Before the first of his record 2,188 rushing attempts with the Indianapolis Colts, Edgerrin James was a rookie running back on a mission.
He wanted to make a difference.
“It was always important to me to leave a lasting impression on everybody,” James said in a recent phone interview with The Indianapolis Star.
“I wanted people to say, ‘He did it the right way. He didn’t compromise who he was. He didn’t compromise where he was from. He did things his way, but it also was the right way.'"
For seven of his 11 NFL seasons, James did it his way with the Colts. He was personable and quotable off the field, relentless and reliable on it. He joined the Colts as the fourth-overall draft pick in 1999 and left in 2006 as a free agent and the franchise’s career rushing leader.
On Sunday, James will become the ninth member of the team’s Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Current Colts receiver Reggie Wayne described the decision as a “no-brainer.” He was first exposed to James’ persona at the University of Miami. From 2001-05, he and James were Colts teammates.
“He’s the right guy to put up there,” Wayne said. “Whenever you get in any kind of Ring of Honor, it’s saying you were part of the foundation of something and you did something people saw as unbelievable. You made a difference. I don’t see it happening to anyone better.”
While James’ place in Colts’ history is undeniable, it begs another question: Is he worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
“Oh, there’s no doubt,” said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the Colts’ quarterbacks coach for James’ first two seasons. “First ballot. Has to be with all the things he did early in his career.
“As good as there’s ever been, in my opinion. He’s in the top five or six backs to ever play the game.”
James has the credentials. He ranks No. 11 in NFL history in rushing and No. 13 in yards from scrimmage. He’s one of only four players to rush for 1,500 yards at least four times. The others: Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson.
James won league rushing titles his first two seasons. He was on pace for a third straight title in 2001 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Kansas City in Week 6.
Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver, benefited from James’ all-around skills — running, receiving, forceful blocking in pass protection. He doesn’t have a vote in the process, but is quick to lobby those who do.
“Edgerrin was the complete back,” Manning wrote in an email to The Star. “Run, block, catch; he could do it all. He was an extremely smart football player as well. I always knew I could count on him.
“He was also the best teammate I ever played with. Unselfish, accountable, tough as nails.I feel honored and privileged to say that I played ball with Edgerrin James. He was that good and that special.’’
Hall of Fame worthy?
“Absolutely,” Manning said, “100 percent he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
James doesn’t bother to disguise his own bias.
“When you look at everything I’ve done, there’s no doubt I should be somewhere in the discussion of getting in,” he said.
James last played with Seattle in 2009 and will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2015.
Whether there’s a place in Canton, Ohio, for a bust of James will be determined by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 44-member selection committee, which includes The Star.
A sampling of committee members makes it clear James deserves “to be in the room” when the 15 finalists are discussed, but hardly is a slam-dunk choice.
“His credentials are definitely worthy of being debated,” said Ron Borges of the Boston Herald, summing up the committee’s sentiments. “... certainly he should get the chance to have a fair airing at some point.”
James spends much of his time in what he describes as his “Florida triangle of Miami, Orlando and Naples. He stays on the move, but always has time for his six children —– Quisha, 15; Eyahna, 11; Emani, 9; Eden, 8; Edgerrin Jr., 7; and Euro, 5.
Having his legacy validated with inclusion in the Ring of Honor — perhaps even the Pro Football of Fame — carries immense meaning.
“Because of my kids,” James said. “My boys play ball and they hear about their dad, but they never really got a chance to see me play. Things like (the Ring of Honor) lets them know that dad was pretty good.
“I try to get them to work hard at whatever they’re doing. This right here shows them that if you work hard, it pays off. It shows them I kind of knew what I was doing.”