INDIANAPOLIS –When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium at the 1999 NFL Draft holding the card revealing 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 taken with the first three picks, and Texas' Ricky Williams remained. The consensus was Williams would be a Colt.
"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 a Colts-themed party in Indianapolis, a person dressed as a Colt lifted his hooves up over his eyes in shock. Hearing the fallout 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.
"I am very pleased to add 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."
James joins those previously honored – Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Jim Harbaugh, Ted Marchibroda, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison.
"The Colts Ring of Honor, that's a huge accomplishment. It's one of those things you kind of set out to do," said James. "When you play, you want to be remembered. You walk into a stadium as a young player and the first thing you notice is the names of great players. There are thousands of players who play, but only a few get their names displayed in the stadiums. You say, 'I want my name up there.' Then you look up the history of the players that are up there and each has a special story. They've done something special to deserve the honor. That's what you want to do. You say, 'I want to leave my mark. I want to be one of the players who is remembered.'
"To have this honor from the team I started with, the Indianapolis Colts, it's both humbling and exciting. I've always been a pretty humble person. The farther you get away from the game, that is when you really start to pay attention to those things. When I was playing, you didn't really know the significance of things you were doing. You only focused on competing. Now that you're away, you see the work you did was noticed and it means something. It is humbling also because it took the help of teammates for you to do it."
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. No one has done it since. 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 total, he topped 1,500 rushing yards four times, a huge measure of satisfaction.
"Now that I look back on it, it means a lot to me. You have an appreciation for the guys up front and the whole offensive staff," said James. "Back when I was playing, I really didn't understand what the big deal was about a rushing title because we never really played full games. We never really went out for stats. We just played. If it were about stats, I should have tried to get 2,000 yards. It wasn't about that. We didn't play the fourth quarter a lot of times. When we were doing well, we would sit out a game at the end of the year to get ready for the playoffs. You really don't know about it (a title) at a young age. You don't understand the significance of it, until later. I appreciate it now. I appreciate it even more now that I've had time to look back at it. Back then you really didn't pay much attention to it, you were just playing. Now, you see how hard it is to actually have two rushing titles. You see the number of players who were able to run for 1,500 yards and how many times they were able to do it. You look at the stats and say, 'Whoa, that was pretty big to run for 1,500 yards four times.' There are only a couple of players who have done that, so that stands out."
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 scrimmage plays. 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 (2011) into the Ring of Honor.
James (rushing) and Harrison (receiving) topped 100 yards in their categories 22 times in 94 games together, 23 percent of the time, taking the lead in that category from Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who achieved it 20 times in 124 outings together (16%) with Dallas. The Colts were 19-3 in those games, and James loved the lethal combination.
"That means a lot. Hopefully, that stands up and stays that way for a long time," said James. "It's all over now. We can't do anything to make it even better now. You have to appreciate what we've done. You look back at it, it's a major accomplishment. We didn't set out to do it. We just did it by working hard."
Though he, Harrison and Manning downplayed "The Triplets," James now says he was honored to be a part of such a rare thing.
"It means a lot to be a part of something special like that. We did something that was hard to duplicate," said James. "It's not going to be the norm that three players come together at those three positions that actually put up the numbers we put up. It shows a lot of hard work, dedication and consistency. That's one of the hardest things about the NFL, to be consistent and do it week-in and week-out with the opponent knowing you were going to do it. That's what makes it stand out."
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, marking 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 Manning as Manning went on to set then the NFL seasonal record with 49 touchdown passes. James was the intended receiver, but switched positions with Mungro to allow a less heralded teammate 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.
Who knows if champions are born or bred? What is certain is that James is a champion in every regard, and he has a warm spot in his heart for Colts fans.
"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.' "
EDGERRIN JAMES IN HIS OWN WORDS
On playing for Jim Mora and Mora saying he was liked and respected
"That means a lot to me because I've always wanted to be a people person. I always tried to be a people person. Being that way is more important than anything because you have teammates coming from all walks of life. In those different walks, we all meet up on the football field. Coach Mora, I loved playing for him. He was disciplined. He was straight to the point. He was a good coach. I had some fun times playing there under Coach Mora. You learned a lot. To start a career off and show you exactly how to do things and show you what the business is all about, he was the perfect coach. Coach Mora didn't take any mess out there on the field. He taught you to work hard. I would have hated to come into the league under a relaxed situation and then you never might know how you could have turned out. If everything is so relaxed, things could have started catching up with you. Coach Mora never did have things easy going around there where you could let up. We went out and played hard with all we had when we went out in the battle."
