Ex-Colt Edgerrin James: I did it the right way. I did it my way

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Edgerrin James #32 of the Indianapolis Colts resting on the bench during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 9, 2003 at the Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 12, 2016) – Spend a few minutes discussing Edgerrin James’ body of work with the man who compiled it, and you immediately understand his casual acceptance at being included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s list of 15 modern-day finalists for the Class of 2016.

It’s along the lines of: Yeah, so what’s the surprise?

“I did my part,’’ James said in a phone interview from his home in Orlando, Fla. “I did everything you could do as a ballplayer.

“I did it the right way. I did it my way.’’

And he did it at a high level, before and after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the sixth game of the 2001 season, his third as the relentless running back in the Indianapolis Colts’ high-powered offense.

“That’s what separates guys,’’ said James, the Colts’ career rushing leader. “It’s the ones who can still get out there and do it, the ones who can continue to do those things.

“The game always was easy for me, but (the injury) gave me a better appreciation of the game. If I don’t tear my knee up, I have so many more rushing titles. I’d have four or five, no problem.’’

He had two under his belt after just two seasons: 1,553 yards in 1999 and a franchise-record 1,709 yards in 2000. James was on his way to a third straight league rushing title in ‘01 when he ravaged his knee in game 6 at Kansas City. He was on pace for 1,765 yards.

“I got hurt, but I still did whatever it took to bounce back and still get those 1,500 yards (twice),’’ James said. “I’m more impressed with what I did after the injury.’’

James, 37 and a proud father of six, reached the exclusive final 15 in his second year of eligibility, and is surrounded by familiar faces. The list also includes Marvin Harrison the Colts’ career leader in virtually every receiving category, and Tony Dungy, the team’s all-time winningest coach.

“Pretty cool,’’ James said. “It’s like we know somebody’s going in this year. Somebody with a blue uniform is going in.

“They can’t keep all three out.’’

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 will be announced Feb. 6 in San Francisco, the day before Super Bowl 50.

James’ portfolio is crammed with Hall of Fame-worthy statistics. He:

  • Ranks No. 11 in career rushing with 12,246 yards and No. 13 with 15,610 total yards from scrimmage. Of the 10 players ahead of him on the rushing list, nine already have busts in Canton, Ohio. The outlier is LaDainian Tomlinson, who becomes eligible next year. James’ rushing total is just 67 yards shy of Jim Brown’s 12,312 which rank No. 9.
  • Is one of four players to rush for at least 1,500 yards on four occasions. The others – Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson – already have been inducted. Perhaps most impressively, James had two 1,500-yard seasons before the knee injury, and two after it.
  • Was just the fifth player to lead the league in rushing in his first two seasons (1999-2000), and the first since Dickerson in 1983-84.
  • Was the first player in Arizona/Phoenix/St. Louis Cardinals history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (2006-07) since Ottis Anderson in 1983-84. James signed with the Cardinals as a free agent after his decorated seven-year career with the Colts ended in 2005.

After 11 seasons and so many achievements, James hopes everyone truly appreciates the body of work and how it favorably compares to the elite running backs who preceded him.

“When I came into the league,’’ he said, “I was told you have to do three things really well.’’

The job description includes running, catching the ball out of the backfield and blocking in pass protection.

“If you look at everybody on the list, I’m at the top of all three phases. I don’t care who I’m stacked up against,’’ James said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to do those three things with ease.

“That’s what a running back is. You’ve gotta do all three. That’s what it takes to be a Hall of Fame back.’’

James’ pursuit of the Hall of Fame picked up steam when he survived the cut to the final 15, but it began when the Colts selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft. He entered the NFL mature beyond his years, with the confidence of a 10-year veteran and with his eyes on Canton.

“When you walk into the league, you look at all the running backs,’’ James said. “You say, ‘If I’m going to play the game, I want to be one of the best.’ Then you set out to do everything it takes.

“I always knew I would end up in that top group of all-time backs.’’

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