The Tennessean: A Raisin in the Sun

Eddie George back on Nashville stage for 'Raisin in the Sun'

Jason Wolf | The Tennessean

Eddie George stands barefoot in pajamas, opens a window and lights a cigarette.

The 6-foot-3 behemoth used to play football, starring as a running back who won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State in 1995 before helping the Titans reach Super Bowl XXXIV.

But now he’s playing Walter Lee Younger, a leading role in the groundbreaking 1959 drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” as he returns to the stage Saturday with the Nashville Repertory Theatre for the first time since performing on Broadway last year.

George buries his smoke in an ashtray Thursday during the opening scene of the final dress rehearsal at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where the play begins a four-week run in the intimate Andrew Johnson Theater. A short while later, Younger, a black man in his mid-30s wrestling with poverty and his place in society, picks at his breakfast at the kitchen table in his family’s tiny apartment.

“I was lookin' in the mirror and thinking about it,” he says to his wife, played by Tamiko Robinson Steele. “I'm 35 years old. I been married 11 years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room. And all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live.”

George was approaching Younger’s age when his own life came to a crossroads. He was released by the Titans in 2004 and spent his ninth and final NFL season with the Cowboys.

George struggled with depression, like many professional athletes after the curtain falls on their career. He was 31, had two children and money in the bank. But the regimented life he had always known was no more, and his marriage was trending in the same direction.