Before Eddie George, every Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner had some tie to Ohio before arriving on campus.
Archie Griffin and Hop Cassady were born just up the street from the Horseshoe in the city limits of Columbus. Vic Janowicz headed to Columbus from the northern city of Elyria, while Les Horvath was born in South Bend, Ind., but grew up in Parma outside of Cleveland.
But Eddie was different. Born in Philadelphia, he sat on his stoop as a child and looked out over the City of Brotherly Love, dreaming of what could be on the horizon. He eventually ended up at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia and then Ohio State.
There, his career unfolded like some of his fellow Heisman legends, as he had immediate success. But unlike some of those who came before, he then went through adversity.
George's problems with fumbles are well known among fans, and in a crowded backfield that boasted names like Raymont Harris, Robert Smith and Butler By'not'e, he was suddenly relegated to the bench for most of the 1992 and '93 seasons.
He could have sulked. He could have transferred somewhere else, perhaps closer to home. But he didn’t.
“I would work out, I would be the first one in, last one to leave in the gym,” he said in 2014. “I would do extra workouts to make sure that I crossed every T and dotted every I. I wanted to make sure that while I wasn’t playing, what was my energy going forward? And I was going be the best cheerleader I can be. Sophomore year, personally, I thought I should be playing, but it was Raymont and Butler By’not’e’s time.
“Instead of pouting, I said, you know what, if my role is going to be to support my teammates toward having an undefeated season, then I’m going to do that. I was the best damn towel waver around. There are pictures of me standing on the bench waving a towel, getting the fans involved because that was my job and I embraced that.”
Finally, by 1994, it was his time, and George grabbed it with authority. George had just 79 carries combined his first two seasons but became the feature back in ’94, rushing 276 times for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 16 passes for 117 yards for an Ohio State team that went 9-4 but beat Michigan for the first time in John Cooper’s tenure.
A year later, the Buckeyes returned almost unmatched offensive firepower. Bobby Hoying was at the controls with George in the backfield, Terry Glenn outside and Rickey Dudley providing a mismatch at tight end. Up front, the best lineman in college history in Orlando Pace paved the way. The Buckeyes schedule was no joke, as playing in the Kickoff Classic gave the team a then-unusual 12-game slate, and five of the first six games were against ranked teams.
OSU raced through all of them, administering nonconference beatings to Boston College, Washington, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame before taut Big Ten wins vs. Wisconsin and Penn State.
By the end of the year, the Buckeyes were 11-1, and George was an obvious Heisman choice. He ran 328 times on the year for 1,927 yards – a school record – and a nation’s best 24 touchdowns. Far from a one-trick pony, George also pulled in 47 catches out of the backfield for 417 yards, giving Hoying a key outlet option to keep drives alive on third downs.
When he went to New York along with such stars as Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier and Florida’s Danny Wuerffel, George wasn’t sure if he would take home the trophy.
“Oh my god, it was unbelievable sitting there at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City with my family, my friends, Archie was there obviously, and I had no idea they were going to call my name,” the 1995 winner said. “When they did so, it was so surreal. I just remember I did an interview, but after the interview, they went on a commercial break and said, ‘When we come back, we’re going to announce the Heisman Trophy winner.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go.’ It was two minutes, which seemed like 30 minutes, an hour, because all these thoughts were running through my mind, just thinking of all the history I had gone through, the battles, the adversity, the fumbles, just getting to Ohio State, just to make my mark, just to be in that position – this was all rushing back in my mind.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man, you know what? If I win, it will be great. If I don’t win, I still won,’ because I got there. Through it all, I made it here. For a kid who grew up in Philadelphia, sitting down on my mom’s stoop and looking out at the skyline of the city, saying, ‘I know that there’s something better out there for me, I’m going to make it to the next level. I don’t know how or when or what I’m going to do to get there, but I’m going to get there.’ Sitting there in that moment, I had already won. But when they called my name, my life changed forever.”
As an example, George said that later that night, he met singer Tamara Johnson of the R&B group SWV, who would later become his wife. It wasn’t all fun and games, though – one finger from the trophy broke off when airport personnel made him wedge it into an X-ray machine on the flight back to Columbus.
BSB now takes a look back at, game-by-game, how Eddie George won the Heisman Trophy 20 years ago.
Game 1: vs. Boston College (Kickoff Classic), Aug. 27
Ohio State tripped to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on Boston College and made an early statement, drubbing the 22nd-ranked Eagles, 38-6.
