INDIANAPOLIS — Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne go way back to 1997, when they spent their first of two seasons together with the University of Miami football team.
Four years later, the two would be reunited in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, both as first-round picks, where with the likes of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark and many others, they formed the most feared offensive attack in the league — and, perhaps, the single greatest all-around units ever seen.
James and Wayne thrived off one another. With opposing defenses packed into the box, that opened up plenty of opportunities for Manning to find Wayne down the field; when the defense couldn't help but respect the pass, then Manning would simply hand the ball off to James, who would pick up yards in large chunks.
So when Wayne says James belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it's hard to disagree with him.
James, a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year for a second time, will know by Saturday night whether or not he'll be among those inducted in August as the Class of 2018. In the meantime, he has plenty of support from former teammates, coaches, team execs and media members.
The latest such endorsement came from Wayne, now an analyst with the NFL Network who caught up with Colts.com's Caroline Cann on Sunday at the NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
"Man, get my dawg in there, man!" Wayne said as he flashed his trademark smile. "Get him in there, man!"
Statistically one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, James played 11 NFL seasons, including his first seven with the Indianapolis Colts. In his career, James was named to four Pro Bowls and rushed for 12,246 yards, which ranks 13th on the all-time list. His 15,610 total yards from scrimmage ranks 11th all-time among running backs, and is more than Hall of Fame backs Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis and Jim Brown.
Of the 12 players ahead of James on the NFL's all-time rushing list, 10 of them are already enshrined in Canton. The other two — Frank Gore (No. 5) and Adrian Peterson (No. 11) — are still active NFL players.
No matter who gets in this year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will include some great names — guys like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce, Joe Jacoby and more are among the other finalists — but Wayne said whether it happens this year or not, James is due for a bust and a gold jacket soon.
"You know what, I think it's going to be hard, as it is every year, but I think if there's a year for him to go it'll be this year — if not this year, maybe next year," Wayne said of James. " I mean, one thing about it: he needs to hurry up and get in there, 'cause these running backs, they're about to start piling up on him."
Wayne said he had just talked with James on Saturday night and "briefly" touched on No. 32's Hall of Fame candidacy — "he's excited about it; he's thankful for the opportunity just to be named one of the finalists," Wayne said — but knows that once James does get that call from Canton, look out.
"If he gets in, we're going to have big 'ol party," Wayne said. "It's going to be a big party."