Hall of Fame inclusion would cap banner year for Edgerrin James


Edgerrin James #32 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at the RCA Dome on December 18, 2005 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – If nothing else comes up – and we’ll get to that shortly – this figures to be one of those signature years in a life that already has featured more than a few signature moments.

One daughter, Edquisha, has plans to go through commencement exercises at Howard University in May. She’s headed to law school.

Another daughter, Eyahna, graduates from Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla. in May. She’s headed to Clark Atlanta (Ga.) University.

“One is going to law school and the other is starting college,” Edgerrin James said. “That’ll be pretty dope.”

Family always has been a driving force in James’ life, and became the unquestioned center of his universe when he walked away from the NFL after the 2009 season following a decorated 11-year career. He could have hung around for another year or two and padded his stats – just 500 more yards would have him perched on the No. 10 rung in career rushing – but his six kids needed him.

Andia Wilson, his high school sweetheart and mother of four of his children, lost her battle with leukemia in April 2009.

“I made a decision that was best for my kids,” said James, who retired following the lackluster ’09 season in Seattle. “Life became more important. You’ve got to put your own goals aside to be there for your kids.

“I knew my kids needed me. I needed to be home.”

As much as James is preparing for two memorable family moments – dope, remember? – achieving a personal milestone undoubtedly would push him over the top.

The most prolific running back in Indianapolis Colts history is one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019. James is in his fifth season of eligibility and has reached the final 15 for a third time.

The Hall of Fame Selection Committee – I am one of 48 members – meets Saturday in Atlanta to determine the Class of 2019, which will be announced that evening as part of the NFL Honors awards program on CBS4.

Being enshrined in August in Canton, Ohio, would represent the final step in James’ NFL journey that began when the Colts made him the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft.

“It’s one of those things you set out to do,” he said. “It kind of caps off our career.”

Even so, he has steadfastly refused to take the self-promotional route.

“I’m not going to do all that politicking and go public and beg,” he said.

That’s because James believes his resume speaks for itself. He ranks 13th in NFL history in rushing (12,246) and 15th in total yards from scrimmage (15,610). Of the 12 players ahead of him in career rushing, 10 already have bronze busts in Canton. The two outliers – Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson – still are active.

He’s one of four players who rushed for 1,500 yards four times and one of three since the 1970 merger to lead the league in rushing in each of his first two seasons. The others were first-ballot Hall of Famers.

James often is asked about having to play the waiting game in his pursuit of inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I just kind of get over it,” he said. “What can you do? What can you say? Whatever happens, happens.

“There’s nothing more I can do. Your body of work is right there. They look at my body of work and say I should already be in there. There is nothing more I can do.”

James paused.

“You really break it down and I was the complete player at the position,” he said. “You talk about winning, doing every aspect. I don’t believe I have to go out and politic on it.

“Just look at the true numbers. Total yards, doing everything they asked me to do.”

Peyton Manning described James as “the best teammate” he ever had.

“The reason is he was the most talented running back and one of the most talented football players I’ve ever been around,” Manning said. “He also was the most unselfish.

“He was never selfish. He never complained.”

Rex Ryan insisted James wasn’t just another very good running back.

“He was special,” he said. “One of the most complete backs in the history of the league. He was definitely a spectacular running back. He had the size, speed, vision, hands. He was the complete package.

“It was a nightmare going against this guy, an absolute nightmare. I’m not making it up. Look at the numbers. This guy was absolutely special. He was hell on wheels.”

Yet James waits. Again, he wonders what more he could have done.

He averaged 82.7 yards per game during his career, 11th-best among running backs no longer playing. That’s better than Earl Campbell (81.8), Emmitt Smith (81.2), LaDainian Tomlinson (80.5), Tony Dorsett (73.6), Jerome Bettis (71.2), Marshall Faulk (69.8), Thurman Thomas (66.3) and several other Hall of Fame backs.

He led the league in rushing in his first two seasons and was headed for a third straight rushing title – he was averaging 110.3 yards per game – before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Kansas City in week 6 of the 2001 season.

James rushed for 8,322 yards in 110 games post-ACL. That’s more yards than Terrell Davis, a member of the Class of 2016, had during his entire career.

If not for the ACL injury, “Man, I would have won so many rushing titles,” James insisted. “I would have had four or five of those things.”

Even with the injury and the lull it produced in his career, James is convinced he did enough.

“I did it all,” he said, “and I did it all at a high level. I did all three phases at a high level. That’s pretty tough to do. You can be pretty good at one of them, or another. But when you can do all three at a high level . . . I take pride in that.

“And then to be able to come back after tearing my ACL. I tear my ACL and still being able to rush for 1,500 yards.”

James, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson are the only players to rush for 1,500 at least four times. James did it twice before tearing his ACL, and twice after.

“I’m always trippin’,” James said with a laugh. “C’mon man. What else can you do? I don’t care who you put up there. Who else played at a higher level in every aspect of the game?

“What are we being judged on? I thought I did what a running back was supposed to do. What now? What are you going to come up with now?

“You look at everything, the total body of work, and I don’t know what else I could have done.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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