INDIANAPOLIS – One year after Jim Irsay handed NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue the draft card bearing Peyton Manning’s name, the name Tagliabue read as the Colts’ first pick in 1999 caused consternation in Indianapolis.
“With the fourth pick of the 1999 NFL Draft,” said Tagliabue, “the Indianapolis Colts select Edgerrin James, running back, University of Miami.”
The reaction was stunning. At the Colts’ sponsored party in downtown Indianapolis, the person dressed as the club’s mascot lifted his hooves up over his eyes in shock. The needle on talk radio shows moved, and Bill Polian joked he would send an intern out later that night to turn the ignition of his car.
Indianapolis followers expected Ricky Williams of Texas to be the choice. What they got was an individual as unique as an August training camp day is hot, and James played his way into the hearts of Colts fans everywhere.
James carried the club’s rushing fortunes for the next seven years, rushing for 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns on 2,188 attempts, while catching 356 passes for 2,839 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He set club rushing records in yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games, snapping records in the final two categories of Hall-of-Famers Lenny Moore and Eric Dickerson.
James won the rushing title as a rookie with 1,553 yards. He became the 11th NFL player to win consecutive titles when he plowed for a franchise seasonal mark 1,709 yards in 2000. He joined Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Bill Paschal as the only players to win consecutive rushing titles to open a career.
“Edgerrin James was one of the best all-around running backs to ever play in the NFL,” said Tony Dungy. “He could run, catch, and pass protect and he was the missing piece to the offensive puzzle when he came to the Colts in 1999. On top of that, he was a joy to coach and a great teammate.”
In starting all 96 career games with Indianapolis, James also set club rushing marks in attempts, most seasons leading the team in attempts (six), most seasons and consecutive years with 100 attempts (seven), seasonal yards, rookie yards, yardage in a game (219), most seasons as yardage leader (six), 100 games (season, rookie and consecutively) and rookie touchdowns.
“As a teammate, Edgerrin was the heartbeat of our locker room,” said Tarik Glenn. “He made playing football fun. As a player, Edge was a blue collar, hard worker that loved to let his playing do the talking.”
James’ production often equated to victory for Indianapolis. The Colts had a 10-game improvement from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999 with his addition to the offense. It then marked the greatest one-season turnaround in the NFL’s 80 seasons.
The Colts were 10-6 in 2000 and 2002, 12-4 in 2003 and 2004 and 14-2 in 2005 during his tenure. James overcame a knee injury in 2001, but the club won only three of 10 games without him in earning a 6-10 record.
“Edgerrin was one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” said Peyton Manning. “He was an extremely smart player. He was unbelievably well-conditioned. He had incredible strength and balance, along with excellent hands, and he was an outstanding blocker.
“I thought he was so strong in the fourth quarter. He was just as strong then as he was in the first quarter. The defenders got tired of tackling him. They didn’t understand just how strong and stout he was. His playing weight was around 215, and linebackers, corners and safeties in the fourth quarter got to saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’ He started turning six- to seven-yard gains into 20- to 25-yard gains. If we had the lead, he would run out the clock.
James played in 70 victories with the Colts, and he was a part of four division-winning teams – 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005. He helped the club to the AFC Championship game in 2003.
James had a guiding hand in Indianapolis compiling 115 regular-season victories from 2000-09, the winningest decade in NFL history.
“I can’t say I was surprised he won two rushing titles to start his career because he was a player of tremendous talent,” said Tom Moore. “He was a little bit like Barry Sanders from the standpoint that that longer the game went and the more carries you gave him, it seemed the game slowed down for him and the better he got.
“When Edgerrin came to the office, he came to work. His work ethic was second to none. His preparation was second to none, and he was a complete player. He was everything you wanted and hoped for when you drafted him in the first round. Edgerrin measured up to everything you wanted in a player.”
James earned Pro Bowl honors four times with the Colts – 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005. He was a multiple first-team All-Pro choice in 1999, when he won NFL Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year honors from six entities.
“Edgerrin was a great teammate, a great friend,” said Manning. “We have a great friendship today, and it’s one I value very much. For my opinion, Edgerrin is a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame running back. It was a great luxury having Edge in the backfield.”
1999 (First-round pick, No. 4 overall)
Played 1999-2005, GAMES STARTED/PLAYED – 96/96
Notes: Rushed for 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns on 2,188 attempts and had 356 receptions for 2,839 yards and 11 touchdowns. Is club rushing leader in attempts, yards, seasonal yards, rookie yards, yardage in a game, 100 games (49) and touchdowns and is only Colt with 200-yard rushing game (219 at Seattle, 2000; 204 at Chicago, 2004). Became fifth NFL back to open career with two rushing titles (1,553, 1999; 1,709, 2000) and first NFL player with consecutive 1,500 rushing/500 reception yardage seasons. Became 11th NFL player to win consecutive titles when he plowed for a franchise seasonal mark 1,709 yards in 2000. Joined Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Bill Paschal as the only players to win consecutive rushing titles to open a career. Has three (2,303, 2000; 2,139, 1999; 2,031, 2004) of club’s five 2,000 scrimmage yardage seasons. Four-time Pro Bowler and was All-Pro. Had 11 All-AFC or All-NFL nominations.