So Eddie George is headed to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Two outstanding seasons at Ohio State, capped by a Heisman Trophy his senior year, separated him from so many others who have played the game at that level.
It’s tough to say it’s an honor he does not deserve. It’s tougher to say whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
George has been out of the game for more than five seasons, and therefore, he’s eligible for induction. He did not make the list of 26 semifinalists for the 2011 class, which means he’s a long way from actually getting there.
Still, the debate over his merits is an interesting one.
Numbers don’t immediately seem to warrant his selection. He ranks 23rd on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 10,441 yards, and it’s not as if the top 25 are surefire Hall of Famers. For nearly every Jim Brown in that group, there’s also a Corey Dillon. Yes, Marshall Faulk is among them, but so is Ricky Watters.
The thing that distinguished George during his pro career is the thing that also tainted his legacy: toughness. He is one of only two who rushed for at least 10,000 career yards (the aforementioned and unquestionably legendary Brown is the other) and started every game of his career — in George’s case that was 142 of 142.
He not only played the 2001 season through the debilitating effects of offseason toe surgery, he held on for three more years after that — two with the Titans and one utterly forgettable season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Those final four campaigns (44 percent of his career) left a lasting image of a guy who lacked explosion or any kind of breakaway speed, a guy who did not average 3.5 yards per carry and who only once over that period scored more than five touchdowns in a year.
Without those seasons, he wouldn’t have gotten to 10,000 yards — a significant NFL landmark — but he also would’ve left a much more dynamic image in the minds of those who watched him.
Look at his first five years in the NFL (that’s more than the average career for a running back), and his credentials are much more impressive.
At the end of the 2000 season, George and Eric Dickerson were the only two players in NFL history who had at least 1,200 rushing yards in each of their first five years in the league. Only five (Barry Sanders and Tony Dorsett were among the others) had topped 1,000 yards in each of their first five seasons.
George was the NFL’s leading rusher over those five seasons (5,506 yards), just ahead of Jerome Bettis (5,271), Curtis Martin (5,052) and Faulk (5,031), each of whom are among the league’s top 10 all-time rushers. He averaged 3.7 yards or better and more than eight touchdowns.
I’ve always contended that George was one of the least instinctive great backs in history. You rarely got the impression that he saw the holes before they developed. Instead, he simply made running room where he thought it should be — often by brute force.
The fact that he lasted for nine years with such a style ought to be worth more than the numbers he produced. And the fact that his numbers were among the best in the league for a sustained period ought to outweigh what he did in the years that followed.
Few accomplished what George did as a professional, and he did it in a way that few others could or would. You can’t say he absolutely belongs in Canton. Then again, it’s tough to say he absolutely does not.