Eddie George finds new footing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie George is an actor, an analyst, a landscape architect and still, very much, a recovering football player.

Fresh off a month performing as Othello in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival at Belmont University’s Trout Theater, he’ll be featured in a piece on “60 Minute Sports” at 10 ET Wednesday night on Showtime.

The striking revelation here is that George had a lengthy struggle adapting to life after football, and it’s going to lead him to an Ohio State classroom where he will try to give students interested in athletics a blueprint for what can happen after the games end.

I talked with him about it at length this week.

“My life was very sporadic, very unfocused, very undisciplined, and that was very unlike me, because I never prepared that way on a football field,” he said. “There was a point in time where I would wake up and just say, ‘OK, what should I do today?’ And that’s OK. But for a long time having this unfocused thought leads to unfocused behaviors. So it’s a story of maturity, or growth, of evolution and redefining myself.”

Such a post-career struggle is, unfortunately, standard fare for a high population of players coming to terms with the end of football. But as the Tennessee Oilers/Titans feature back from 1996-03 and in a final year with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004, I don’t believe you could have found a player in the league you would have judged to have been more prepared for his second act.

He already had opened the EDGE Group, a landscape architecture firm that picked up on his major from Ohio State. Always thoughtful and measured, he was poised enough to work in TV talking football. Most significantly, he appeared to always have a handle on things, and a perspective a lot of his peers lacked.

But he was not immune from the transitional struggle that haunts so many players when football comes to a close. He held out hope for a call that never came, thinking he would be able to end his career on his terms, a scenario that doesn’t play out for many players, no matter how high-quality a professional they are.

He took real estate classes, then got an MBA from Northwestern. It was all unfulfilling.

“It was just a very tough time, and I fell into a bit of a depression because of it,” he said. “I was a little bitter about how things ended, I didn’t quite know what I was passionate about. It wasn’t about having a job or talking about the game of football, but finding something I was passionate about, that I loved doing like I loved playing the game of football. Something that could bring that same job, fulfill that void ..."

For about eight years, he struggled with what would be next. And a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick, a player who was a foundational piece for his franchise, turned self-centered while he searched.

“Often times I would neglect my priorities, in terms of being a father and a husband, and really be selfish,” he said. “By trying to find things that made me feel good, going out still, traveling around and going around courting women and so forth. Doing things that were a downward spiral for me that I thought were going to make me feel better about myself and where I was ...”

“I am no saint. I’m not sitting here saying I am. My wife and I have gone through it, and I think we’re in a better place right now.”

Ultimately he recognized what he was doing, spent time soul-searching, and dug out with help from counseling, energy healing and church.

There was no “ah-ha moment,” he said. But about 18 months ago he started waking up in the morning feeling good about what he was doing, and that felt new and exciting again.

He took up football and strived for excellence because he wanted to transform the family name, he said. His dad didn’t have a chance to play, he got caught up in drugs and trouble. The son was teased about it.

“We share the same name, and what I wanted to do was change that name from a name that was associated with drugs, bad behavior and failure, to one that was of greatness,” he said. “After rounds and rounds of really delving deep into my psyche, that’s what was at the core of it. I’ve accomplished that through having my father see me accomplish great things.”

The second act hasn’t come with the same kind of clear goals football provided.

So a renaissance man bounces from Nashville, to Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, where he is part of the EDGE group, where he is acting, where he will be a judge on NBC’s upcoming “American Dream Builder” reality competition, where he’s a college football analyst on Fox Sports 1, and where he’s working on a curriculum for that class at Ohio State.

I imagine him propping his Heisman Trophy and AFC Championship ring on a desk in front of the room on the first day, telling a class he was on top of the world when he earned those things and still fell hard when the games were over.

Maybe that’s a little overdramatic. He’s the actor, not I.

Sympathetic to others who might not have achieved all George did in college and the NFL and go through withdrawal in a different way, he reached an agreement with his alma mater to craft a curriculum for a class he hopes will be available next semester at Ohio State.

It will cover life, skills, finances, business development, contract law and more. He will teach parts of it in conjunction with the Fisher School of Business in a 12-week case-study method class.

“It’s not going to prevent them from making their mistakes, because they are going to make them,” he said. “But at least you have a blueprint of how you can get out of it, where you can find the help.”

“It’s just a job, it’s not a life purpose. So really, my whole course is designed as personal development. It’s nothing where you’ve ever reached this landscape where you’ve made it. It’s a constant daily grind. You’re going to have successes throughout. But it’s nothing where you can take your foot off the gas pedal and just cruise for the rest of your life. It is constant work. It never ends.”