From the mud of Immokalee, Florida to the artificial turf of the RCA Dome.
From gold teeth and dreadlocks to a gold jacket and Canton.
From the U to a horseshoe on his helmet.
Edgerrin James never allowed anybody to change him, even as his surroundings changed dramatically throughout his life.
The Indianapolis Colts drafted James fourth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.
He was the first non-quarterback taken off the board.
On this day in 1999, the Indianapolis Colts selected Miami Hurricane and future Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft: pic.twitter.com/TK4bT93mph
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) April 18, 2020
The selection was surprising because many listed Ricky Williams as the top running back in the draft.
Additionally, the Colts traded Marshall Faulk to St. Louis the day before the draft.
At the time, both of those decisions were criticized heavily by the media.
None of it mattered to James.
Edgerrin posted 1,553 yards in his rookie season and 13 rushing touchdowns.
More yards and touchdowns than Faulk had in any season with the Colts.
That’s how Edgerrin James operated for his entire career.
Stack the odds against him and he’d overcome them quickly.
We take a look at the life and career of Edgerrin James.
Cultivating His Skills
Edgerrin Tyree James grew up in Immokalee, Florida, where agriculture was king, and most families lived below the poverty line.
James’ mother, Julie, raised him and his five siblings – four brothers and one sister – under revolving roofs.
When the James family couldn’t afford their current place, they’d pack it up and move somewhere else.
Many times packing into Edgerrin’s grandparent’s house, where the James’ siblings would sleep in a converted kitchen space.
James had a huge extended family that kept an eye out for him.
Edgerrin’s parents never married and his father, Edward, worked as a harvesting contractor and spent most of his time away from Immokalee.
Even though the two maintained a decent relationship, James’ father wasn’t around most of his childhood.
Instead, James had a ton of uncles and cousins who kept an eye out for him.
While a lot of people who James grew up with fell into drugs, Edgerrin stayed away from the drugs, violence, and other potential pitfalls.
His uncles talked his mother into letting him play football and he became fascinated with playing running back.
Walter Payton was James’ idol and he modeled his game after “Sweetness”.
Walter Payton is arguably the greatest football player ever.
This run against the Chiefs, while down 17-0 in 1977, exemplifies why.
The Bears would go on to win 28-27.
Chiefs defensive tackle John Lohmeyer on the run: "I didn’t give up… I tried tackling him. We all did.” pic.twitter.com/v0Y8FEaatG
— The Blitz Network (@TheBlitzNet) February 23, 2019
He watched the VHS tape, “Pure Payton” and emulated Payton’s moves in pickup games on the street.
James took his moves from the street to the Pop Warner field thanks to his uncle’s urging of his mother.
From the first time James took the field, he was impressive and stood out among his peers, and was referred to as the “Edgerrin James Show”.
Tim Howell, James’ offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Immokalee High School, recalled the first time he saw Edgerrin take the field.
“He was one of those kids that you just knew was going to do a lot of things,” Howell said to the Naples Daily News. “It was like a young man playing against little kids.”
James got his edge in high school with what he called a “cheat code.”
“I used to wake up at five in the morning before school and do workouts by myself in this field behind my house,” James said in his Players Tribune post. Then I’d shower and go to school like nothing happened. I didn’t tell nobody — even my boys. It was my secret weapon.”
Establishing the Look
When James returned from one of his grueling summers working on a watermelon patch in Georgia, he took his money and bought a car.
With a set of wheels and Miami less than two hours away, Edgerrin was ready to explore.
He headed to “The Magic City” and had gold caps added to five teeth and got his hair put into dreadlocks.
This will forever be one of my favorite espn magazine covers in sports history…Indianapolis colts wanted Edgerrin James to remove his gold teeth n he refused🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Floridian GOAT pic.twitter.com/SFRmWp0u8w
— 👨🏾💻 (@150Shaquille) February 3, 2018
The look drew attention to James at Immokalee High School as his dominance on the football field continued to do most of the talking.
