CANTON, Ohio – Several hours before Jim Irsay wrapped a gold jacket around his broad shoulders to seal the deal, Edgerrin James attended a Friday luncheon that featured football icons, old and new.
He sat there, looked around the room and marveled at the crowd.
James knew he belonged in the room after being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 last year. Peyton Manning, Class of 2021, was nearby.
Friday, though, was different.
It was different when he and Manning, his former Indianapolis Colts teammate and long-time friend, were presented their gold jackets that evening at the Civic Center; Archie did the honors for his son.
And it was different earlier in the day when James found himself in a room flush with NFL history.
“The luncheon and all that stuff puts everything in perspective,’’ he said prior to the Gold Jacket Ceremony. “You don’t realize it until you get in that room and the room is filled with Hall of Famers. You get a greater appreciation for it. You see so many players.’’
As James spoke, Curtis Martin, Class of 2012, stopped, extended his hand and welcomed him to the club.
“That’s what I’m talking about,’’ James said. “Emmitt (Smith) was there today. Everybody was there. I talked to Marshall (Faulk). You get a greater appreciation once you get in and everybody is in that room.
“You feel it when you get in there. You know it before (that you’re in the Hall of Fame), but you feel it when you get in there. The guys are great. Nobody’s competing against each other.
“In sports, everybody competes all the time. That’s what we do. When you get in that room, everybody is one. Everybody’s equal and that’s a great feeling.’’
At no time in that welcoming embrace more palatable than during Friday night’s Gold Jacket Ceremony.
First, 105 current Hall of Famers were introduced and formed a gold jacketed gauntlet on both sides of the runway: Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Lenny Moore, Dan Marino, Ray Lewis, Troy Aikman, Willie Lanier, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Derrick Brooks, Tim Brown, Morten Andersen and dozens and dozens more.
Then, 19 members of the Classes of 2020 and 2021 were announced. They hit the runway and shook hands and shared hugs. Lewis hopped on the runway and gave his University of Miami cohort an emotional embrace.
After his dad presented him the gold jacket, Manning was asked to describe the moment. It reflected the history in the auditorium.
“I have great appreciation for the history of the game because of my dad,’’ he said. “I remember him talking about Johnny Unitas and Charlie Conerly, Sammy Baugh, these great quarterbacks that he watched when he was growing up.
“Then to play against Dan Marino and Troy Aikman, guys that I admired growing up was a real thrill. Now to kinda be on the same team with those guys in this special fraternity I’m very honored and humbled.’’
James is a product of Immokalee and South Florida, but his bronze bust will forever reside in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I feel like I’m at home,’’ he said. “I feel I was supposed to be here. I prepared for this and I’m here. A lot of time they say you’re going to be nervous.
“I’m not nervous. I’m home.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.