NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Twenty years later, Eddie George still remembers the anxiety. He remembers how emotionally drained he was leading up to the NFL Draft, and how excited he was the moment he was picked.
George also remembers how tall then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue looked when he walked across the stage in New York City, and the phone call he received just moments before, welcoming him to the NFL.
"It was Jeff Fisher who called me,'' George said of his draft day call, when he was informed the Houston Oilers planned to pick him 14th overall. "He said, 'We're picking you to be our back of the future.' He let me know that a couple of times. He let me know first on draft day, and then right before we played Indianapolis in the 2000 playoffs he came up to me and said, 'This is why we drafted you.' Those are two moments I'll never forget."
Titans Online looks back at the career of franchise-leading rusher Eddie George. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP, Getty)
George, a Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, was selected in the 1996 NFL Draft. George became the Oilers/Titans franchise leader in career rushing yards (10,009), yards from scrimmage (12,153), combined yards (12,153), touchdowns (74), attempts (2,733) and seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing (seven) while playing from 1996-2003. He played one season with the Cowboys in 2004 before retiring.
"Oh man. It's been 20 years?,'' George said on Wednesday, the exact date of the 1996 NFL Draft. "It's hard to believe it's been 20 years. Man, it goes by fast. I've been out of the league for (12) years, too. It's like it was a different life ago.
"But it was great. And to end up being one of the pioneers for what we had in Nashville, as Titans, in Tennessee, I wouldn't change that for the world. I had the time of my life."
On the 20th anniversary of the 1996 NFL Draft, George reflected on the day that changed his life.
While the Oilers picked George 14th, the selection came after a few draft day trades. The Oilers initially traded down in the first round (from 9th to 17th) to acquire extra picks from Oakland. Then, general manager Floyd Reese and Fisher executed a trade with the Seattle Seahawks to move back up to the 14th spot to select George. Sent to the Seahawks in the trade was DT Glenn Montgomery.
"At the time, there were rumors the Oilers could pick me (at No. 9), but when they traded out of that pick and moved to 17, I thought that dream was done,'' George said. "Minnesota was looking for a running back, and they were picking at (16), so I kind of figured I would go there."
Then came the second trade, and the call from Fisher.
Former Titans RB Eddie George gets inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. (Photos: TN Sports Hall of Fame, AP)
"I was full of gratitude, and I was excited,'' George said. "I was extremely exhausted at that time because of all the attention leading up to the draft and not knowing where you'd be and where you'd live. A lot was going through my mind.
"I didn't cry or anything. I guess I was more competitive at the time, and wanted to go in the top 10 and when that didn't happen I told my agent to get me signed and I'd take care of the rest. I was in worker's mode from the get-go and couldn't wait to get to camp. I wanted to exceed the expectations."
After the pick, George walked across the stage at the NFL Draft, where he met the commissioner.
"I remember looking up to him because he was so tall,'' George said of Tagliabue. "I said, 'Man, this guy is pretty big. He said, 'This is your moment, congratulations.' I walked off stage and did interviews, and the next morning flew to Houston."
Looking back, George said it was a great experience, despite the early turbulence. After playing a year in Houston, the franchise move to Tennessee, and played in 1997 at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis before playing home games in Nashville at Vanderbilt Stadium in 1998.
The team became the "Titans" in 1999, and began playing at the team's downtown stadium. The Titans went to the Super Bowl during the 1999 season, and to the playoffs in four of five seasons.
George never missed a start (128 games in eight seasons with the franchise) and finished with 36 games of at least 100 yards rushing
Former Titans RB Eddie George makes his debut in Broadway's longest running musical, "Chicago." (Photos: Jeremy Daniel)
"It worked out the way it was supposed to,'' George said. "I didn't know what to expect when I get drafted by the Oilers. I didn't know if we'd be moving, and when Bud (Adams) made the announcement we were moving it was pretty turbulent and I didn't know what to expect. There were mixed feelings. NFL football in Tennessee? At that time, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But it all worked itself out.
"And to bring the NFL to Nashville and see the run we had, and see the fan base grow. Absolutely I'd do it all over again."
At the end of a phone conversation, George said he did his best to recall the events of 20 years ago at the NFL Draft. Many of the memories will remain etched in his mind forever.
Then, he smiled. George was 22 years old at the tiime.
"You could probably tell from my initial reaction, it's hard to believe it's been 20 years. I hadn't really thought about it until you mentioned it,'' said George, who's now 42. "But just thinking about it, it brings back some great memories, being in New York City with my family, having my childhood dream come true, and the NFL experience with the Titans. It was all pretty doggone special."