INDIANAPOLIS –The last time Edgerrin James appeared in Lucas Oil Stadium in a uniform, Colts fans gave him an earful.
As a member of the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, James was shown on the video board sitting on the bench following tribute footage saluting his career.
The sold out crowd of 66,112 applauded during the video and when the cameras focused on James, Colts fans rose and roared almost as one to show their love for one of the most unforgettable performers in the club's Indianapolis era.
James was moved to smile and wave and of the number of times the club has done this to honor returning players, that moment was the most prolonged and special.
Always a favorite of Owner and CEO Jim Irsay, James was invited back later that year when the Colts hosted the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game. James was asked by Irsay to be ready to present the Lamar Hunt Trophy to the team in front of its cheering fans if the Colts emerged victorious.
James, indeed, was called into service when the Colts finished off a 30-17 victory. James presented Irsay with the trophy signifying the conference championship.
Now, Irsay will return the favor by honoring James at the September 23 game against Jacksonville as the newest member of the Colts Ring of Honor. James is joining those previously honored – Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Jim Harbaugh, Ted Marchibroda, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison.
From the moment James began his career, he moved into the hearts of Colts fans. Unvarnished, unfailingly honest and without pretense, James conducted himself as memorably off the field as on it. Fans loved his shy but sincere personality, and they cheered his incredible production on the field.
James won two consecutive rushing titles to open his career, gaining 1,553 yards in 1999 and 1,709 yards in 2000. He became only the fifth player to accomplish the feat, joining Bill Paschal, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson. No one has done it since, and he stands as one of 12 players ever to win consecutive titles.
In totaling 9,226 rushing yards and 12,065 total yards, James stands as one of the Colts' most prolific performers. Forty-nine of his 57 career 100-yard rushing games came with the Colts. His four 1,500 rushing seasons are tied for second-most in NFL history. James reached 25 career 100 rushing games in only 40 outings, the fastest NFL pace, and his 57 overall tie for seventh-most in history.
James departed the Colts in 2005 having averaged 100 rushing yards in 51 percent of his games (49 in 96 outings). At the time, it was the best NFL percentage for all players who had 35 career 100-yard games, bettering the percentages of his nearest competitors – Barry Sanders, Brown, Dickerson and Walter Payton. James set the club record with 10 100 games in 1999, then followed with nine in 2000 and 2005.
In sports, winning is the biggest barometer. This winner – on and off the field – helped the club achieve tremendous success.
The Colts* *were 41-6 in games when James scored a touchdown of any kind. The team was 43-6 when he rushed for 100 yards. The team was 34-7 in games where he had 25 rushes. The team was 27-8 when he had 35 touches (rushes/receptions). The team was 20-5 when he had 150 scrimmage yards. The Colts were 70-26 in games when James played and 7-9 in games without him (1999-2005). The Colts never qualified for the playoffs in seasons where James missed more than three games.
"It is entirely fitting that Edgerrin James has been selected as the newest member of the Colts' Ring of Honor," said former Colts President Bill Polian, who tabbed James with the fourth overall pick in 1999. "Edge is one of the greatest players in Colts history and a major reason for the club's record-breaking success in the last 14 years. His talent was exceptional, but his dedication, work ethic and toughness were unsurpassed. These traits, coupled with his upbeat and sunny personality, made him as popular among his teammates as he was with the fans. Edge is not only the Colts' all-time leading rusher, he is one of the game's all-time great people.
"He absolutely helped set the tone in the locker room and on the field for the club's success. His popularity with his teammates was very high. He was quiet and you never knew his popularity level was so high if you were outside the group. Inside the group, he was a leader who was beloved and was respected greatly. He led by example, and he set as great an example as I ever saw."
James played for two coaches in Indianapolis, Jim Mora and Tony Dungy. Mora and Dungy were no-nonsense coaches with different styles, yet each loved having James on board.
"Edgerrin could do it all as a running back – run, catch and block," said Mora. "He played as a rookie because he was very smart and learned his assignments and did not make mistakes. As a runner, he could make you miss and at times run over you. He was an excellent weapon for Peyton (Manning) because he had good hands to catch the ball and knew assignments in the passing game.
"Edgerrin was excellent in the locker room. He was immediately well-liked and respected. He was not selfish, a good team guy. He kept his mouth shut and did his job. Edgerrin had a relatively long and great career. He was coachable, tough and durable."
