MIAMI - Much of the time, the Indianapolis Colts talk of Edgerrin James like he is a fallen soldier. A man lost on the arduous journey to Super Bowl XLI.
They wouldn’t have gotten here, former teammates such as Peyton Manning and Dominic Rhodes say, without Edge’s contributions. James isn’t dead. He just isn’t a Colt, toiling instead for the Cardinals after trading any chance to stay with his Indianapolis buddies for $30 million in the desert.
And no one understands that more than Edge.
“I got what I wanted, and (the Colts) got what they wanted,” James said without a hint of regret. “It is business. It is football.”
It has also provided a crazy dynamic here in James’ hometown, where the Colts’ former star running back in some ways remains a de facto member of the team.
James hung out with some of his former mates both Monday and Tuesday nights. He has been in constant contact with some of his friends, such as Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.
That may not be out of the ordinary.
But how about the fact that he has gotten to know Joseph Addai, the rookie whom the Colts drafted to replace him and who never was a teammate of James?
James has given Addai tips on his position. Then, before the playoffs started, Edge gave Addai a call to tell the rookie, “They are going to need you more than ever.”
Letting James walk was a financial necessity for Indianapolis, given salary cap limitations.
No one — not even James — can argue if it was the right decision.
In 2005, James had 1,506 yards rushing on 360 carries, a shade under 4.2 yards an attempt.
This season, Addai and Rhodes combined for 1,722 yards rushing on 413 carries, a shade under 4.2 yards an attempt.
The difference is while James collected $14.75 million in the first year of his Cardinals contract, Rhodes and Addai will get around $5.6 million, counting Addai’s rookie contract bonuses.
“Nobody was coming in to fill Edge’s shoes,” Rhodes said. “Everyone was coming in to make our mark on this team. It was about us having pride in ourselves. It has never been about one person.”
And of course, the Colts have made it to the title game.
James praises the Colts for making a smooth transition after his departure, noting “they were smart and decided to keep it together instead of trying to reinvent themselves.”
Meanwhile, frustration followed James around all season.
He finished with 1,159 yards on 337 carries and was rendered ineffective too many times for a Cards team that underachieved.
Even now, he’d rather not talk football other than the Colts, because it is his offseason and James always tries to make a clean break after the final game.
“It was a long season, real different for me personally,” said James, speaking as politically correct as possible. “If I survived that season … that was huge for me.”
If there was a reason to be at least a little bitter about the Colts’ run to Miami, James might have it.
But he doesn’t.
If anybody has regrets, it may be the remaining Colts.
“That’s probably the biggest downside to this entire week, this entire year is not having my partner Edgerrin around,” Colts receiver Marvin Harrison said.
“I wish he was here, but if he wasn’t here, then Joseph Addai wouldn’t be here,” Wayne said. “People say it is cutthroat, but that’s the way it is.”
Rhodes said James told him to “throw a 3-2” — flash James’ jersey number — should Rhodes score a touchdown in the Super Bowl, a request Rhodes would be happy to grant.
And Monday night, James pulled Wayne aside to give him a key message.
“I am riding the wave with you, man,” James told Wayne, who like James played at the University of Miami. “I don’t know if I am ever going to get there, so until then, I am going to ride with you.”
The Cardinals may have the Edge, but the Colts still have a piece of him, too.
“I am happy,” James said, “they are where they are.”