INDIANAPOLIS – When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium at the 1999 NFL Draft holding the card that would reveal the name of the Colts’ first-round pick, it was not likely any observers felt the choice would be running back Edgerrin James.
Quarterbacks Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith were plucked from the board with the first three picks, and Texas’ Ricky Williams remained available. The consensus was Williams would go to Indianapolis.
“With the fourth pick of the 1999 NFL Draft,” said Tagliabue, “the Indianapolis Colts select Edgerrin James, running back, University of Miami.”
James had burst on the scene with an introduction that surprised many. The reaction was stunning.
At a Colts-themed party in downtown Indianapolis, a person dressed as a Colt lifted his hooves up over his eyes in shock. That mascot was not alone as reaction ensued everywhere all afternoon. Colts President Bill Polian joked he would send an intern out later that night to turn the ignition of his car.
What Colts personnel knew, though, was that a tremendous player was joining the organization, one who would earn the deep admiration of all Colts followers, and one who would establish franchise rushing records.
“I am very pleased to announce the addition of Edgerrin James to the Colts’ Ring of Honor,” said Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. “Edgerrin is one of the most significant players in our history, and he embodies the talent and competitive nature we seek in every player. Edgerrin ran his way into the record books and into the hearts of all Colts fans. He now is taking a rightful place among others enshrined in our Ring, and he represents all that is right with the Horseshoe.”
On September 23 at the Colts’ game against Jacksonville, James will join those previously honored – Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Jim Harbaugh, Ted Marchibroda, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison.
“I feel great. It is a tremendous honor,” said James. “It’s one of those things that you set out to do and hope to have a career where you can leave a lasting imprint. For me, it’s super important because a lot of my young kids didn’t get a chance to see me play. Now, at least they’ll know their daddy could play a little bit.
“It feels great to be among the names (in the Ring of Honor). Not only did you play, but you were one of the top players to play in the organization. ... No matter where I go or what I do, I’m always a Colt.”
James’ impact was evident in his first preseason game. He scored on 16- and 12-yard runs, once literally snatching the ball from second-year quarterback Peyton Manning’s grasp before Manning intended to deliver it.
James rolled to 77 yards in limited action that night against the Saints, but it was anything but a one-night stand in New Orleans. James carried the club’s rushing fortunes for the next seven years. James rushed for 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns on 2,188 attempts, and he displayed remarkable talents in the passing game by snaring 356 receptions for 2,839 yards and 11 touchdowns. He bettered the club rushing yardage total of Lydell Mitchell and the rushing touchdown mark of Hall-of-Famer Lenny Moore. James’ 49 100+ rushing games more than doubled the club mark previously set by Hall-of-Famer 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. At that time, he joined Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Bill Paschal as the only players to win consecutive rushing titles to open a career. With 586 and 594 reception yards in his opening seasons, James became the only NFL player to have consecutive 1,500+ rushing yardage and 500+ reception yardage seasons.
In starting all 96 career games with Indianapolis, James set club rushing marks in attempts, most seasons leading the team in attempts (six), most seasons and consecutive years with 100+ attempts (seven), yards, seasonal yards, rookie yards, yardage in a game (219), most seasons as yardage leader (six), 100+ games (season, career, rookie and consecutively) and touchdowns (career, rookie). James is the only Colt ever to top 200 rushing yards in a game (219 yards at Seattle in 2000; 204 at Chicago in 2004). His career reception total is second-most by a Colts back, as is his streak of 47 straight games with a reception.
James is the club leader with 2,544 plays from scrimmage, and he is the only Colt to top 2,000 attempts in the category. James (2,303, 2000; 2,139, 1999; 2,031, 2004) has three of the club’s 2,000+ scrimmage yardage seasons. James’ 12,065 yards rank second in franchise history to Marvin Harrison (14,608), and he follows Harrison into the Ring of Honor. Harrison was enshrined in 2011.
James (rushing) and Harrison (receiving) topped 100 yards in their respective categories 22 times in 94 games together, 23 percent of the time. They wrestled the lead in that category from Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who achieved it 20 times in 124 outings together (16%) with Dallas.
Indianapolis was 19-3 when James and Harrison sported 100 yards each in the same game, and
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 as 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.
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. In 2004, his unselfish nature went unnoticed by many when running back James Mungro caught the 48th touchdown pass of Peyton Manning as Manning went on to set the NFL seasonal record (since broken) with 49 touchdown passes. James was the intended receiver on the play, but switched positions with Mungro to allow Mungro a moment of glory. James had a guiding hand in Indianapolis compiling 115 regular-season victories from 2000-09, the winningest decade in NFL history. When the Colts topped the New York Jets on January 24, 2010 in the AFC Championship game to advance to Super Bowl XLIV, James was the club-appointed person to present Irsay with the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
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.
James started 135 of 148 career appearances while playing for Arizona (2006-08) and Seattle (2009) after departing Indianapolis. He had 3,028 rushes for 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns, while having 433 receptions for 3,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. James amassed 15,610 career scrimmage yards. His rushing yardage total ranks 11th in NFL history, while his rushing scores rank 18th and his scrimmage yardage ranks 13th.