Asked if winning college football’s most coveted trophy had changed his life, Eddie George did not hesitate with his answer.
“Absolutely - everywhere I go, I’m always a former Heisman Trophy winner,” said the former running back who set the Ohio State single-season rushing record and won the coveted bronze statue in 1995. “I’ve played in the Super Bowl and I was a four-time Pro Bowler, but everybody remembers me from my Ohio State days, and that was 15 years ago. Once you win the Heisman, you’re always going to be in that family, especially at a prestigious school like Ohio State.
"It’s like you’re almost the President of the United States. It’s really a cool deal - you get a free cup of coffee everywhere you go.”
That drew a laugh from everyone on stage at the Columbus Convention Center as well as the crowd, but there was no doubt George, 37, was sincere in his appreciation for the opportunities afforded him both as an Ohio State football player and a Heisman winner.
Asked what it meant to share a stage with Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, Archie Griffin and Troy Smith, George said he was reminded of the important role humility and excellence played in his success.
Griffin, a tailback who holds the school’s all-time rushing record and won the Heisman in 1974 and again a year later, agreed.
“Excellence is what the Heisman Trophy stands for, and that’s certainly what Troy, Eddie and Hop represent: Excellence,” said Griffin, 56. “I’m delighted to be amongst ’em. I’m the guy who was born and raised in Columbus and football was a means to an end for me. Football was a way that I could get a college education and take the burden off my parents, and it did much, much more than just that, so I’m honored to be here having won the Heisman Trophy amongst these three men who are really examples of what we like for our athletes to be at Ohio State University.”
Smith, who emerged from a difficult upbringing in Cleveland to earn the final scholarship of the 2002 Ohio State recruiting class then went on to win the 2006 Heisman, called being among the group of Cassady, Griffin and George a dream come true.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t supposed to be here or these things weren’t supposed to happen to me, but being from the inner city where I’m from, it doesn’t always happen like this,” said the 25-year-old, who is a backup quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. “These three guys have definitely taught me humility, and that’s the first and most important thing that’s going to allow me to have success in everything, so that’s what it means.”
Meanwhile, the 76-year-old Cassady was content to sit back and mostly enjoy the proceedings. Asked if he had to rely mostly on instincts as a 5-10, 150-pound halfback who played both ways, the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner cracked, “The guys on the other side were pretty big, and they made you change your instincts real fast.”
The gathering was part of the Morning Sports Report, an annual event in downtown Columbus in which the Greater Columbus Sports Commission recaps the year in area sports and looks ahead to events in the planning stages for the months ahead.
Among projects undertaken by the GCSC in the past year were hosting the McDonald’s All-America high school all-star basketball games, the Big Ten baseball tournament, the USA Diving Winter National Championships and 17 Ohio High School Athletics Association state championships.
The group hopes to lure the state high school football championships to Columbus for 2012-14. A bid to host a future NHL All-Star game is among other major ones it has submitted.