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George carries himself with class

NASHVILLE -- There is a sense of history to Eddie George. He is the Tennessee Titans' all-time leading rusher. He has started every game for the past eight seasons, a remarkable feat considering the wear and tear on NFL running backs. He has passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark seven times in a career that began in 1996, when the Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State was taken in the first round of the draft.

And yet, George thinks people still doubt him, that somehow they still question his ability.

"It's been pretty much the same way my whole career," George said as he prepared for Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff game against the Patriots in Foxborough. "When I was coming into this league, I was the underdog. I wasn't supposed to be here this long. That perception, I guess, is not going to go anywhere until the day I retire."

Maybe this is how George gets himself ready each week. He is now 30 -- not a kid anymore -- and playing hurt is part of his M.O., just as it is with Titans quarterback Steve McNair. George comes into the New England game with sore ankles and a dislocated left shoulder, which he suffered in the second quarter of last week's 20-17 wild-card win over Baltimore when he had to make a tackle on Baltimore safety Ed Reed following a McNair interception.

Dislocated shoulder? No problem, George had it popped back in after X-rays revealed no major damage. Think about that for a minute; your shoulder gets pulled out of its socket and someone pops it back in place, and you go about your business.

George will wear a shoulder harness for protection, but that's about it. "The shoulder is a little sore," conceded George. "But my strength is there, the MRI showed that there was no significant damage in there. The ligaments and everything were in place."

George dissects his injuries matter of factly. "There's a little soreness," he said. "Any time your shoulder comes out of the socket, there's going to be some soreness there. But there's only a few strains of the rotator cuff muscles. But it's nothing to keep me out of practice. I will wear the harness just for precautionary reasons, not because of any significant pain. I don't want it [the shoulder] to be in an awkward position or have it slip out of its socket again. It is susceptible to doing that in certain positions. So I want to be cautious with that."

George says he has had that attitude his entire career. Just do your job and not worry about what other people say, think, or write. He knows what he has done and has no apologies or excuses.

"I've accomplished a few things," he said, reflecting on a career that will earn him praise for durability as well as accomplishment. "I look at some other running backs in the league that are my age and are pretty successful. I look at Priest Holmes and Stephen Davis and what he has been able to do this year.

"My situation is totally different from theirs. The offense didn't call for me to carry the ball 30 times. I didn't have the opportunity like I did in the past. That's OK because I had to sacrifice that and allow Steve to blossom and carry this team, which is fine with me because we are in the position we are now. Maybe my day will come again when I will be able to carry the ball 30 times. If I accomplish my goal in winning then that will answer any naysayers that are out there."

But are they out there? When George runs with power and poise, as he did at times against Baltimore, the praise comes in all directions. "The dude is a freight train," said Titans left tackle Brad Hopkins. "All he needs to do is get motion. A train doesn't go to 60 in five seconds. It may take 10 to 12, but when it gets rolling you can't stop it."

And now is the time for the train to start rolling. The playoffs are different than the regular season and no one knows that more than George. "Now is the time of year where everything other than football is a distraction," he said. "You have to eliminate all of the distractions and do everything you can to prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally to play the game of your life every week that you advance. We're in a divisional playoff and if you are fortunate enough to move on, it will be to the championship game. The stakes get bigger and you have to focus much more on what you have to do because everything is detailed. You have to dot every i, cross every t.

"It's very important."

So Eddie George moves on, step by step, taking care of the little stuff while looking at the larger picture, one with more historical impact -- such as winning a Super Bowl. It is what he does and what he is. And if anyone doesn't like the way he does it, so be it.

"I don't allow anyone else's opinion to affect how I view myself," he said, when he discusses some of the criticism that he may not be the running back he once was. "I may not like it, but it's cool."

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