George, mom formidable team

Titans: Running back Eddie George has lot of physical ability, but his determination and work ethic came from his mother, Donna, who consistently demanded his best.

January 27, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- If not for his mother, Eddie George could be asking questions this week.

Questions like, "Would you like fries with that?"

Instead, the Tennessee Titans running back is at the Super Bowl answering questions from the media pack.

George said that if his mother hadn't sent him to a military academy when he was 15 years old, his life would have turned out a lot differently.

"I wouldn't be in jail somewhere, but I don't think I would be as successful as I am. I'd probably be a manager at a fast-food restaurant or something," he said. "Not that that's a bad job, but that was just the reality of the situation."

His mother, Donna George, thought he should have higher goals. A single mother, she raised Eddie with his sister in suburban Philadelphia. She often worked two jobs -- a production manager at an auto plant by day and fashion model at night -- to support her children after separating from husband Eddie Sr. in 1980. She instilled a work ethic in her children.

"I didn't do the fashion shows every night, but when I did, I'd take Eddie and Leslie with me and have them do their homework while I was on the runway," she recently told an Atlanta reporter. "I took them to show them that, whatever you want in life, you have to work for it."

She wasn't happy with the direction her son's life was taking when he was a teen-ager.

"He was in trouble with my law. Not the law law. He wasn't living up to my expectations."

George said: "I wasn't a bad kid. I wasn't the type of child who was stealing or beating up old people. I think I had a lot of energy, and the potential was there for me to do that if I stayed in that environment long enough. Realizing that, she said I had too much potential to let it go to waste. I really had no ambitions of doing anything other than skipping school and playing street football."

Not that George was happy about attending the military school at the time.

He tried to get out of enrolling out at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.

"From the first time she told me, I cried to my grandmother, my sister, my uncles to stop her from making this decision," George said. "I thought my football career was over. I thought my mom was stripping me of my dreams when she was making my dreams become a reality."

Said his mother: "His main concern was that I was dumping him in this hick town and the scouts weren't going to notice him. I told, `Eddie, you're here for your education, and your football will kick in and they will come looking for you.' "

He didn't have a choice in the matter and spent 2 1/2 years there.

His toughest night at the school was the first, when he arrived a day ahead of the rest of the cadets.

"I remember sitting in the barracks by myself with the lights on. No one was there, and my room was right next to the showers. I remember seeing tons of roaches, and I was thinking, `There's no way I'm going to make it here.' I think I slept under my covers and cried myself to sleep," he said.

Things changed quickly.

"The guys came in the next day, and, right off the bat, they pretty much embraced me. A few of them I'm still tight with today," George said.

"It's incredible how one decision, how it can affect somebody's life. That one decision that my mom made for me changed my life around completely."

He parlayed his time at Fork Union into a scholarship at Ohio State, where he became the school's second-leading rusher, won the Heisman Trophy and earned a degree in landscape architecture.

George was then drafted on the first round by the Titans -- then the Houston Oilers -- in 1996. He could be playing for the Rams if they hadn't bypassed him to take Lawrence Phillips that year.

He has joined Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders as the only running backs to rush for 1,200 yards or more in his first four seasons. He's also the ninth back to rush for 5,000 yards in his first four seasons.

But George's feat was obscured because the team went 8-8 in his first three seasons and the players were nomads. They were a lame-duck team in Houston in his first season, played their second year in Memphis and their third year at Vanderbilt in Nashville before moving into their new stadium this year.

It didn't help his reputation that he failed to get 100 yards in the final seven games of the 1997 season and couldn't lead the team to a winning season.

This year, he's carrying the offense, rushing for 1,304 yards in the regular season and gaining 106, 162 and 86 yards in the team's three playoff victories.

He's also become the team's emotional leader.

"Eddie's got a fire in him," said linebacker Barron Wartham. "When he's in front of us and he looks at us, he just feels it. He wants you to feel it, too. Just an emotional, emotional guy."

"I just say a few words," George said. "I might not say anything at all. It just depends on the feel I get from the guys about where our minds are. I just say what's in my heart and what I feel at the time."

He also seems to relish his role as one of the keys to the team's chances of upsetting the St. Louis Rams on Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIV.

"That's why I run all the hills in the off-season and why I lift all the weights and sacrifice my time to be a better player," he said. "It's all to be in this situation."

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