Edgerrin James on Peyton Manning: It was all about the hard work

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts attempts to hand off the ball to his running back Edgerrin James #32 during the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Colts 24-14. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They were teammates for seven seasons, the blue-chip running back and elite quarterback.

EJ and the player he dubbed “P-money.’’

Edgerrin James and Peyton Manning.

They were so good for so long. Manning and James – along with Marvin Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Adam Meadows, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and others – were responsible for more than a decade of excellence.

The reason? Of course there was the special talent each brought to the playing field. But more than that, it was the work ethic that drove them.

“When I look back on it from the beginning, I know how much work was put into what we did,’’ James told CBS4.

Manning was the genesis of a football renaissance in Indiana. He was the first overall pick in the 1998 draft by a franchise that had posted five winning records and reached the playoffs twice in its previous 19 seasons in Indy.

James came along the following season as the fourth overall selection.

The driven quarterback.

The driven running back.

During their seven-year relationship, the Colts were 77-35, won at least 12 games four times and playoff participants six times. The outlier: 2001 when James suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 6 at Kansas City.

In the seven seasons leading up to Manning’s arrival, the Colts were 43-69.

“Look at what we accomplished and the way everything was built up,’’ James said. “You saw everything kind of go from the ground up.

“When I look back on it from the beginning, I know how much work was put into what we did.’’

James has a home in Orlando, Fla. and helps coach the youth football teams for sons Eden and Edgerrin. While working with the “stars’’ of the future, James always stresses to do things the right way. The only way.

“Dealing with youth football now and seeing other teams,’’ James said, “they have no idea how much work we put in.

“It’s crazy, man. You get three people (James, Manning, Marvin Harrison) that come together that have the same mindset that killed at working non-stop, working on their craft. And then all of a sudden you bring in Freeney, Mathis, people that were just alike.’’

It didn’t take long before Manning, Harrison and James threatened the “Triplets’’ status of Dallas’ Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. Credit their dedication to maximizing their skills, individually and collectively.

“The three of us all did it the same way,’’ James said. “You usually don’t get three guys who are kind of on the same page. Everybody worked hard. Peyton worked hard. Marv worked hard. Myself, I worked hard.

“Everything just clicked. It’s crazy, but it just clicked. It wasn’t a one-time thing. Year-in and year-out, everybody was so competitive and pushing everybody else to get better.’’

During that seven-year stretch, James won two league rushing titles; Manning earned two MVP awards and tossed a record 49 TDs in ’04; and Harrison led the league in receptions twice, including an NFL single-season 143 in ’02. They combined for 17 Pro Bowl selections. Seventeen.

The overriding objective, though, always was team oriented.

“Everybody complemented everybody,’’ James said. “Everybody was unselfish. Everybody wanted the ball, wanted to do more, but we understood the game kind of dictates what happens. We understood if teams were going to double Marv, I had to step up. If they’re going to step in there and crowd the box, I wasn’t going to have a field day.

“Peyton knew we had to rely on one or the other, and we did.’’

From his first day as a Colt, James talked about how easy the game was to him.

“That’s why it’s hard to relate when some people say the game is hard or complicated or whatever,’’ he said.

It was easy to James – and Manning and Harrison and a handful of others – because of the work he put into it.

“I know how much we worked,’’ he said, “so playing the game was easy. You do what it takes to be good.

“That’s what stands out to me. Usually, one person is getting in trouble or is missing practice or missing this or you can’t get this person to do things. Here, we had multiple players that this is what they do, right? This is their life. When we drafted Reggie (Wayne in 2001), I was like, ‘They’re bringing my brother to the team.’ We both know how we work.

“Mr. Irsay and Mr. Polian did a great job of putting the right people together.’’

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