always so much respect. He played with a relentless spirit, and that’s how you have to match it. The moment you show fear, it’s over.”
“It kind of reminds me of [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier,” Lewis said of the former boxing greats, and his friendship with George. “We battled. And when we’d go out there, we would give a look to each other and be like, “Do you, and I’m going to do me.”
Although George was only about to turn 28 when the 2001 season began, he had been carrying a heavy load for the Titans. Running backs don’t last as long as players at other offensive skill positions, and George’s production would start to diminish years before fans perhaps expected it to.
That year, he failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, despite playing in and starting all 16 games. He also failed to reach the Pro Bowl for the first time since his rookie year.
Another reason for George’s reduced numbers was the departure of Lorenzo Neal, whose size and physicality helped keep opposing front sevens in check.
As a result, the Titans won only seven games in ’01 and missed the playoffs.
George returned to the 1,000-yard club in 2002, rushing for 1,165 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. Not coincidentally, Tennessee improved to 11-5 on the season, winning the brand-new AFC South division.
After squeaking past the Pittsburgh Steelers to start the postseason, the Titans got rolled by the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game and were denied a second trip to the Super Bowl.
George had his seventh 1,000-yard campaign in 2003, helping the Titans to a 12-4 finish and another postseason appearance.
There, they would face the Ravens in the wild card round. George had 88 rushing yards in that contest, and on one play, he got a measure of revenge on Lewis by giving him a beastly stiff arm and proceeding to talk trash right in his face.
Ray Lewis is still feeling this stiff arm from Eddie George 💪 pic.twitter.com/K9VfuqFAUi
— Death Valley Titans (@TitanUPxALLin) May 27, 2018
Tennessee won the game, 20-17, then lost in the divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 17-14.
George was now 30 years of age, which is traditionally the age at which NFL running backs see their powers dramatically decline. Although he started every single game for the Titans since he was drafted, he had dealt with several knick-knack injuries recently.
Feeling he still had value, he was looking to renegotiate his contract, but with the Titans looking to save money, they didn’t come to terms with him, leading to him signing a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys.
Ever since the departures of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who had defined their glory years in the 1990s, the Cowboys had been in rebuilding mode. With George on his last legs, he wouldn’t be able to help Dallas head in the right direction.
He played in 13 games in 2004, starting just eight of them, and rushed for only 432 yards and four touchdowns. Once rookie running back Julius Jones returned from an injury at midseason, George was sent to the bench.
The Cowboys missed the playoffs, and George decided to retire not too long later.
Life After The NFL
Many former athletes struggle with what to do after retirement. When the roar of the crowds, the thrill of the game and the competition and the recognition from the public are gone, there is a humongous void that is hard to fill.
George has admitted that he had some emotional health issues related to his retirement. Right after he joined the Cowboys, he felt devastated that he was no longer a Titan, and when Dallas faced Tennessee during a 2004 preseason game, the grief hit him hard.
“It never got to those depths where I wanted to end my life, but I can certainty understand how some guys get to that point,’’ George told The Tennessean. “There wasn’t that instant success on the football field, where you worked hard all week and you have a victory and a great game on Sunday. There were some things I had to go through that weren’t necessarily helping me and my family out.
The depressing feelings continued for a few years, and that’s when George decided to take initiative and make something out of the next chapter of his life.
One thing that helped was his marriage in 2004 to Tamara “Taj” Johnson, a member of the R&B group Sisters With Voices (SWV) who was once a contestant on the reality show “Survivor.”
Perhaps being married to a performer inspired George to become one himself. As a commentator for football games, he took acting classes to improve his presentation in front of the camera, and to help with that, he also decided to act in some small plays.
It led to him auditioning for the role of Billy Flynn in the play “Chicago,” and in 2016, he hit the Broadway stage playing that exact role. George has said that performing in front of crowds has helped him find himself post-retirement.
Another thing that has helped him find himself has been getting involved in the community. In 2006, George was named the spokesperson for Tennessee’s GetFitTN program, which helps to promote a healthy, active lifestyle in order to prevent people from developing Type 2 diabetes.
A year later, George showed that he has still been active himself by running the Country Music Half Marathon. It took him just over two hours to finish the course, and he admitted that it was even tougher than playing in the NFL.
The former running back has also entered the business world. He earned an Executive MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and it led him to start the Edward George Wealth Management Group, which specializes in clients who are athletes and entertainers.
George also teaches a course at his alma mater, Ohio State University, on money management and the business side of being a pro athlete. He went back there to get his degree in landscape architecture, and he leveraged it to help start EDGE, a landscape architecture firm.
For years, there has been a hot debate about whether George should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With over 10,000 rushing yards and a total of 68 rushing touchdowns, lots of Titans fans have argued that yes, he should be enshrined.
In late 2021, George, for the first time, was named as one of the semifinalists who had a shot at getting inducted into Canton, Ohio.
“It’s such an honor to be considered for the NFL Hall of Fame,” George said during an appearance on NFL Network just minutes after he was named a semifinalist. “(It’s) something that’s completely out of your control. You try not to think about it, but to be considered for this – a semifinalist – is tremendous.
“I’m just truly, truly floored and honored. This is not an easy fraternity to get into. Just to be considered for it is an accomplishment unto itself.”
Unfortunately, once the list was whittled down to the finalists, George was snubbed.
Even if he never makes it to the Hall, he can live a content life as a great example of a successful ex-athlete.