That’s likely because James didn’t have much to say as he was treated like a hero in his hometown.
“People were giving me $100 bills for touchdowns in high school,” he said to the Naples Daily News. “I always stayed in my own lane.”
James remained solely focused on football.
The singular focus served to his detriment as his propensity to skip class cost him when it came to being recruited.
Poor scores on his college entrance exams led to only a handful of schools willing to take a chance on James.
Most were in Florida with Ohio State being the only high-end offering from out of state.
A few hours to the east in Coral Gables, the University of Miami navigated the remnants of a major NCAA “pay-to-play” scandal.
Butch Davis, hired as the new head coach, worked to repair Miami’s reputation and offered one of his 12 scholarships to Edgerrin James in 1996.
No Time for a Redshirt
Edgerrin James arrived at the University of Miami at the peak of its dysfunction.
The swagger of the 1980s had devolved into a dangerous environment for the football program.
On top of the scandal, five players were arrested before the 1996 season started.
Additional injuries moved James up the depth chart from likely redshirt to substantial playing time.
The rookie running back stepped up to the task with 446 rushing yards and two touchdowns in seven games.
As James took on a bigger role with “The U”, his team’s performance declined.
The sanctions and lawless proceedings finally caught up to Miami.
In 1997, the university posted its first losing season since 1979, finishing 5-6.
James served as one of the highlights of the struggling program.
He posted 1,098 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore and followed it up with impressive numbers as a junior.
Edgerrin James represents the ninth Miami Hurricane to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
To appreciate the magnitude of that greatness, know that that number is more that the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles have … combined. pic.twitter.com/RBDzfVspI1
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) February 1, 2020
After a 3-2 start to the 1998 season, the Hurricanes ran off four-straight wins and James impressed in the backfield.
An early-season game against UCLA was postponed due to Hurricane Georges and rescheduled to December.
The Bruins were ranked No. 2 in the country and Miami pulled off a 49-45 upset to advance to 8-3 on the season.
A dominant performance by James led the way as he carried the ball 39 times for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
In the closing minute, he scored the game-winning touchdown to end the Bruins’ 20-game winning streak.
December 5, 1998: Miami rides Edgerrin James’ 299 yards (39 carries) & 3TDs & beats #3 UCLA 49-45.
This game was moved from Sept because of Hurricane Georges. It snapped UCLAs 20-gm win streak & knocked them out of the BCS Championship. The program hasn’t been the same since. pic.twitter.com/7qWYRYpERg
— This Day In Sports Clips (@TDISportsClips) December 6, 2020
The Hurricanes closed out the season with a 46-23 win over NC State in the MicronPC Bowl and James declared for the NFL Draft.
James finished his college career with 2,960 rushing yards, 32 touchdowns, and the most 100-plus yard games (14) in school history.
He was slated as the No. 2 running back behind Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams.
The Indianapolis Colts had the rankings a bit different on their big board.
From the U to the Horseshoe
The day before the 1999 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts traded star running back Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams.
Faulk had severely outplayed his contract and the Colts didn’t have the funds to renegotiate with him.
The shocking trade looked worse once the Colts passed on Heisman Trophy running back Ricky Williams the next day.
Instead, the Colts selected Edgerrin James fourth overall.
While the selection received a ton of criticism, Colts GM Bill Polian defended his selection of James over Williams.
“Edgerrin’s interview with us was tremendous, while Ricky’s was the complete opposite,” Polian said in his book, The Game Plan. “We decided to meet with Ricky at our facility because we were told that he really didn’t like going out to restaurants. We catered a big dinner for him from St. Elmo’s, the famous Indianapolis steak house, in a conference room. Ricky walked in, sat down and was essentially non-communicative.”
Polian and the Colts thought the lack of nationally televised games was the main reason James was rated behind Williams.