On playing for Tony Dungy
"Coach Dungy was like an indirect father figure for a lot of players, especially African-American players who came up in all these different (family) situations. To see someone like Coach Dungy, and he treats you like a man, it was important. I was at a point, four or five years into my career, where I had a grasp of what was going on. Everything was perfect timing with Coach Dungy. You were a mature player. You knew exactly what he wanted. He treated you like a man. He was always going to tell you to pay attention to the details. He would talk about death by inches. He would talk about one game at a time. He had little things he would stay that would stand out and stick with you. They stick with you even now. You never wanted to let him down because he was so straight-forward. The thing I liked about him the most was he was family first. That's the one thing he always said, regardless of everything. That meant so much."
On playing in a special offense
"It was the best thing ever. The (opposing) defense really had to pick how they wanted to defend us. You knew your time was coming. Me and Marv (Marvin Harrison) we would talk. If they were covering him, Marv would come and say, 'The lane should be open.' If they were stacking the box, we knew Peyton would be ready to go over the top to Marvin and Reggie. It was the perfect offense. It was perfect for me, and I think it worked out for everybody."
On Peyton Manning
"Peyton is a friend. He always was a friend. He's a cool person on and off the field. As a player, he was detailed and worked hard. He worked hard no matter what day it was. He worked on the little things. He put in the time, and I'm not surprised by the results he has had. He puts in more than enough time to be in the position he's in. That's why he's always had success. He out-worked everybody. He watched a bunch of film and on the practice field he was very detailed. Everyone can learn from his example."
On Colts players never taking winning for granted and being motivated by victories
"Exactly, you expected to win. You were driven by it every day. You worked hard and did everything it took to win. The organization with Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Tom Moore, Gene Huey and the offensive staff, everything you did was geared to winning, no matter what it was. Everything was based around winning. That was one of the reasons there was so much success there."
On RB Coach Gene Huey
"Gene was a very detailed person who was not going to deviate from how he did things, no matter what. He was going to stay on you, harp on things, go over the fine points and he held you accountable for everything you were responsible for. He would go over things until you were sick of hearing it. As a young player, you don't really understand that. As you get older, you saw it was very important. A lot of times when I'm talking to my own kids, I'm like Gene Huey. They're sick of me saying the same thing over and over. Gene had a big influence on me on and off the field."
On switching places with James Mungro on Manning's 48th TD pass in 2004
"You want your teammates to have the ball, too. 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 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."
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT EDGERRIN JAMES
"Edgerrin James was one of the best all-around running backs to ever play in the NFL. 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."
"As a teammate, Edgerrin was the heartbeat of our locker room. He made playing football fun. As a player, Edge was a blue collar, hard worker that loved to let his playing do the talking."
"Edgerrin was one of the best teammates I've ever had. 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.
"He was huge (to the club's winning tradition. Obviously, we had great balance offensively during those years. We were throwing the ball effectively, but Edgerrin led the league in rushing his first two years. He was a Pro Bowl starter as a rookie. I remember playing in a Pro Bowl early in my career with Elvis Grbac. Edgerrin was in the game and made a cut on the field and Elvis turned to me and just asked, 'You get to play with that every day?' I said, 'Yes, sir, I do.' I certainly never took Edgerrin for granted. I knew how special he was. I think teams had a real challenge in how to play us because of the balance we provided. Edgerrin was doing his thing and Marvin Harrison was doing his thing. Teams had to pick their poison.
"It (the club being 19-3 when James and Harrison topped 100 yards together) goes back to that offensive balance. We tried to take what the defense was going to give us but at the same time, we were trying to dictate to them. We were trying to be balanced. We wanted to be able to run the ball somewhere around 30 times and throw the ball around 35 times a game. Those were the goals. Sometimes the score and the flow of the games would change that, but that was (Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore's philosophy. Edgerrin's ability back there was tremendous.
"Edgerrin was a great teammate, a great friend. He came to my wedding. I loved having him in the locker room with me for those years. 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. I hope this is just one of a few inductions ever to head his way. He's a Hall-of-Fame running back in my opinion, without a doubt."
