Colts' Irsay: Why Edgerrin James is "closed-and-shut" case for the Hall of Fame

Clark Judge

There is a litany of career honors bestowed on Hall-of-Fame finalist Edgerrin James that will be recited at Saturday’s Class of 2019 vote. Selectors will hear how he was the 1999 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year … and the league’s two-time rushing leader … and first-team all-decade running back … and how he’s 13th in all-time NFL rushing yards.

They'll also be told how all but one of the top 16 career rushing leaders who are Hall-of-Fame eligible are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One guess who that one is.

Edgerrin James, come on down.

But what voters may not hear you can’t find in a history book. Nope, for that you might have to check in with his teammates, his coach or his owner.

We chose Colts’ owner Jim Irsay, and he was only too happy to address one facet of James’ career that is overlooked and, frankly, that can’t be measured.

And that’s his leadership.

“We’re in the locker room before a playoff game,” Irsay said on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “and a young player said, ‘We’ve got to win this game to get that check … to get the winner’s check.’ And Edge grabbed him by the collar and put him up against the locker and said, ‘Son, this isn’t about money. This is about greatness and this is about the ring. And don’t you ever forget it.’

“That’s the type of leader he was. Trust me, he was a man of few words. But no one was more respected in that locker room than Edgerrin James. And he absolutely, unequivocally … if he’s not a Hall of Famer then no one is.”

James is the only running back on this year’s modern-era ballot. But it’s his third time as a finalist, and in two prior visits he failed to get much traction … each time failing to make the cut from 15 to 10. Naturally, Irsay hopes this year is different, running down gargantuan numbers that made James a star back and that now make him Hall-of-Fame worthy.

But then he stopped and recalled an incident he believes makes James unique. And that was when Irsay awarded James a Super Bowl ring for the 2006 club that beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI, a year after James had left for Arizona as an unrestricted free agent.

“Edgerrin James has 5,000 more yards than Terrell Davis (12,248-7,607), who was a great back,” said Irsay. “I'm talking 5,000 more rushing yards. Absolutely incredible.

“To me, this is a shut-and-closed case. Look it, he’s the only guy an owner gave a Super Bowl ring to who didn’t play in that game. Why did I give him the ring, and why would I never give a ring to anyone else like that? Because that’s how special he was to our team.

“You ask anyone in our organization. You ask Peyton Manning, ‘Who was the Most Valuable Colt when he came to the franchise’ … it was Edgerrin James. You ask (former GM) Bill Polian. You ask anyone. He was the steam that drove what you saw. I promise you. I was there, and I can tell you that.”


HOF Interviews