NASHVILLE SINCE 1997
Forget Taylor Swift and Shania Twain. Eddie George is Nashville’s ultimate crossover artist. The Heisman Trophy-winning running back who brought the NFL to Tennessee has written a brilliant second act to his career where he stars as a leading man on stage, screen, & in studio, as well as serving others as a mentor in the classroom, the board room & the stock market.
Eddie’s football career easily could’ve stalled before it started. In high school, he excelled as a star running back, but his home-state football power wanted him to play on the other side of the ball. “I grew up in Philadelphia, and I wanted to go to Penn State and play running back. But they wanted me to play linebacker.” He decided to transfer from his home high school in Abington, PA to Virginia’s Fork Union Military Academy, where he caught the eye of the coaching staff from Ohio State University. The Buckeyes gave George the chance to play running back, and four years later he rewarded that decision by winning the 1995 Heisman Trophy (he also won the Doak Walker Award, the Jim Brown Award, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, was the 1995 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and voted as a Consensus All-America). His number 27 was retired by Ohio State, and in 2011 Eddie was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1996, Eddie was drafted by the Houston Oilers with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft. The difficult transition from collegiate hero to NFL rookie was compounded by the fact that the Houston Oilers franchise was mired in a feud between the owner and the city. “That was eye-opening for me…I’m a rookie from Ohio State and I’m going to this place of chaos where it’s like ‘what’s going on with the future of this franchise?’,” he said. The Oilers franchise would move to Tennessee two years earlier than originally scheduled due to the strained relationship with the city of Houston. The team played their home games in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl in 1997 and in Vanderbilt’s Stadium in 1998 as the Tennessee Oilers. “It was like we were on the outside looking in…we were in the NFL but we really weren’t. We were nomads with no names, just really trying to find an identity and it was tough to be taken serious.”
In Houston, the Oilers regularly sold out their home football games, filling the Astrodome to capacity with over 70,000 fans. However, over the course of those two transition seasons, the team played home games in with crowds that averaged less than 20,000. “Over time it became cumbersome, it was depressing. Here it is, you’re playing your best football, but nobody cares and you don’t have the support of the fans.” But the reliance upon one another was something that Eddie says laid the groundwork for what was to come. “We realized that all we had was us.”
In 1999, the team moved across the Cumberland River into their new home stadium and changed their name from the ‘Oilers’ to the ‘Titans’. “Once we changed the name, I think it made a huge difference,” George explained. “Once we got a taste of that…the stadium filled to capacity in our first preseason game…there was no turning back. We had to keep winning. We had the loudest stadium in the NFL, and we did not lose a single home game that whole year.” The Titans run to Super Bowl XXXIV that year electrified the city, and finally gave the players a real hometown to play for and a local community to truly connect with. “It was exhilarating,” he said. “You feel like you gave birth to a baby. Going through the first three years, it tested our faith and resolve. All we had was our faith and our hope that things would work out for the best. To finally see it all come together at the right time was a wonderful moment for all of us that were involved.” Alongside the late Steve McNair, Eddie spent eight years in the backfield for the Oilers/Titans franchise and became the face of the organization as Nashville became a legitimate NFL city. “I wanted to leave my mark in some capacity,” said the four-time Pro Bowler. “I never missed a single start in a Titan uniform in my entire career. That’s one thing I’m really proud of,” says George. “I showed up every day, and never missed a game.”
From Fork Union to Columbus to Houston and finally in Nashville, Eddie George achieved and even surpassed the goals he’d set for himself on the gridiron. In 2004, George played his final game as a member of the Dallas Cowboys and retired from the NFL. For so long, he’d found his identity and purpose wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. As with many athletes after their playing career ends, he fought depression as he sought out the next chapter of his life.
Fortunately, Eddie’s goals as a young man in high school and college were not totally centered on football. “Being an NFL player was a part of it, but the second half was to get into business, get into acting, and explore my artistic side,” he said. “Just be a complete person and explore and cultivate the dreams that resonated within me. I knew football wouldn’t last me forever, and I had to have a platform where I could build something more substantial.” He started a landscape architecture firm in 2003, which gave him experience as a business owner, but also made him realize he needed to learn more about the finances and structure of running a successful enterprise.
He applied to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management but was initially denied. They encouraged him to go back to Nashville and take some basic business courses and re-apply the following year. Eddie spent the next year taking accounting, finance and other business classes at Belmont University and after completing the year with a 3.5 GPA, was granted admission to Kellogg where he graduated, earning an MBA in the Executive MBA Program.
Overcoming adversity was nothing new for Eddie, and he understood that each new challenge in his second act would require the same focus and determination that enabled him to achieve greatness on the football field. “When you transition from one thing to the next, you’re not going to be at the top of your game,” he explained, “but you understand the blueprint. It’s the same blueprint that allowed me to get from little league to high school, high school to college, college to pro. It’s persistence, it’s hard work, it’s being smart, being efficient, aligning yourself with the right people to become the best athlete, and the same thing holds true in business. I had to force myself to become comfortable in the uncomfortable.”
As he continued to search for his post-football identity, he seemed a natural fit to be on television as a football analyst. His striking good looks and his nationwide popularity made him an obvious choice for the network TV football shows, and other television & movie roles. But after several auditions, he was struggling to land a job. He sought out an acting coach to help him cultivate his skills, which turned out to be exactly what he needed to help him push through his post-football malaise. “I was fresh out of football, still trying to figure some things out,” said Eddie, “and it was therapeutic that I had gone through those lessons with my acting coach, writing and taking a lot of that pent-up frustration and filtering that out through a character. It was self-healing, and I really fell in love with the art of story-telling.” George has gone on to find success as an actor and television star, including starring alongside Dwayne Johnson in The Game Plan and as a judge on NBC’s American Dream Builders. He has portrayed Othello and Julius Caesar at Nashville’s Shakespeare Festival, and in 2016 he starred in the Broadway production of Chicago.
With so many opportunities available to the multi-talented George, he keeps a finite focus on seeking out opportunities in his ‘Three E’s’: Entrepreneurship, Education & Entertainment. “A lot of these things that I try, I failed in the beginning and it didn’t go smoothly,” said Eddie. “But I stayed persistent and I kept listening to my intuition that ‘I could do this.’” He has found a calling in wealth management, and he earned his Series 7 and Series 66 licenses, “which I failed the first time,” he admits with a laugh. Today, as his adopted hometown of Nashville is experiencing its own rebirth, Eddie has become a true Renaissance Man and one of the leaders shaping the future of the Music City.
Read and watch more about Eddie here at www.EddieGeorge.com.
See a preview of Eddie’s performance as Othello here.
Follow him @eddiegeorge2727