Eddie Lee Ivery: Repairing A

Eddie Lee Ivery: Repairing A "Ramblin' Wreck"

Nearly 40 years ago, an impressive young high school football player from the small town of Thomson, Georgia, located between Atlanta and Augusta, racked up an incredible, record-breaking 1,710 yards carrying the ball. He averaged 10.2 yards per first down carry every time he touched the ball. No one could catch him. He just ran away from everyone. The young player’s phenomenal playing for Thomson High brought coaches and recruiters hungry to sign the young phenomenon to a football scholarship. He received 90 scholarship offers from all over America. Although his choices represented some of the cream of American colleges, record-breaking running back Eddie Lee Ivery chose the Georgia Institute of Technology in nearby Atlanta.

Known everywhere as Georgia Tech, or just Tech to most locals, the school has enjoyed decades of celebrity as home to the legendary “Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech” — referring both to the old car which is the school mascot, and to any student or alumni. Tech coach Pepper Rodgers said Eddie Lee was "the greatest football player I ever coached. He was a complete player, a gifted runner; he blocked, caught passes, returned punts and kick-offs and passed the ball. Although he was probably the greatest football player in America in his senior season, he practiced every day like he was trying to make the team.” Tech running back coach Russell Charles said that Ivery "was the only football player I ever saw who could do it all. He could run around you or over you. He could make the best tacklers in our conference miss.

He could fake you out of your drawers.” No one imagined anything but success for Ivery. He was one of the greatest Georgia Tech running backs in history, setting records for rushing yards in a game (356), all-purpose yards in a game (367) and all-purpose yards in a season (1,879, in 1978). Some of Ivery’s college records still stand today. He ranks fourth in the Georgia Tech record books for career all-purpose yards (4,324), and was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. During his sensational career at Tech, Ivery was fondly referred to as a "Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech" just like all the other students. No one could have predicted that, in just a few years, Eddie Lee Ivery would be involved in a wreck of a different kind. Ivery left college in 1978 without graduating. His prowess on the field for Tech led him straight to the National Football League (NFL), where the famed Green Bay Packers drafted him in the first round. By the time he retired in 1986, Ivery had logged 2,933 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a national football sensation, and a hall of famer. But it wasn't achieved with the ease of his college career.

Almost from the outset, there were portents of problems. In his first year with the Packers, after only three games, Ivery tore up a knee and missed the rest of his rookie season. The next year, after surgery and therapy, he came roaring back and led the team in rushing. But within a couple of years he reinjured the knee, suffered through more surgery and therapy, and then the real problems began to surface. The knee injuries weren't career-ending, but alcohol and cocaine shortened Eddie Lee Ivery’s brilliant NFL career. All on his own, with the help of drugs and alcohol, Eddie Lee Ivery wrecked his own life. "I got into the fast lane," Ivery said, "drinking, using and smoking. I wasn't being a father to my two children or a husband to my wife. I was selfish and self-centered. I thought I was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around me.” His cocaine addiction became public in 1983, and Ivery was suspended by the Packers until he could get through rehab, and handle any legal problems.

The local prosecutors were deciding whether to charge Ivery for his admitted cocaine use, and they wanted to know who his supplier was. They later backed off because of a lack of evidence. Ivery’s statement to the press read, in part: "I made a very serious mistake in my life. I got involved with the drug cocaine, not knowing the seriousness of cocaine. I thought I could clean up this problem on my own during my absence from the team for three weeks. But it was difficult alone.” Ivery explained that he would be entering a rehab center to handle his addictions. He added: "Now I pray that I am forgiven for my mistakes and can go on with my life as a professional athlete.” Ivery did come back after a short stint in rehab, and was reinstated for the 1984 season.

For the next couple of years, his playing was often brilliant. In his 5 years as a running back with the Packers, he totaled almost 3,000 yards — he lost two years due to injury and spent his last year as a wide receiver. He also racked up 1,600 yards as a receiver, and he scored 30 career touchdowns — an impressive list of statistics. But the drugs, alcohol and personal problems were boiling under the surface. There was some great football, but there were more injuries, and Ivery’s marriage was heading for a heartbreaking divorce. By 1986, Ivery’s brilliant NFL career was over. And for the next few years, Eddie Lee Ivery spent a lot of time "looking for Eddie Lee Ivery.” One day, Eddie Lee hit rock bottom, and realized that he had to change his life. He checked himself into a long-term recovery center and over the next year or so, completely turned his life around. "It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I was living my life. I learned I was only one cell in a vast network of human cells.

I made the effort to conquer the self-life.” Eddie Lee was raised in Thomson, GA, by his mother and grandmother. He never knew his father, who left home when he was still an infant. "The only time I saw him," Ivery said, "was at his funeral.” Eddie Lee says that his mother was determined that her son would never have to resort to state welfare. A first-grade dropout herself, Ivery says she would "come in my room in the morning and say, 'Boy, you better get your butt out of bed, get dressed and go to school.' Those words still ring in my ears. She and my grandmother were special - I have often looked back and drawn strength from what they endured. It helped me overcome some of my problems.”

After a year or two in his home town, doing a little coaching at his old high school, he was contacted by his former coach at Georgia Tech to come back to Tech and complete his degree. Eddie Lee was thrilled to go back to Tech, and in 1992 he earned his degree in Industrial Management. Good things kept happening. Again, out of the blue, Tech hired him as an assistant coach, a position he proudly, and happily held, for several years. He would travel around and speak to kids at schools throughout metropolitan Atlanta, as well. "I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that they will not go down the same path I did.” Eddie Lee has since returned to his home town of Thomson, where he has remarried, and started a new family. He is very active in his local church, and continues to help coach the local high school team and coordinate activities for local kids. It certainly appears that Eddie Lee Ivery has "repaired" the wreckage that shortened his NFL career and cost him his first marriage. Eddie Lee had the courage to dig deep and recover his life from the effects of alcohol and drugs.

At Novus, we work tirelessly to help people who, like Eddie Lee, want to turn their lives around and put drug and alcohol problems behind them forever.

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