NASHVILLE, Tenn. Eddie George is everywhere in this town.
Go to a Predators hockey game and George’s new restaurant is right across the street from the arena.
Go to a Gore-Lieberman event and there’s George, resplendent in a dark gray suit, serving as master of ceremonies, introducing performers ranging from Billy Ray Cyrus to Tony Bennett.
And George is the focus of Nashville’s hottest question this week as in, “Is Eddie going to play in Washington?”
George, who hasn’t missed a game during his 4 and 1/2 seasons with the Oilers/Titans franchise, left last week’s contest at Baltimore one play after spraining his right knee on his first carry and is questionable for Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins. George ran for 20 minutes yesterday but didn’t practice. He might not get on the field at all this week, but he plans to play. If George isn’t ready, however, Rodney Thomas would start just his second game since 1995.
“My knee feels solid, but we’ll have to wait and see how it reacts [to the running],” George said. “On Sunday, I was able to move it, but it wasn’t comfortable. Today I could run straight ahead. We’ll have to see how I progress as far as running and cutting, but I’m very optimistic that it’s going to be fine. I’m about 70 percent now.”
George has been about that percentage of the offense during his Titans’ career, having rushed for 6,033 yards, including 668 this year.
“Eddie is not going to rip off the 70-yard run, but if you want somebody to be the heart and soul of your team, somebody you want to have the ball when you need one carry to see if you’re going to be the champion, you want Eddie,” said Titans general manager Floyd Reese. “When it comes to getting the players to focus and realize that it’s an important game, you want Eddie. I can’t think of a person I’ve been around in my 25 years in the NFL who I would have more faith putting my job in his hands than Eddie. What you see is what you get with Eddie, but you’re going to get it about 35 times a game.”
The injury happened on George’s first run in Baltimore after he had carried 101 times over the three previous games. But that type of workload is nothing new for George. When he carries 27 times, the Titans are 18-0. When he doesn’t, they’re 25-28.
In that 25th victory, Tennessee was outgained 368-191 and managed just seven first downs to Baltimore’s 24. The Titans’ defense was the difference in the 14-6 game, picking off four passes, one for a touchdown and one in the end zone, and recording five sacks. All this coming on the road on a short week (Tennessee had beaten Jacksonville the previous Monday) without its mainstay.
“It was proof that regardless of what happens, one of our phases can be a difference-maker,” said Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
As usual the Titans, who are 22-5 the last two seasons, found a way to win.
“We gained tremendous confidence from winning last week without Eddie against a team that kicked our butts there [41-14] last year,” Reese said. “In the first half, we couldn’t do a thing. We couldn’t get a first down, but we were ahead 7-6 and then the second half started and we get an interception for a touchdown and it’s 14-6. So you’re saying, maybe we can hold on. And we did.”
The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner makes it difficult for tacklers to hold on, especially as games go on. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound George is averaging 47.3 yards (3.6 per carry) in first halves (not counting last week’s one-carry day) and 58.5 yards (4.1 per carry) after halftime.
“I remember watching Eddie at Ohio State, and he got a lot of what I call violent yards, yards after he was hit by the first defender,” Fisher said. “One time we had to make a third-and-7 to win a game. I wasn’t going to pass the ball. I told Eddie, ‘We need you to get 7 yards.’ He said, ‘I’ll get 15.’ He got 14.
“Our first game at the Liberty Bowl in 1997, it was about 95 degrees. Late in the game, the Raiders were just exhausted, but Eddie was just getting going [rushing for a career-high 216 yards].”
George was a star right from the start. And he has matured into one of the Titans’ leaders despite his generally quiet nature.
“It was an evolution for me to become a leader,” George said. “My first couple of years I really didn’t feel I had the right to say anything, but after going to war with a lot of these guys, I tell them my expectations of myself and of them.”
Expect George to play Monday.