The 12th-ranked Buckeyes piled up 488 yards of offense and 25 first downs. Hoying, who saw his top two backups – Stanley Jackson and his brother, Tom Hoying – play in mop-up duty, threw for 269 yards while George ran 17 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
He was the first Buckeye to score on the season as well. After forcing a punt on BC’s first possession, Ohio State marched 80 yards in eight plays, capping the possession when George went over the right side for a 12-yard touchdown at the 7:34 mark.
George added a 9-yard touchdown on the first play of a drive following a fumble recovered by Matt Bonhaus in the third quarter, giving OSU a 31-6 lead.
George, the game MVP, also led the team with four catches, which went for 58 yards. His biggest play might have been a swing pass he took for a first down with the Buckeyes facing third-and-10 at their own 1.
"They didn't cover Eddie out on the flat," Hoying said. "They were blitzing two and three linebackers in key throwing situations. Eventually, they'll get to you. We tried to have enough big-hitting plays to Eddie in the flat and Terry (Glenn) downfield."
George went for 19 yards on the next play, then Hoying hit Glenn for a 46-yard pass. Three plays later, Hoying hit Dudley for a touchdown pass that capped the 99-yard drive and gave OSU a 21-3 lead at the half.
Game 2: Washington, Sept. 16
George ran himself into early Heisman Trophy contention with 212 yards on 36 carries as the 10th-ranked Buckeyes rolled over No. 18 Washington, 30-20, in the home opener at Ohio Stadium.
George ran for a pair of touchdowns and Hoying threw for two more as the Buckeyes built a 30-7 lead in the first three quarters.
“I didn’t see a whole lot of positive blocks in the first half when he was getting a lot of his yardage, particularly downfield,” Cooper said. “I think you have to give some credit to Eddie.”
The home fans greatly enjoyed the senior’s performance, but the visiting coach did not share their reaction.
“Their crowd was chanting, ‘Eddie, Eddie,’ and that doesn’t show any class at all,” said Jim Lambright. “We appreciated Eddie. They didn’t have to remind us.”
George became the first Ohio State player to surpass 200 yards rushing in three separate games.
“I was wondering if I could get 50 yards against these guys,” George said. “They were flying to the ball. I just told our guys to maintain their blocks and hopefully I would make the best decision and go with it.”
Game 3: At Pittsburgh, Sept. 23
The numbers were workmanlike, even impressive for most backs – 24 carries and 122 yards for Eddie George as the Buckeyes ran away with a 54-14 win at Pittsburgh.
But George was far from the star in OSU’s last-ever performance at Pitt Stadium. Hoying threw for five touchdowns, four to Glenn, who racked up a record-setting 253-yard showing. All in all, the Buckeyes finished with 636 total yards, sixth-most in school history.
“It was a solid performance,” said George, who found most of his success on the outside on the day. “That was cool against their defense. I expected to have that kind of day, where I struggled for every yard.”
When told his running opened things up for Glenn and his school-record performance, George couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m glad we can open up and show our versatility,” he said. “We still have a lot more to showcase than what we showed today.”
Game 4: Notre Dame, Sept. 30
Ohio State welcomed Notre Dame to Ohio Stadium for the first time in six decades and the game lived up to its billing, with George and the Buckeyes pulling away to a 45-26 win in the Horseshoe.
With the 95,537 in attendance rocking, the Buckeye offense was rolling as OSU improved to 4-0. George ran for a pair of touchdowns as Ohio State closed out the visiting Fighting Irish – and shut up noted Notre Dame fan Regis Philbin on the sideline.
George finished the day with 32 rushes, piling up 207 yards – 61 of them on one rush early in the fourth quarter in which he seemingly left the entire Notre Dame defense in his wake. He passed both Cassady and Johnson on OSU’s all-time rushing list to move into eighth place.
“Eddie has done it all year long,” head coach John Cooper said. “This is four ballgames in a row, and if he doesn’t jump right into the middle of that Heisman race now, I don’t know what it takes.”
Asked about his Heisman potential, George said, “I really don’t know. All I know is I played the game today against Notre Dame and I did my job to the best of my ability. If I’m up for it, that’s great.”
Game 5: At Penn State, Oct. 7
One week after Ohio State’s historic win vs. Notre Dame, the Buckeyes moved to 5-0 as George helped power the Buckeyes to a 28-25 win at No. 12 Penn State.
George was kept out of the end zone for 58 minutes but got there when it mattered most, ending a six-play, 58-yard drive with 1:42 to play when he scored from 6 yards out.
