I remember it well. The Indianapolis Colts had the fourth overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft. Just a year prior, they had taken Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, with the 1st overall pick. A move that, at the time, was criticized by not only the fans, but also by many experts. (In hindsight the Colts of course made the correct decision on Manning). But like I said, at the time, people didn't consider Manning over Leaf a no-brainer.
This 99' draft was different though. All Quarterbacks were selected with the top three picks (Tim Couch-Cleveland, Donovan McNabb-Philly, and Akili Smith-Cincy). I remember after Smith was picked, I was jacked. "We Got Him," I remember thinking. The Colts needed a RB to replace newly departed, Marshall Faulk, and of course the first name to come to mind; bruising Texas running back, and the reining Heisman Award Winner, Ricky Williams. This year, lets be real, it WAS a no-brainer.
As the commissioner approached the microphone, the 1-2 punch of Manning and Williams, went flashing through my head. Then he said it..... "With the 4th pick in the 1999 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select running back, Edgerrin James, from the University of Miami." Whoa, hold up, WHAT?!?!? Edgerrin James? Are you kidding me? This isn't real, right? They are just trying to be funny. Polian.....Irsay, stop playing, go up there and tell them you meant Ricky Williams. Of course that didn't happen, and everyone in the Colts Nation was a little confused, including me. And so the unlikely love affair between small market Indianapolis, and a tough, dread locked kid, with a gold grill from Immokalee FL, began.
James instantly went to work on disproving any naysayer. In his rookie season, he led the league in rushing (1,553 yds). He followed that season, by again leading the entire league in rushing and beating his previous season by 156 yds (1,709 yds). He was the first running back in NFL history to lead the league in rushing, in his first two seasons. He spent a total of 7 seasons in an Indianapolis Colts uniform, 5 of which he rushed for over 1,200 yards.
Before he left for the Arizona Cardinals, he became the Colts franchise leader in total yards rushing (9,286), rushing TD's (64), rushing yards per game (96.1), most yards in a single season (1,709), and the most season's with 1,000 yards rushing (5). Edge ended his career with a total of 12,246 yards rushing, a 4.0 rushing average, and 80 TD's. The 12,246 yards rushing ranks him 11th all-time. That puts him ahead of Marcus Allen, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas, and John Riggins; all of which are currently Hall of Famers.
Even though he went on to play in Arizona and Seattle, Edge will never be forgotten in Indianapolis. "It feels great to be among the names", James said. "Not only did you play, but you were one of the top players to play in the organization. No matter where I go or what I do, I'm always a Colt," James said on a Colts website.
Edgerrin James was an equal combination of speed, power, and finesse. He could run by you, straight through you, or dance around you.
James was a critical part of the Indianapolis Colts engineering the largest single season turn around in NFL history. Once Edge joined the team, they went from 3-13, to 13-3. Edge was looked at as such of valuable member of the Colts success, even though he wasn't on the ‘06 Super Bowl winning team, Jim Irsay said he was a such a big part of their team getting to that level, he gave him a ring anyway.
Because of his outward appearance, James was stereotyped as a thug; which really couldn't be farther from the truth. James' long-time fiancé, Andia Wilson, passed away from leukemia on April 14, 2009. She was the mother of all 4 of his children. Because of her passing, Edge wanted to be there to support his children emotionally. He asked for his release from the Seahawks, so he could be there to take his children to school everyday. Those actions sound more like that of a loving father, than that of a thug. Adding to that, in 2000, James donated $250,000 to the University of Miami. That donation was the largest ever made to the university by one of its former athletes. That's really saying a lot, considering the football factory Miami is and all the millions of dollars their former players have made.
"Edgerrin is one of the most significant players in our history, and he embodies the talent and competitive nature we seek in every player," owner Jim Irsay said. "Edgerrin ran his way into the record books and into the hearts of all Colts fans." From a fans perspective, I couldn't agree with that more.