When I think of Eddie George, I think of a great football player. More specifically, I think of a Heisman-winning bell-cow who served as the centerpiece of Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans offenses for eight years.

However, the first time that I ever saw George in person was not on the gridiron but on the stage. He was playing the title role in a Nashville production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and he did it well.

Perhaps because of that, George, who said he “fell in love with the art of storytelling” following his NFL career, is more than simply one of Nashville’s most treasured athletes who’s set to have his jersey number retired on Sunday. He’s someone who allows the opposite worlds of sports and theater to collide in his life, and he deserves immense respect for that.

Since that production of Caesar in 2012, which took place in the 300-seat Troutt Theater at Belmont University, George, who spent three years training as an actor prior to even stepping onto a stage, has risen through the theater ranks.

“My mother exposed me to a lot of different things in the arts, and she took me to the theater when I was younger,” said George, whose favorite Broadway shows include Tony-winners Hamilton and Fences. “I didn’t love it back then, but I found it therapeutic for me at the time when I started. It was a great way for me to filter a lot of those emotions through the voice of a character.”

Earlier this year, George starred in Nashville Repertory Theater’s production of the Pulitzer-winning play Topdog/Underdog. His most notable theatrical achievement to this point has been his turn in the lead role of Billy Flynn as a replacement in the Broadway revival of Chicago.

It’s been a complete career 180 for George. He’s gone from memorizing playbooks to memorizing scripts. Instead of hearing his name chanted from fans at a stadium, he hears applause during curtain calls.

George is still involved in the football world, though. He co-hosts “Titan Blitz,” a weekly highlights and analysis show on Nashville’s NBC affiliate, and he can frequently be seen as a guest analyst on national NFL and college football talk shows.

He and I have a lot of differences. George is a large, intimidating figure and an athlete. I’m small and, well, not an athlete.

He’s one of the more recognizable players from 21st-century NFL football. I’m not famous at all.

But one thing that I feel I relate to George in is having two passions that, in popular culture, go together like mustard and a milkshake.

While I never played in high school or any time before that, I have loved and been passionate about the game of football since I was in the fifth grade. On Sundays growing up, I would sit on the couch and watch in awe as I was mesmerized by the likes of Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson (my all-time favorite player) and Tom Brady.

At the same time, though, I loved the theater. I was never an actor, but there was always something I liked as a kid about watching real human-beings in real-time acting out a story.

Those two passions, football and theater, remain with me today.

Now I’m a football reporter, so I spend vast amounts of time each week during the season watching practice, interviewing athletes and coaches, and studying the opponents that the Titans are facing. On game days, I get to the stadium several hours before the game begins and stay for hours afterward. And I love every minute of it.

At the same time, I love musical theater. I have a ticket package to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Broadway season, I frequently go see shows at smaller Nashville theater companies and playing my favorite songs from musicals on the piano is my go-to stress reliever.

I appreciate the example that George sets in showing that it isn’t weird to be a diehard lover of sports while also having a deep appreciation for the arts.

I also have a lot of respect for George’s on-field career because of the position that he played. Franchise running backs, like George, are becoming less common as each year passes, but the teams which find them are undeniably the better for it.

“In order to win in this league, you need a running game,” said George, who attributed the NFL’s decline in running back value to their shorter shelf-life. “So when you have a back that’s special like an Ezekiel Elliot, like a Todd Gurley, you really need to invest in that position because those guys can do it all.

“Now, you have to be an asset in the passing game, meaning that you have to pick up the blitz in blocking and you have to be a valuable receiver. Backs, in the sense of helping teams win, are extremely valuable.”

George is set to, deservingly, have his #27 retired at halftime of the Titans’ game on Sunday against the Colts. He’s earned this moment not just because of what he did with the ball in his hands, but by what he represented and continues to represent as a man.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today

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