James’ first game with the Colts outlined the offensive game plan for the next seven seasons.
— Retro Sports (@RetroSports411) October 8, 2017
Edgerrin James rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries and scored a touchdown in his first NFL game.
The critics were quickly quieted and the Colts had their offensive trio for the foreseeable future.
As the offense put up impressive numbers, James led the league with 1,553 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
James earned a Pro Bowl selection, First-Team All-Pro honors, and won Rookie of the Year.
Before Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, there was Edgerrin James. Edge put up insane numbers his first two years with the #Colts:
– 3,425 rushing yards
– 1,221 receiving yards
– 129 receptions
– 26 rushing TDs
– 9 receiving TDs pic.twitter.com/0Em6NOKJYa
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) April 5, 2020
The Colts finished the season 13-3 and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.
In a low-scoring Divisional Round matchup, the Colts lost to the Tennessee Titans, 19-16.
James finished with 20 carries for 56 yards and Manning had one of the worst starts of his young career.
Back on the Grind in 2000
After an impressive rookie year, James and the Colts’ offense were ready to dominate more NFL defenses.
In training camp, James showed up wearing a t-shirt that read, “Back on the Grind”, a slogan he picked up from one of his uncles.
In the early part of the season, it was more of a grind for the Colts than their opponents.
Indianapolis was 3-2 after a loss to the New England Patriots and struggled to get their offense firing on all cylinders.
In Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks, James exploded with a career-best 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
By Week 11, James had crossed 1,000 rushing yards for the season.
James led the league in rushing for the second-straight season.
Every statistical category increased in James’ sophomore season as he finished with 1,709 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Add in 594 receiving yards and James’ 2,303 all-purpose yards were the 16th-most in a season at the time.
Even with monstrous numbers from James, Manning, and Harrison, the Colts finished 10-6 and played the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.
The Colts stormed out to a 14-0 halftime lead but cooled off in the second half.
James rushed for 107 yards but was outshined by Miami’s Lamar Smith, who tallied 209 rushing yards on 40 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Another postseason loss frustrated the Colts but they knew they had the pieces to contend as their young core became more seasoned.
Derailed by Injuries
After two of the most impressive seasons to begin a career, James didn’t miss a beat to start 2001.
Through five games, he averaged north of 110 yards per game but the Colts were only 2-3.
In Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs, James was tackled awkwardly and damaged a ligament in his knee.
The rest of the 2001 season was lost for the impressive young running back.
After finishing 6-10 without James in the backfield, the Colts fired head coach Jim Mora and hired Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach Tony Dungy.
After rehabbing for seven months, James returned to the field in 2002 but his performance clearly wasn’t up to his expectations.
Other than a 138-yard performance in Week 2 against Miami, James didn’t top 100 yards rushing over the next six games.
His 4.4 yard-per-carry average to that point in his career dropped to 3.3 over the first half of the 2002 season.
James missed two games in the middle of the season to get healthy but his numbers never returned to form in the second half of the year.
In 14 games, James fell short of 1,000 yards for the season and only scored two rushing touchdowns.
The playoff frustrations continued as James rushed nine times for 14 yards and the Colts got eviscerated by the New York Jets, 41-0.
Rounding Back into Form
After two seasons of battling injuries, James was ready to prove that he still had it as the rumors of him being injury-prone started to creep up.
In Week 3 of the 2003 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it appeared James couldn’t stay healthy anymore.
James suffered a traverse process injury to his back that put him out for three weeks.
“Everybody just thinks I’m sore, but there is a reason I’m sore,” James said to ESPN in 2003. “If it was a deep bruise, I’d have been in there.”
The Colts sat at 5-1 when James returned and he put up 104 rushing yards in a 30-21 win against the Houston Texans.
Over the final nine games of 2003, James put up nearly 900 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as the Colts finished 12-4.
After a 41-10 stomping of the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Round, the Colts headed to Arrowhead Stadium to face the 13-3 Chiefs.
