|Eddie George’s No. 27 was retired at halftime of the Ohio State vs. Purdue game on Nov. 10, 2001.|
Eddie George has become a household name in the National Football League following four successful years at Ohio State. George used his size and speed to run his way into the Ohio State record books, eventually leading up winning the Heisman Trophy, the sixth for the storied football program, after his senior campaign in 1995. He accumulated numerous honors during his Heisman year. Today, his No. 27 will be retired.
“I am elated (about having my number retired),” George said. “To be in the same class as Archie Griffin and the other Heisman winners like Les Horvath (1944), Vic (Janowicz in 1950) and (Howard) Cassady (1955) is a tremendous honor. I have received many honors both in college and professionally and this ranks very high on the list.”
George, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., played prep ball at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.) and came to Ohio State with the desire to always have the ball in his hands and control the game. Numerous colleges recruited him, but with the intention of turning George into a linebacker, not a running back.
“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.”
John Cooper, former Buckeye head coach, was the man that offered George the chance to lead the Buckeyes with the ball in his hands.
“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.”
George’s focus was brought to its limits as a freshman when many of the Buckeye faithful questioned why he came to Columbus. George was afforded the opportunity to lead the ground attack against Illinois as a true freshman. His first game against the Illini did not go according to plan. George fumbled twice inside the 5-yard line and the first miscue resulted in a 96-yard return for a touchdown to give Illinois a 7-0 lead. On the day, George carried the ball six times for -7 yards rushing. He scored a touchdown but the Buckeyes fell to the visiting Illini, 18-16.
“We gave him the chance to play against Illinois as a true freshman and he had a tough game,” Cooper said. “He fumbled twice and that led to us losing the game. The fans booed Eddie for his mistakes, but he blocked it out and continued to work hard and improve.”
George learned from his mistakes and his career is proof.
“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 dedication never wavered and he continued to improve. Defenses knew he was talented. As a senior, he broke loose and demonstrated the level of talent he possessed. George rushed for 1,927 yards in 1995, a school record for a single season, and scampered into the endzone 24 times, the second most for a year of action.
He also recorded three of the Top 15 rushing performances in Ohio State history that year. In the early part of the season, George totaled 212 yards gained against Washington (9/16/95) before again igniting the home fans with 207 yards against Notre Dame (9/30/95). The game that really got the attention of the rest of the nation was his chance at redemption when Illinois came to town Nov. 11, 1995.
“He had an awesome performance against Illinois as a senior,” Cooper said. “He ran for 314 yards and that was not a weak defense. They had a solid defense and two of their linebackers, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice, were drafted in the first round. He proved his dedication to his goals and the Heisman is proof of that.”
Not only did he rush for a single-game record 314 yards, George scored two rushing touchdowns and added one receiving score. Add in 32 receiving yards and George’s 346 all-purpose yards is the second most in Buckeye history behind the 354 totaled by Keith Byers at Purdue in 1984. His rushing performance, though, is what all but engraved his name on the Heisman.
“The game in which I ran for 314 yards against Illinois to close my career was ironic because of the trouble I had as a freshman,” George said. “I wasn’t concerned with breaking any records. I was trying to help my team win. It was all because I stuck with it and knew I could improve. I made many believers in my ability that year and they rewarded me with the Heisman.”
George capped his career with 12 consecutive games in which he ran for 100 yards or more. He received the Doak Walker Award, awarded annually to the top running back in the nation, the Maxwell Award, given to the top collegiate football player in the nation on a yearly basis, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Big Ten Most Valuable Player.
In his illustrious career, George broke the century mark in rushing 20 times and accumulated 3,668 yards, the second-most behind two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin. George also ran for 44 career touchdowns, the third-most all-time at Ohio State. After leaving Columbus for the NFL, George was drafted by the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, with the 14th overall draft selection. He showed winning the Heisman was no fluke and rushed for 1,368 yards and 23 touchdowns and was named the league’s rookie of the year.
If not for his persistent approach to improvement, George would not have made it as far as he has.
“His work ethic was the best,” Cooper said. “I can’t imagine another college football player in history having a better work ethic. He is a great athlete with tremendous focus and that is why he did so well at Ohio State and now as a professional. He always was physically and mentally tough and prepared and knew what he wanted. He is very deserving of everything he gets because he works hard for it and never gave up one.”