Hoying threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns in OSU’s win while George was kept in check – moderately. He still topped the 100-yard mark, rushing the ball 24 times for 105 yards while adding five catches for 38 yards.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen something like that,” George said of Penn State’s plan set up to limit his effectiveness. “I had to work for every yard I got out there. I’m elated that we won.”
With OSU down 25-21, Hoying hit Dudley for a 32-yard pass to set up the Buckeyes in scoring range before George carried for 7 yards and then his winning TD.
“We’ve got senior players,” Cooper said of the winning drive. “We’ve got a senior quarterback, a senior running back, a senior tight end and a lot of good wide receivers. There was not a panic situation on the sideline.”
The No. 5 Buckeyes avenged a 63-14 loss in Happy Valley the year prior.
Game 6: At Wisconsin, Oct. 14
George and Ohio State completed an impressive first half of the season, moving to 6-0 with their fifth win of the season against a ranked foe in a 27-16 victory at No. 21 Wisconsin.
Of course, it’s never easy to win in Camp Randall Stadium – OSU had lost and tied in its previous two trips – and this day again proved it for the No. 4 Buckeyes. The Badgers led 16-13 in the fourth quarterback until George had a 1-yard TD run with 8:32 left and then a 51-yard game-clinching scamper just 1:59 later.
“It just comes down to the fourth quarter,” George said afterward. “We did it in the fourth quarter against Penn State and in the second half against Notre Dame. We did it today.”
On the day, George piled up an impressive 141 yards and three scores on 26 carries. He also caught four passes as the Buckeyes were at times sloppy on a blustery day in Madison.
“Our bread and butter is Eddie George,” said Hoying, who threw for 206 yards. “He’s running over people, giving us a big lift, and I think that’s what we saw in the second half.”
Game 7: Purdue, Oct. 21
After a dizzying 6-0 start achieved against five ranked teams – the last two on the road – Ohio State returned to Columbus and had a relatively easy go of things, downing Purdue in a rain-soaked homecoming game, 28-0.
George also had what was becoming his typical game, racking up 104 yards on the ground, 56 yards through the air and a touchdown. The score came on a 1-yard run just 4:18 into the game after Mike Vrabel blocked a Purdue punt, setting OSU up at the Boilermakers’ 24. Four plays later, all George rushes, the Buckeyes had the lead for good.
“I kind of figured that on a day like today that we weren’t going to throw it as much,” George said. “On that first drive, we had the ball in good field position and we wanted to set the tone. We were not going to be denied.”
Hoying later added touchdown passes to Dudley, Glenn and then Glenn again.
George finished the game just shy of the 1,000-yard mark, ending with 990.
“I don’t think it was hard to get up for this because we knew Purdue was capable of beating us,” he said. “They played (Penn State) pretty tough and they came in here and played us pretty tough for the first half, but I think we just wore them down.”
Game 8: Iowa, Oct. 28
Ohio State improved to 8-0 in a game that was a study in contrasts. The Buckeyes exploded for 56 first-half points vs. visiting Iowa and then watched the Hawkeyes score 35 of their own, providing all the points in a 56-35 game.
“I think we were due for a day like this,” George said. “We had struggled for three or four games. Today, we didn’t just come out and talk about it. We got the job done.”
George motored over 1,000 yards for the season, rushing just 15 times for 110 yards and touchdown runs of 3, 9, 10 and 3 yards. He didn’t play after halftime, though he admitted he kind of wished he had been able to pad his numbers a little.
“Yeah, but a win is a win and I’ll take it,” George said. “I came in and did my job. The offensive line opened up some holes, and we just got the job done. I think we handled the situation pretty well. We were up 56-7 and there wasn’t any need for me or the first team to go back in.”
He had 1,100 yards and 15 TDs after the first eight games, and a graphic in BSB listed him as the top contender for the Heisman Trophy to that point. He was followed by teammate Hoying, Florida QB Danny Wuerffel, Florida State QB Danny Kanell and OSU’s Glenn.
Game 9: At Minnesota, Nov. 4
Ohio State tripped to Minnesota and had little trouble in moving to 9-0, shaking off a slow start in prime time to pull away to a 49-21 win over the Golden Gophers in the Metrodome.
Minnesota led 14-7 before six straight touchdowns for the Buckeyes, and George played a big part with 264 all-purpose yards. He ran for an 11-yard touchdown with 9:21 left in the second quarter that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good, then motored for a 87-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half. George added a 1-yard run later in the third.