James rushed for two touchdowns against Kansas City, including a fourth-quarter score that put the nail in the Chiefs’ coffin.
The reward for going to Arrowhead and beating the Chiefs was a trip to Foxborough against the New England Patriots.
Early in the second half of the AFC Championship Game, James cut a 15-0 Patriots lead to one score.
Three second-half Adam Vinatieri field goals sealed the ticket for the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Even though James proved he could still put up gaudy numbers, the Colts once again fell short of their championship goals.
The End in Indy
It flew by fast, but by 2004, James was in the final two years of his seven-year, $49 million rookie contract with the Colts.
His final two years in Indy nearly mirrored each other.
In 2004, James posted 1,548 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and earned his fourth Pro Bowl appearance.
The Colts, once again, fell short in the playoffs.
Again, it was the New England Patriots ending the Colts’ season in a 20-3 loss at Gillette Stadium.
James struggled, posting 14 carries for 39 yards in the Divisional Round loss.
The Colts posted one of the best starts to a season in 2005.
Indianapolis won its first 13 games with an average margin of victory of 12 points.
After dropping back-to-back games in Week 15 and 16, the Colts closed out the season with a 14-2 record.
Another 1,500-yard season was added to James’ resume and he scored 13 touchdowns for the third time in his career.
.@EdgerrinJames led the team in rushing in six of his seven seasons in Indianapolis and was a key to the potent @Colts offense that helped them win four division titles and post six seasons with 10 or more wins. RT if you think he will be in #PFHOF19 pic.twitter.com/SvuCp3BCTg
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 31, 2019
The tradition of falling apart in the playoffs continued for the Colts.
Hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round, Indianapolis trailed 14-3 at the half and fell behind 21-3 at the end of the third quarter.
After Manning found Dallas Clark early in the fourth quarter, James scored a short rushing touchdown to cut the deficit to three after the two-point conversion.
Two monster sacks by Joey Porter ended the Colts’ next drive.
With 1:20 on the clock, Manning marched the Colts into field goal range for a game-tying opportunity.
Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard attempt and Indianapolis lost another playoff heartbreaker.
Off to the Desert
After seven seasons in Indianapolis, James and the Colts decided to part ways before the 2006 season.
James wanted a big-money contract but the Colts had other guys to take care of before a 27-year-old running back with some injuries in his history.
In the desert, the Arizona Cardinals had an elite quarterback and receivers but a “running back by committee” approach led to 3.2 yards-per-carry and a league-worst 1,138 rushing yards.
Everything looked great in James’ first game in Arizona.
He racked up 73 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals, 34-27, win over the San Francisco 49ers.
That was the high point of the 2006 season.
Warner struggled in the next three weeks and got benched for rookie Matt Leinart in Week 5.
The Cardinals lost eight-straight games and stumbled into a 5-11 record.
James posted 1,159 rushing yards, which was his lowest in a full 16-game season in his career.
12/31/06 – With 4:06 remaining and the #AZCardinals down 10 at the San Diego Chargers, Kurt Warner handed the ball off to Edgerrin James for the final time of the season, a 3-yard run up the middle, his 337th carry of the year, a franchise record. Arizona lost 27-20. #BeRedSeeRed pic.twitter.com/aRzyNTJJ92
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) January 1, 2019
In 2007, the Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt with the hope he could replicate his success with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh for Leinart.
The Cardinals improved to 8-8 on the season and James posted 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns.
Losing His Edge
Heading into 2008, the Cardinals made what appeared to be a minor hedge against James’ longevity.
In the fifth round of the draft, Arizona chose Tim Hightower from the University of Richmond with the 149th overall pick.
Hightower quickly impressed in training camp but James was given the start in Week 1.
Edgerrin James posted 100 yards against the 49ers in Week 1 but his touches slowly declined in the following weeks.
