MIAMI, Fla. – He had been out Friday night with more than a few friends. Well, actually it was the night before that turned into deep the next morning.
Edgerrin James, you see, always operates on Edgerrin James’ time.
So there he was, sleeping in Saturday or at least still recovering from that Friday night-into-Saturday morning “gathering” – yeah, that’s what we’ll call it – when his cell phone sprang to life late in the afternoon.
It rang. And rang. And rang.
“I almost never answer the phone,’’ James said.
That’s been especially true in three of the last four years when the Pro Football Hall of Fame had asked him to be available in the minutes after the next group of enshrinees had been determined. David Baker, the Hall of Fame’s president and CEO, always delivers the news.
Good or bad.
“It was different this time,’’ explained James, who had been denied the three previous times he had reached the Hall of Fame’s Final 15. “I decided I’m just going to go ahead and answer the phone and get it over with.’’
Previously, he added with a laugh, “they just left a message. You know, ‘This is . . .’
And you didn’t make it to Canton, Ohio.
“This time the conversation started out different,’’ James said. “It was, ‘Edge, I know in the past . . .’
“Yeah, this time it was different. It was crazy.’’
Repeatedly passed over, James finally was informed his incredible journey – from the mean streets of Immokalee to the University of Miami to first-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts to Canton – was complete.
You’re a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.
James was joined by safeties Troy Polamalu and Steve Atwater, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and guard Steve Hutchinson. Reggie Wayne, one of James’ former teammates and one of the most productive wideouts in NFL history, fell short in his first year of eligibility.
The smile on James’ face spoke volumes.
“It was a relief, yes. Like, ‘Finally,’’’ he said. “There is no doubt you’re a Hall of Famer because everything kind of measures up. But you want to be able to embrace it. You want to be able to enjoy it.
“But they make it hard to enjoy it sitting in a room and waiting. I was never going to do that.’’
The Hall of Fame prefers to have its 15 Modern-era candidates at the same hotel to make Baker’s task of delivering the news – again, good or bad – easier. James never has agreed to participate in that.
“I watched Marv go through the whole process that first year,’’ James said. “Not for me.’’
So, now what?
“I’m going to party tonight, tomorrow, the next night, the night after that . . .’’ James said. “I’m going to party for a long time.’’
That’s because he did what he was asked to do, what he had to do. He waited his turn.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two decades since the Colts made him the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft.
“It’s been a long 20 years, but I’m home,’’ he said. “I’m finally at home (in the Hall of Fame), at home (South Florida).
“That’s the beauty of it, to get to the Hall of Fame while we’re in Miami. It’s been a process but it worked out the way it was supposed to.’’
The Pro Football Hall of Fame, you see, was always where Edgerrin James believed he belonged.
“It was always the goal,’’ he said. “You’ve got to have goals that are so far out there they give you something to reach for. I always had the Hall of Fame on my list of things I wanted to accomplish. It makes you work harder. It makes you sit up there and study the greats and try to make sure you’re doing what it takes to actually get there and actually put on the gold jacket.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.