Colts Q&A: Edgerrin James, HOF Semifinalist

IM caught up with Edge before the Pro Football Hall of Fame narrows the field of candidates for the Class of 2016.
In seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, retired All-Pro running back Edgerrin James distinguished himself off the field with his personality and flashy gold-front smile nearly as much as he did on the gridiron by racking up huge numbers (and loads of wins) as one of the “Triplets”—the potent offensive trio of James, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and, of course, QB Peyton Manning. Now a semifinalist for inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2016, James has the most career rushing yards of any eligible NFL running back not currently in the Hall. With the final vote set for February 2016, IM caught up with Edge before the HOF narrows the present list of candidates from 25 to 15 in early January.

Marvin Harrison is also a Hall of Fame semifinalist, in his 3rd year of eligibility. What would it mean if you two got to go into the Hall together?

Oh, man, that would be so great! We’d probably compare notes on who had the shortest speech.

Right, not the two most talkative guys in the world …

[Laughs] They would probably have to combine both of us into one speech. That would be great. That would be awesome. I’m so happy for Marvin. I think he should have gone in the first time, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into that. The body of work speaks for itself, and you can’t take that away from him.

Do you still keep in touch with the guys from your Colts days?

We always text each other. Me and Marvin hang out. He came by and spoke with the kids at my camp. When [Jeff] Saturday got put into the [Colts] Ring of Honor, I texted him congratulations. You know, we have a bond that you can’t break, because we sort of grew up together, so we always stay in touch.

Do you marvel that Peyton has still been out there slinging it all these years after you retired?

I’m not really surprised at that. What I am surprised at is that Peyton would take a day off from practice, because he used to never give anyone else any reps. When me and Marvin went to see Peyton during pregame, and there’s Peyton in a big chair with an armrest—this is a different Peyton. You used to never be able to keep him off the field.

After the wear and tear of 11 NFL seasons, plus college, how is your health?

Everything is good. I continue to work out. I make it part of my lifestyle. During the years I was playing, I prepped for this somewhat. I asked the older players what bothered them, so I came up with a system for myself for when I left the game, and now I’m executing it.

Is that knowledge something that you’ve passed on to younger players who come to you?

That’s the thing I’m always doing, letting younger players know the things I know from personal experience.

You’ve become a successful businessman since you left the NFL. What are some of the ventures you’re into these days?

I always loved real estate, business in general. Also helping people start up little small businesses, little companies, so I’m always there to help on that front. I don’t do stuff that’s going to take up too much of my time, because my freedom is first. I do a lot of consulting with players, but there are multiple things I’m involved in.

What are some of the similarities and differences in competitiveness between football and being in the business world? Does business feed that competitive fire you had had during your playing years?

Yeah, I love business. The thing about business is, there’s no rules, ceiling, or cap. You can go as hard as you want to go. It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s all personal. It’s all based on the person, their threshold or tolerance for risk.

Any business dealings in the Indianapolis area?

Nothing yet, and I definitely want to get involved there. Right now, I’m based in Central Florida, where I grew up and have spent my life. I wanted to take the time to be around my kids and my family, because when you’re playing ball, you become so unattached, from moving around so much and travelling. I wanted to make sure I got home base covered, and eventually it will evolve and I can become more involved in Indianapolis, where I played and I have so much love for the city. I see Gary Brackett has a restaurant there, and I think it’s pretty cool when players do things in the city like that.

You’re also very involved with your Edgerrin James Foundation …

We started in 1999–2000. It’s one of those things I wanted to take part in and be more involved with after I was done playing. It fills my schedule up, and I love dealing with the kids. When you first get into it, the first thing I heard was that other players start a foundation, after a year or two they sort of fade away. I didn’t want that to be me. So I make it a focal point of what I’m doing and make a commitment to those kids, so maybe one day I can pass it on to my kids and they can make it their mission.

What sort of satisfaction do you get from running those football camps through the foundation?

You get a chance to help mold the kids and shape them into a solid person. You get a chance to tell them the right things vocally. Anybody can read a pamphlet, but they’re actually living it. You get a chance to put good stuff into them. You get to see the results when they grow up and become fine young men, and know that I had a part in that.

During the 2000s, you were a huge part of some great Colts teams. What was it like playing in Indy during that time with that group of guys?

It was great. You get a greater appreciation for it when you are removed from the game. When you’re in it, you don’t understand it, because you’re just out there doing your job, out there playing and trying to reach a common goal. You don’t understand the magnitude of it until you’re out of the game. During that time, it was all hard work. Nothing was given. Everyone came from different areas, but we all pulled together to make things happen. We try to remind these kids now how much work went into it and the commitment we made.

Indiana is a basketball state, but those teams elevated the Colts to the biggest show in town. How much pride do you take in knowing that you helped make that happen?

That’s a big deal, when you see the scope of things change. We came out and went to work. That’s the beauty of it: We didn’t go out to make this a football town—it became a football town because of the hard work we put into it.

When you entered the league, there was a lot of criticism of the Colts for taking you ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. How did you deal with that?

That’s the power of the unknown. It’s not the people’s fault. The way television works, the way things are marketed, it goes into people’s minds and makes them react without putting any thought into it. It never bothered me. All I needed was a little time. If someone misjudges you or looks at you in the wrong light, you just hopefully have enough time, and I had enough time to show that I could really ball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on the college scene because of what my school was going through, but those who really knew football, they knew about me as a player. They knew what they were getting. So, it was a big surprise to some, but not to others.

In 2009, during your final year, you returned to Indianapolis with the Seahawks and received a warm welcome from the fans. What are your memories from that day?

It’s one of those things that different. I was in another uniform, but under that uniform, I was a Colt. I preferred to be on the other sideline, but it’s all part of the business. I appreciated that reception. I always knew I got a lot of love from Indianapolis, just like I have a lot of love for that city. It was a great gesture by the organization.

Are you a fan now? Do you watch the NFL?

I watch certain games and certain players. Some of it is hard to watch. Back then, it was a tougher game. You never know if they’re going to throw a flag. You have to keep up with the rules. It’s different. I understand the business aspect of it. I think of tough, gladiator players, and now when you just touch someone, it’s a foul.

You were a great receiver. Do you even know what the league considers a “catch” anymore?

Everything has gotten so detailed, you just kind of have to accept whatever the ref calls. You don’t know what’s right and wrong, but whatever they determine to be the rules, you just have to play within those guidelines. I just saw where [San Francisco 49ers running back] Carlos Hyde got fined for putting his head down. I don’t know how you’re supposed to run.

You’re a father of six, ages 8 to 18. How are the kids? What are they up to?

Everything is great. They are going to make some successful entrepreneurs. My oldest is in college. She’s at Howard University, and she’ll be attending the University of Miami for law school. With my kids, it’s a big deal to me to make sure I can see them through and make sure they do things the right way. I don’t want to be one of those bad stories. I want to dispel that notion that a guy can’t take care of his family financially. My kids understand their purpose and goals. I want to help them succeed and make an impact on this world.

Saints quarterback (and Purdue alum) Drew Brees recently said he didn’t want his kids to play football. Do any of your boys play football, and do you have a problem with it?

With all their heart. That’s the only way I want them to play: If it’s not with all their heart, don’t bother going out there. I have three boys. Two of them play ball, and one doesn’t. I don’t push them into anything. If you’re going to play, play with all your heart. If you aren’t, don’t waste your time or mine.