By Week 8, the Cardinals made the switch to starting Hightower and James saw his carries drop under five per game from Week 9 to 16.
The Cardinals locked up a playoff spot heading into Week 17 and James took his 14 carries and turned in the final 100-yard rushing performance of his NFL career.
The underdog Cardinals rolled through the playoffs, beating the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles on their way to the Super Bowl.
James was trusted with a healthy portion of the carries and racked up 203 rushing yards through the NFC Championship Game.
After leaving the Colts a year before they won the Super Bowl, James finally had a chance to win a Super Bowl.
Arizona erased a 20-7 deficit and took a three-point lead with 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Once again, Ben Roethlisberger’s heroics would end James’ season.
With 0:35 left in regulation, Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes for a toe-dragging, game-winning catch.
Steelers. Cardinals. One of the best Super Bowls ever.
— NFL (@NFL) April 20, 2020
James came the closest he ever had to win a Super Bowl but once again the playoff heartbreak showed up.
The Cardinals decided to cut James following the 2008 season and he signed with the Seattle Seahawks heading into 2009.
At 31, it was clear that James didn’t have it anymore.
He appeared in seven games with the Seahawks and racked up 46 carries for 125 yards.
Headed to Canton
After keeping his options open for the 2010 season, James hoped he could find a team to give him one more chance.
With no interested teams, James decided to formally retire on July 26, 2011.
He hung up his jersey as the most accomplished running back in Indianapolis Colts’ history.
Me and one of my all-time favorite Colts. pic.twitter.com/lTzkaN3fc6
— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) February 2, 2021
James holds the franchise record for the Colts with 9,226 rushing yards, 64 rushing touchdowns, and 2,188 attempts.
Add in nearly 3,000 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in Arizona and James retired 11th all-time in career rushing yards in NFL history.
— Indy SportsOne (@IndySportsOne) February 1, 2020
His 12,246 yards are 33 fewer than Marshall Faulk who the Colts traded to draft him in 1999.
In 2020, Edgerrin James was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining his former teammate Marvin Harrison.
Both will be joined by Peyton Manning in 2021.
Back to His Roots in Retirement
James moved back to Miami in his retirement where he has six children.
In 2009, his long-time girlfriend, Andia Wilson, died of leukemia at 30 years old.
She is the mother of four of Edgerrin’s children.
After retiring from football, James’ focus isn’t on his legacy on the football field, it’s his children.
“What I care about is that I got a daughter in law school,” James said in his Players Tribune article. “I got another daughter killing it at an HBCU. I got more coming up the pipeline. I’m trying to go six-for-six on college degrees. Let that be my legacy as a man.”
Along with raising his own kids, James has focused on giving back to his hometown of Immokalee.
He has donated loads of his time and money to underprivileged youth in Florida.
James also led a youth football camp in Ave Maria, Florida for several years in retirement.
The Means to an End
To put it bluntly, Edgerrin James played football as a means to get his family out of a rough situation.
It was either drug dealing, jail, or sports to escape poverty in South Florida.
“In South Florida, football ain’t just a game,” James said in his Players Tribune article. “It’s one of the few paths out. When you’re a young African-American kid growing up in that environment, you got the whole deck stacked against you. It’s stacked up high, man. So what you gonna do? Some people try to find a way around it. I jumped over that motherf*****.”
That’s the beauty when you reflect on the career of Edgerrin James.
Immokalee ➡️ Canton
Growing up in South Florida shaped Edgerrin James into a @ProFootballHOF running back.
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) October 23, 2020
He became one of the most dominant running backs in NFL history because he needed a way out.
It wasn’t about getting rich, it was about getting rid of the stress of being poor.
“Listen, money can buy you a lot of cool things,” James said in his Players Tribune article. “I got toys. My kids got toys. But what it really buys you, if you come where I come from, is the feeling of a weight coming off your chest. It buys you a deep breath. Maybe the first you ever took in your life.”