MIAMI, Fla. – They crowded the stage in Canton, Ohio on a memorable Aug. 6, 2016.
They were there to share the indelible moment with two Indianapolis Colts being enshrined as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016: Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy.
They were integral parts of the franchise’s decorated decade – 115 regular-season wins from 2000-09, at the time an NFL record for a decade; two trips to the Super Bowl, one world championship – and smiling out of the photo were more than a few who already were or soon would be something very special.
There was Bill Polian, the architect of the Colts and a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
Flanked to the far left was Edgerrin James, who gained entry into the NFL’s most coveted neighborhood Saturday as part of the Class of 2020. His moment was shared with the rest of the world Sunday when the latest collection of Hall of Famers was introduced during Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium.
To Dungy’s left was Reggie Wayne, whose pursuit of joining James fell short but will resume next year.
Behind Dungy and Harrison was Peyton Manning, a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 12 months, and Adam Vinatieri, who also has a section in Canton reserved for him five years after his retirement, whenever that might be.
To Vinatieri’s right was Robert Mathis, who’s eligible for consideration in two years. The next year, Dwight Freeney adds his name to the list.
Owner Jim Irsay stood with his illustrious cast of characters, grinning and offering thumbs-up approval.
It was an evening of recognizing greatness, in the moment and the future. And let’s not forget the recent past: Marshall Faulk (Class of 2011) and Eric Dickerson (Class of 1999).
At some point in each individual’s career, earning a spot in Canton had to be a motivating factor. That certainly was the case with James.
“It was always the goal,” he said Saturday evening. “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.”
The Colts selected James with the 4th overall pick in the 1999 draft. He joined a roster stocked with high-end talent: Manning, Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Adam Meadows, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, Jeff Saturday. In 2001, Wayne was added to the mix. In 2002, it was Freeney. In 2003, Mathis. Vinatieri was signed as a free agent in 2006, a year after James signed a free-agent contract with Arizona.
Throughout his seven-year career with the Colts, James was part of a locker room that expected – demanded – excellence. Complacency was a four-letter word.
There was no question in his mind he possessed the requisite skills. But he had that something extra, as did so many of his new teammates.
“Once you see you can run, you can catch and you can block, then it comes down to this,” James said.
He tapped his chest with his fist.
“Do you have heart?” he said. “I know I have heart and I know I have everything, so I knew (the NFL) was going to be a breeze. I control how hard I work.
“Everything else I can’t control.
“But you put me in a room with a Peyton Manning and a Marvin Harrison and it’s great. There are no prima donnas. Everybody worked.”
James’ appreciation for what he had been a part of really sank in when he relocated to the Arizona Cardinals.
“You knew when you started working and putting everything together how good it was (in Indy),” he said. “Then when you remove yourself from the situation, you’re like, ‘Wait, I was playing with Peyton and now I’m playing with . . .’ Don’t get be wrong, it was good to play with Kurt Warner, but you start seeing different things. You start seeing how different people practice and the way organizations are different.
“That’s when you get a better appreciation for Reggie, Marv, P, Saturday, Tarik, all the guys. We really worked. We really put in some work. You don’t really understand that until you get around other guys.”
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