Eddie George as Billy Flynn in a production of the musical “Chicago.”

Eddie George as Billy Flynn in a production of the musical “Chicago.”

by Len Lear

Every football fan in the Philadelphia area knows the name Eddie George, the greatest running back ever to come out of the Philadelphia area. Eddie, 42, who was born in northwest Philly but moved to eastern Montgomery County, went to Abington High School and was a highly touted starting running back at Ohio State University in 1992. However, when he fumbled twice in a game against Illinois, once at the opponent’s 4-yard line and once at their one-yard line, he was relegated to a spot on the bench, just being used for mop-up duties at the end of games for the rest of the year.

That humbling experience lit a fire under Eddie’s competitive spirit, however. In his sophomore year, George was a third-string running back, but as a junior, George became the team’s starting running back and went on to rush for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a senior in 1995 at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, George rushed for a school record 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns, an average of 148 yards per game, while also catching 44 passes for 399 yards and another score.

He also rushed for a school-record 314 yards and scored three touchdowns in OSU’s victory over Illinois. George was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American and won the Heisman Trophy as the best college player in the country.

George was the first-round draft selection of the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) in the 1996 NFL Draft. (George’s mother changed her schedule as a flight attendant at the request of Eddie’s agent, Lamont Smith, to be in San Antonio for Eddie’s signing of his first NFL contract on July 19, 1996. If she hadn’t, she would have been aboard TWA Flight 800, which crashed shortly after takeoff two days earlier.)

George won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and was the Oilers/Titans’ starting tailback through 2003. He made the Pro Bowl four consecutive years (1997–2000), and assisted the Titans to a championship appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV, where they lost to the St. Louis Rams, 23-16.

George gained 391 combined rushing and receiving yards in the Titans’ three playoff games that year and went on to rush for 95 yards, catch two passes for 35 yards and score two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. George is only the second NFL running back to rush for 10,000 yards while never missing a start, joining Jim Brown. His career totals include 10,441 rushing yards, 268 receptions, 2,227 receiving yards and 78 touchdowns (68 rushing and 10 receiving). In 2013 George was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Despite his phenomenally successful career as a football giant with speed, power and durability, there would be no reason to do an article about him in 2016 if that was all he ever accomplished. However, although few Philadelphians are probably aware of it, George has also been a standout in other diverse fields since leaving football.

“There’s more to life than just sports,” he said during a recent interview. “You can accomplish certain things with the proper mindset and the right disciplines. … That, to me, means more than anything else. It’s not just about playing football and that’s it. You can be a musician, you can be an engineer — all in this lifetime. You don’t have to confine yourself to one thing. You’re all things.”

Eddie, who also received his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, concedes that “Since I’m mostly known for winning on the football field, a lot of people seem surprised when they hear that I’ve used my education, experience and passion to build these exciting businesses. They say, ‘You’re a businessman, too?’ I like that reaction.

“I never wanted to be defined just as a football player. I never thought I was just going to be a football player and die. I’m doing everything in my power to have a very successful second career, or second half of my life.”

In 2005 Eddie founded George Enterprises, which has developed several business in the field of personal wellness. With partners, George has opened sports-themed restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee (Eddie George Sports Grille) and in Columbus, Ohio (Eddie George’s Grille 27), near the Ohio State campus. George is also a principal of The Edge Group, a planning and landscape architecture firm of over 20 professionals.

And George has done extensive work in television, movies and live theater. He has hosted a video-game themed show (“Training Camp”), co-hosted a pre-game show and been the studio analyst on Fox College Football. He has also been a Tennessee Titans color commentator.

He has acted in movies such as Best Man Holiday,” “Into the Sun” with Steven Seagal and “The Game Plan” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And he has acted on TV shows such as “Nash Bridges,” the MTV show “Made,” the  TV One reality series “I Married A Baller” (with wife Taj), “Coach” and “Comedy Bang Bang!”

Most impressively, however, after three years of acting and improv classes, George acted in “God’s Trombones” at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, portrayed the title role in “Julius Caesar” for Nashville Shakespeare Festival in 2013 and portrayed the title role in “Othello” for Nashville Shakespeare Festival in 2014.

And George earned raves in his Broadway debut in “Chicago,” playing the lead role of Billy Flynn from Jan. 11 through Feb. 28 this year.

Eddie is married to Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George, a Grammy®-nominated singer with the soul group SWV (“Sisters With Voices”), which has sold more than six million records. Taj and Eddie live in Tennessee with their two sons, Eriq and Jaire.

For more information, Eddie can be reached at @EddieGeorge2727

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