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Ex-Titans Star Eddie George Finds Purpose In A Broadway Role, In 'Chicago'

Two weeks ago, Eddie George stood center stage, wearing a Steve McNair jersey as he overlooked a sea of fans that covered every inch of Nashville’s famed Broadway thoroughfare as the NFL Draft kicked off.

The scene was awe-inspiring to the former Titans running back, who had arrived in Nashville when the Titans moved from Houston and turned Music City into a pro football town. Now, 15 years after his playing career ended with a one-year stint with the Cowboys, George remains a star attraction in Nashville, where he spent seven seasons as an All-Pro running back after spending his rookie year in 1996 with the Oilers.

This week, George again finds himself on center stage—this time wearing a black tuxedo playing the role of Billy Flynn in the national touring company of Chicago, a musical in which the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner enters through a flourish of pink ostrich feathers.

It has been three years since George made his Broadway debut. Yet with each performance, the adrenaline hits, albeit in a much different fashion than it once did. Before he takes his position on stage—especially after time has passed since his most recent performance—a nervous thought enters George’s head.

“I’m always kind of leery of being in the right place at the right time saying the right thing,” George said Wednesday before a matinee performance at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater.

George, who also found ways to rise to the occasion during his NFL career, in which he ran for 10,441 yards and 68 touchdowns, admits feeling more pressure playing Billy Flynn than he did during his pro career, which included a Super Bowl appearance.

In his acting life, there are lines to remember, singing to be executed and an acting ensemble to fit into. Still, as soon as he finds himself standing in front of an audience and the spotlight hits, the responsibilities fall into place, and he somehow blends honesty into imaginary circumstances. And just like that, Eddie George finds him exactly where he believes he is meant to be right now.

George’s secret: get out of the way and let the character do his thing, which involves George singing the words “I don’t care about expensive things/Cashmere coats, diamond rings/Don’t mean a thing/All I care about is love.”

At 45, George acknowledges that a Broadway role isn’t what he envisioned in his post-NFL life. But after 12 years of acting and singing lessons, George has found a home with Chicago while playing a role that has forced him to perform through doubt and sometimes fear and trepidation until he is convinced he can pull off what he is asking the audience to believe.

Doing so isn’t always easy.

“You’re stretching yourself, you’re stretching your faith, you’re stretching your talent, and you’re pushing through a point of non-belief to get you to believe that if you put your mind to it and the work into it, you can get it done,” George said. “And people will resonate with it.”

Former NFL player Eddie George taking a selfie with fans on the main stage during the second round... [+]

George equates learning the role to getting into a playbook as a rookie. Performing at the highest level on stage requires repetition, muscle memory and envisioning himself living in the moment when his time comes to do the job he was brought in to do. The difference between his former profession and the one he now enjoys? Where in football he made a name for imposing his will on oncoming defenders, acting requires more gentleness and attention to details that allows his character to come shining through.

Initially, George found his confidence level to be at “absolute zero” before his acting coach, the late Anna Marie Franzella, convinced the 6-foot-3, 255-pound George that he possessed a singing voice that could be trained and enough talent for the stage to take his talents to the next level—and that he would make a great Billy Flynn.

After appearing in Nashville as Julius Caesar and Othello and in other roles that better introduced him to stage life, George auditioned for the part of Flynn in New York.

When George debuted with the show in 2016, co-producer Barry Weissler told the New York Times that George was the perfect fit for the role because he attracted a different demographic to the show. Now, years after football fans came to see George as a hard-charging running back, the former Ohio State star has found that playing Billy Flynn helps to fill a void that was created once his football career ended.

Finding something to fill the emptiness is a lesson George passes on to his clients as a licensed financial adviser who specializes in working with athletes in helping them manage not only their money but their well-being as well. He also has a landscaping business and other pursuits that he manages along his time on stage.

George educates his wealth management clients that if they “live by the gross, they’ll die by the net,” teaching people how to live within their means while also making sure they are taking care of other aspects of their life.

“If you think money is going to solve all of your issues—it can last you a while, it can provide a certain lifestyle, but without a true life purpose, that’s where most people go wrong,” George said.

Helping others is now where George finds his true value, but he also realizes that he must often heed his own advice when it comes to dealing with some of the emotions he has dealt with since his NFL career ended.

Acting—regardless of what role he takes on—allows George an invaluable release and a valve for him to direct some of the feelings he deals with. In every role, George said, it is necessary to infuse pieces of his personality as well as an approach to how he might deal with the circumstances his character works through as part of the script.

The result has been George receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Billy Flynn, which has gone hand-in-hand with the way his on-stage persona has helped him navigate his life post-football in a way perhaps even George never imagined.

“It allows me to constantly release a lot of the emotions I’ve had when my playing career was over with and to use it for good,” George said. “It really is cathartic for me, it’s healing for me—even to this day, there are things that come up in my own personal life that I use for the character. Everything has a rhyme and a reason.”

Former NFL player Eddie George taking a selfie with fans on the main stage during the second round... [+]


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