Eddie George backs Johnny Manziel’s efforts to help Reggie Bush get his Heisman back

Johnny Manziel has become the most vocal member of the Heisman Trophy fraternity to push for Reggie Bush to get his 2005 trophy back, saying last week that he plans on boycotting the annual Heisman ceremony until Bush is allowed to stand on stage there with him. 

Bush was stripped of his Heisman after an NCAA investigation determined his family had illegally received gifts while he was starring for USC, the type of infraction that is now legal in the current era of name, image and likeness compensation in college sports.

But Manziel, who won the Heisman in 2012, is far from alone in supporting Bush’s crusade to get his Heisman restored, as 1995 Heisman winner Eddie George is also on board.

In fact, George has signed a petition calling for the award to be returned to Bush, explaining his reasoning to FOX Sports’ Keyshawn Johnson on the latest episode of Johnson’s podcast, “All Facts, No Brakes.”

“In college sports, NIL is above board now,” George said. “[Athletes getting compensated] is something that happened way before Reggie, during Reggie’s time, and now that it’s deemed as legal, I think it’s time to give him his Heisman Trophy back.

George knows how the college sports landscape has shifted, as he currently serves as the head football coach at Tennessee State University, an FCS-level program at a historically Black university.

“We’re in a different day and age now,” George said. “For Reggie, he can make so much more money now as a Heisman Trophy winner after his playing days than he would have during the time that he actually won it. So I’m definitely for it and I think he should be recognized as a Heisman Trophy winner, because he definitely deserved it on the field.”

To emphasize his point, George needled Johnson about one of the first times they interacted at an event for 1995 college football All-Americans in Los Angeles, where Johnson was a receiver at USC at the time.

“The rest of us are coming in on a bus,” George said, “And Keyshawn drives up in a Lamborghini, a red one, with a beautiful model. Granted, he’s still in college. So I’m like, ‘OK, this is how they do it in L.A.'”

Johnson said George’s recollection wasn’t accurate, however — because the car he was driving was actually a Ferrari.

“I can talk about it now because it’s over with and NIL’s in place,” Johnson said. “My school’s not worried about it. Every now and then you get a perk here, perk there, you know, but I wasn’t paid.”

George, though, continued teasing Johnson, comparing his friend’s “perks” at USC to what he had at Ohio State.

“I was riding a bike around Columbus, dog,” George exclaimed as the two friends laughed.

George and Johnson would eventually play together on the Dallas Cowboys, but they took different paths to get there after being first-round selections in the 1996 NFL Draft. While Johnson made three Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, George became one of the best running backs in the NFL with the Houston Oilers (later Tennessee Titans). He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in seven of his eight seasons with the Oilers/Titans, peaking with a 2000 season where he led the NFL with 1,509 rushing yards, was named First Team All-Pro and helped the Titans to a Super Bowl appearance.

George remains close to the Titans franchise and has been inducted into the team’s ring of honor with his No. 27 retired. George’s on-field performance gave him some clout when he called Titans star Derrick Henry early in Henry’s career to give the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner advice about imposing his will as a physical runner. Henry recently credited that conversation with George as a major factor in propelling him to stardom.

But now, the 30-year-old Henry faces a decision similar to what George faced after the 2003 season — take a pay cut to stay with the team he will always be associated with, or depart in free agency. It’s likely Henry will be on a new team in 2024 — especially after an emotional farewell speech to Titans fans after the team’s final game of the 2023-24 season — and George put in a good word for front offices to give Henry a chance in free agency.

“I don’t know if he’s ever going to get back to that place where he’s the featured back unless an injury occurs,” George said. “Derrick has put together a Hall of Fame type of career in my opinion, and it really depends on what he wants and how he wants his legacy to to finish out. Personally, I think that he has more value as a Titan than any place else. But in this day and age where the NFL has gone and where it’s going, you’ve got to take a chance on yourself.”

George is more bewildered by the Titans’ decision to fire head coach Mike Vrabel after the 2023 season.

“I didn’t understand it,” George said. “On some levels, I still don’t. I know [new head coach Brian] Callahan is a phenomenal guy, phenomenal coach. But there was some things, I guess, in-house that we’re not privy to, that they felt like it was best to part ways. 

“Mike probably had standards. He probably had some non-negotiables. He wasn’t willing to bend on and was ready to move on. I think Mike is a phenomenal coach. He was Coach of the Year two years ago. He was in the playoffs, I think, the majority of his time here, competed against Kansas City for the AFC Championship. So you don’t go from being the coach of the year two years ago to not having a job and not having any opportunity. I think it was something where he wanted more power, and I get it, I understand it. But I was shocked by that. I thought that he had at least two more years to right the ship and replenish the cupboard.”

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