"Edgerrin James was one of the best all-around running backs to ever play in the NFL," said 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. I am very happy to see him enshrined in the Colts Ring of Honor."
A litany of household names emerged from the teams on which James played, names Colts fans never will forget. A number of the greatest Colts players always will remember James' noteworthy contributions.
Some of his finest moments came late in games when his extreme conditioning wore down opponents. As a Colt, he had more rushing yards and touchdowns in the third (2,492 yards, 18 TDs) and fourth (2,341, 19) quarters of his outings than he did in the first and second periods. That durability iced games and frustrated opponents.
"Edgerrin was one of the best teammates I've ever had," said Peyton Manning. "I always felt real secure with him back there in the backfield behind me or standing next to me in the shotgun. 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 always thought he never got enough credit for how good of a blocker he was. Edgerrin was a good receiver out of the backfield. He was smart in knowing his protections. He would pick up linebackers and safeties who would blitz. As far as his running ability, 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. He would either seal a game for us with a touchdown run, or extend a drive for us. If we had the lead, he would run out the clock.
"It was a great luxury having Edge in the backfield. I was drafted in 1998 and he was drafted in 1999 and being part of the transformation there (with the Colts), it was very special."
James played for Arizona from 2006-08, then finished with Seattle in 2009. He played in 148 career games, rushing for 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns, while catching 433 passes for 3,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He would have had 12 career scoring touchdowns had he not had such a heart. On December 26, 2004 against San Diego, Manning had 47 touchdown passes and needed one more to tie Dan Marino's 20-year old NFL single-season record. Breaking the huddle at the Chargers' three-yard line, James had James Mungro trade places in the backfield. With the other nine players unaware of the selfless switch, the play unfolded and Manning hit Mungro with a scoring pass to tie the record. James wanted his less heralded teammate to have the moment in history.
James describes the moment and how Colts teammates felt about each other.
"You want your teammates to have the ball, too," said James. "You have to understand the game. (Wanting others to have the ball), that's part of being a teammate and being a friend. You just go out and play. That's what keeps teams and players together. You don't want the spotlight just to be on you, or on just one player. You have to spread it around so everyone has something to hang their hat on.
"James (Mungro) for the rest of his life is going to remember that play, how it exactly went down. Being a part of that special moment when you did something for someone at an important time when it wouldn't hurt the team, I knew it would help James as a teammate and person. It's part of having fun. Everyone got to eat on our team. That's the way we looked at it."
Polian is among thousands who wish James had been able to be a part of the team that won Super Bowl XLI. The Colts won the year after James left.
"He's number one (among players I wish were here when we won the Super Bowl)," said Polian. "He's at the head of the list.
"Edgerrin was a driving force behind all the success we had. For him not to make it for the final step, and it was only the final step, after having done so much to get us there is really a tough break. Typical of Edgerrin, you never heard a word from him along those lines. He's at the head of the list of Colts certainly deserving of a Super Bowl ring because he helped us get all the way to the threshold."
Being included in the Colts' Ring of Honor is the second such citation for James. In 2008, he was placed in the University of Miami Ring of Honor. James played from 1996-98 with the Hurricanes, totaling 2,960 rushing yards, the second-highest school total. In 2001, James donated $250,000 to his alma mater, the University of Miami, which is the largest donation ever made to the university by one of its former athletes.
Who knows if champions are born or bred? What is certain is that James is a champion in every regard. He is humbled by the upcoming induction, and he has a warm spot in his heart for Colts fans.
"The Colts Ring of Honor, that's big. That's a huge accomplishment," said James. "It's one of those things you kind of set out to do. When you play, you want to be remembered. It's one of those things that show you did some work. Then, there are only so many people that get in. That makes it even more special.
"I love the Colts fans. Being in South Florida, Colts fans are everywhere. People in the Midwest, they always travel down South. You always run into Colts fans, and they're some of the best fans ever, especially those in Indianapolis. People from there have great pride in saying they're from Indianapolis. I haven't met one person who isn't a Colts fans. You see people from other places and they don't stand up for their town or their team. Indianapolis people do. They are some of the best fans and best people I've ever met. All I can say is, 'Thank you from the bottom of my heart.' "