"It is entirely fitting that Edgerrin James has been selected as the newest member of the Colts' Ring of Honor. 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. Everything he did, he did to the hilt. He was as responsible and dedicated a player as I've ever been around. When you think about the Big Three – Edge, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison – they did everything humanly possible to win every game they played. Their preparation was exceptional. Their work ethic, toughness and diligence were outstanding. They did it, by today's standards, with little or no fanfare.
"You absolutely had to make your choice on how you were going to defend the offense with the Big Three (Edgerrin James, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison). The signature plays of the Colts' offense during the most glorious years were the stretch play to Edgerrin and the fake stretch play/play-action pass to Marvin on the backside of the secondary. It was a very tough decision for a defense. It was a matter of picking your poison.
"He's number one (among players I wish were here when we won the Super Bowl). 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. Maybe people don't focus on it because he's newly retired but in my mind when you compare him with running backs in the Hall-of-Fame, he not only belongs there, he's in the front of the line."
"Edgerrin could do it all as a running back – run, catch and block. 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."
"He came to us with tremendous ability. He was a great running back. He adapted well and quickly to the system and was a very productive player. Edgerrin was a game-breaker. He was a guy who could go all the way at any time. I can't say I was surprised he won two rushing titles to start his career because he was a player of tremendous talent. 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. Edgerrin was extremely productive in the second halves of games. He was mentally tough. He was physically tough. He was an excellent pass protector. You see the run stats, but people may not realize he was part of the group that protected Peyton and allowed us to give up very few sacks. 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."
"Edgerrin James was one of the most complete backs to ever play the position. He was powerful, elusive, smart and tough. Edge had great hands with an in-depth understanding of the passing game as a route-runner and he was a stout, dependable pass protector. But his physical abilities pale in comparison to Edgerrin James the man. He has proved to be a fine citizen, father and role model. He was beloved, revered and respected by his teammates and all who have ever come into contact with him. This is a well-deserved honor for a special individual."
"Edgerrin was one of the all-time best in his position in the NFL. The skills, intelligence, competitiveness and raw courage defined who he was. His power, strength and graceful running set him a part from being "just good." His selfless attitude for pass protection set the bar in this league. It may be easy to say he was a great athlete. Edgerrin, was beyond that. Whether playing chess in the locker room or other pursuits, he exhibited an innate sense toward success by consistently being prepared and dedicated. I loved him as a player, but I loved him even more as a man's man who was much respected and trusted by his peers and fans alike. He never asked for anything that he didn't deserve and always gave back more than he received. Edgerrin James always, 'Kept it real.' "
"He definitely deserves it. What a great human being, a great player. From day one you knew he was a great player, but he was an even better human being. (He was) a fierce competitor. I'll never forget after his rookie year, that long season, he said, 'After this game, I'm going to go home and sleep for a month.' He couldn't practice on Wednesday's and Thursdays, but he'd gear it up on Friday and Saturday, and he'd tote it all day Sunday. There are very few backs who never come out of a game. He never came out of a game. He never got tired. He was never hurt while we had him. He was a rare, rare bird.
"(He's a Hall-of-Fame player) no doubt. No doubt about it. First-ballot, has to be, with all the things he did early in his career, then finishing up. A lot of people were upset when we traded Marshall (Faulk) and didn't take Ricky Williams. Bill (Polian) knew what he was doing."
"Without question, Edge was the most complete running back I witnessed to play the game! He had the total package – speed, power, elusiveness, big-play ability and durability. He'd rush for 150+ yards on Sunday, and be in weight room squatting heavy on Monday! Edge was the ultimate pro. It was an honor to compete with him on Sundays."
"I am very excited for him. It is well-deserved. He was one of the guys who helped build this foundation. Sitting back and thinking about him from college on, he was the same player in college. He was a great locker room guy. He didn't say much, if anything, on the field. His work showed you the type of player he was. The dude taught me a lot. He taught me how to practice. He taught me how to deal with the media. He taught me the whole Indianapolis way of living. To see him get inducted into the Ring of Honor is well-deserved. I'm extremely happy for him.
"It seems like he always had a million things on his plate, but it never deterred him from doing what he was supposed to do whenever he was here. It seemed like he had the right answer for everything. We had a lot of talks. We ate every day out. We talked about life, or football or whatever the case may be. He was an easy guy to talk to. He had the right answer for whatever you were going through because either he had been through it, or he knew someone who had gone through it. He's just that kind of guy. He made everything easier. He always walked around with a smile on his face."