This coming Saturday in Ohio Stadium, Ohio State will take the field against Illinois to kick off Big Ten conference play. Ohio State fans can painfully recall the last time Illinois visited Ohio Stadium in 2007, as Illinois defeated top-ranked Ohio State 28-21. Obviously, Ohio State fans would prefer an outcome closer to the 2005 contest, when Ohio State romped over Illinois 40-2 in Ron Zook's first season as Illinois' head coach.
If I was Coach Jim Tressel, I would ask Eddie George to be the honorary captain for this week's Illinois contest. My reasoning is simple - Eddie George has been on both sides of this long-time rivalry with Illinois. Eddie George has suffered through an agonizing defeat at the hands of Illinois in Ohio Stadium, and also can tell the players the joy of playing arguably the game of his career in a victory over Illinois in Ohio Stadium.
In 1992, Eddie George was a freshman recruit out of Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy. Even though Ohio State had running backs such as Robert Smith, Butler By'not'e, and Raymont Harris, George quickly impressed the coaching staff to begin earning playing time. George's best contributions came in a 35-12 victory at Syracuse, where George ran for three touchdowns.
After a loss at Wisconsin, Ohio State came home to play Illinois. Eddie George suffered two critical fumbles - one was fumbled by George into the end zone and returned by Illinois for a touchdown, and another fumble occurred at the Illinois' one yard line that was recovered by Illinois. Illinois defeated Ohio State 18-16, and Eddie George only carried the ball twelve more times the remainder of the 1992 season.
In 1993, Eddie George primarily served as a backup for Raymont Harris before earning the starting tailback position in 1994 with a solid 1442 yard season. Little did anyone suspect that Eddie George was saving his best for his last season in 1995, and that his best game would take place against Illinois in Ohio Stadium.
In 1995, Eddie George began the season with a solid performance against Boston College, then rambled for 212 yards against Washington. George ran for 122 yards against Pittsburgh, then showcased his talents against Notre Dame for 207 yards on 32 carries. But the best was yet to come.
On November 11, 1995, Eddie George set the single-game rushing record for Ohio State in a 41-3 victory over Illinois with 314 yards on 36 carries in the cold and sleet of Ohio Stadium. What is often overlooked, or possibly forgotten by Ohio State fans, is how Ohio State was playing without WR Terry Glenn due to a shoulder injury. Eddie George was able to rush for 314 yards while playing against an Illinois defense with future NFL stars Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy geared up to shut him down. It was after this performance that Eddie George cemented his invitation to New York City to pick up the Heisman Trophy.
Eddie George had a very productive career in the NFL, has opened up several businesses, and has the honor of having his jersey retired in Ohio Stadium. If I were Coach Tressel, I would think long and hard about asking such a prestigious former Buckeye as Eddie George this weekend to talk about what it means to play against Illinois, and the importance of persistence and determination in the face of adversity.