“I saw (fullback) Nicky Sualua’s block and I knew the play had to go outside,” George said of his career-long run. “Then, I saw (right guard) LeShun Daniels’ block behind me. I just cut back and was going to barrel my head down to get whatever, but it was wide open and I took it.”
OSU lost top wideout Glenn to a shoulder injury but still racked up 590 yards of offense. George ran 23 times for 178 yards while also serving as the leading receiver, hauling in eight passes for 86 yards.
“I don’t think there’s any question this is the best he’s not only caught the ball, but ran the ball after he caught it,” head coach John Cooper said.
Game 10: Illinois, Nov. 11
In an afternoon Ohio State fans won’t soon forget, George rumbled for a school-record 314 yards on the ground in the No. 2 Buckeyes’ 1,000th game in program history, a 41-3 demolishing of Illinois at home.
George broke the record of 274 yards set by Keith Byars 11 years earlier vs. that same Illinois team.
“I wasn’t aware until someone told me on the sideline I needed 20 yards to get 300,” he said after dominating on a cold, rainy and windy day. “I didn’t even know I had broken the record. I was wondering what everybody was screaming about.”
An Ohio State team without leading receiver Glenn, who had suffered a shoulder injury the week prior, put the burden on George and he delivered. George ran 36 times, scored two rushing touchdowns and added a receiving score as the Buckeyes beat the Illini in Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1986.
“We probably gave him the Heisman today,” Illinois defensive coordinator Denny Marcin lamented.
“I never have seen a better individual effort than Eddie put out there today,” head coach John Cooper said. “If there’s any player in America that’s better or more deserving of any award that may come his way than Eddie George, I don’t know who he is.”
Game 11, Indiana, Nov. 18
Ohio State dispatched Indiana on Senior Day, running over the Hoosiers with a 42-3 win to move to 11-0 overall. Nine of those wins, including the domination of the Hoosiers, were by double-digit margins.
George stayed atop BSB’s Heisman candidate list with a workmanlike effort, rushing 26 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns to reach 1,722 yards and 22 scores on the year. He did it all despite being held out of the fourth quarter with the game in hand, resting him for the showdown at Michigan the next week.
“There was no need for me to be in there,” George agreed.
When he was in, the running back scored on matching 1-yard runs in the second and third quarters after Glenn caught a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. Still, George admitted afterward it wasn’t his best game – in part because of soggy conditions, in part because the Hoosiers at times frustrated the OSU offensive line.
“I never really got into the groove and a lot of credit goes to their defense,” George said. “They did a lot of things to try to stop our running game. I think it took us some time to settle down, stay on our blocks run the ball. It was a hard work day.”
The second-ranked Buckeyes went into the season finale at Michigan needing a win to clinch a Rose Bowl berth with Northwestern done with its league schedule boasting an 8-0 record.
Game 12, At Michigan, Nov. 25
George looked well on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy, but he was outshone on this day in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State’s Rose Bowl hopes went up in smoke thanks to the running back on the other side – Tshimanga Biakabutuka. The Michigan back ran for 313 yards, the most ever for a Buckeye opponent, as the No. 18 Wolverines pulled away to a 31-23 victory in the Big House.
“I’ve never been as disappointed in my life as I am right now,” Cooper said after an OSU loss that clinched Northwestern’s trip to Pasadena. “I’m disappointed not only for my coaches, but I’m probably more disappointed for the senior football players on this team. They’ve never been to the Rose Bowl.”
George was one of those seniors, and he finished with 104 yards – his lowest output since the season opener – on 21 carries against the Big Ten’s best rushing defense. He also caught five passes for 50 yards and jumped over the pile to score a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter that pulled second-ranked OSU to within two at 17-15.
“We just didn’t win the war in the trenches, period,” George said afterward.
George set the school’s single-season rushing record in the win, pushing forward to 1,826 yards on the season, and scored his 23rd touchdown on the season. A feature in BSB noted his top competition for the Heisman would come from Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who had thrown for 17 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more.
Still, in the aftermath of the loss in The Game, George wasn’t focused on any potential individual honors.
“It most definitely hurts,” said George, who was reduced to tears on the sideline while being consoled by teammate Dudley in the final moments. “All the hard work we’ve done didn’t pay off today. Michigan was the better team. We have no reason to hang our heads, but right now it’s just very disappointing.”
Biakabutuka had nine runs in excess of 15 yards among his 37 carries.