TAMPA, FLA. - He signed with the Cardinals three years ago, and lots of sports fans scratched their heads. Why would a big-time football player such as Edgerrin James, who has a shot at the Hall of Fame, go to Arizona, otherwise known as the NFL’s burial ground?
Well, here he was Tuesday, one of the focal points during media (circus) day at Super Bowl XLIII.
James evidently had instincts that nobody else did.
“If you go up and down that roster,” James said, “that was my reason for going to Arizona.”
James was at ease answering questions. He even got off one of the best one-liners of the week so far.
Asked if he liked playing as an underdog, James said, “I’m African-American. We’re always underdogs.”
Another time, he was more candid than he’s been so far about his midseason benching.
He finally admitted that the demotion gnawed at him because, “I worked extremely hard in the off-season, and I had a chance to pass up some of the greatest players of all time.”
His reference: He started out 2008 as the No. 13 rusher of all time.
By playing part time, he only moved up to No. 11, past Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas and Franco Harris.
Had he played full-time, he could have pushed past Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, the great Jim Brown and maybe Tony Dorsett, into the No. 7 slot.
“He’s a historian of the game,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “He recognizes and is very aware of the running backs that have come before him in his league.
“You always appreciated that as a coach, when a guy has an understanding of some of the history of the league, because not all players do.”
Clearly, James sees himself in this select class of players who are — or will be — in the Hall of Fame.
“He’s a very prideful individual who has a belief and confidence in himself and his abilities,” said Haley, who also praised James for keeping his cool during his time on the bench.
“You see a lot of guys fail at ... handling that adversity. Edge has just been terrific.”
After James regained his starting role at the end of the regular season, Haley was moved to “put him right in the middle” of a meeting of offensive players just before the playoff game at Carolina.
Haley talked of “what he’s gone through this year” and that the team needed to get the job done for him.
The talk couldn’t have hurt. The Cardinals shocked the NFL, including some of their own fans, by blowing out the Panthers on the road.
“I think Edge is a well-liked player, and guys gravitate toward him; they look up to him,” Haley said.
Agreed Sean Morey, one of the team’s captains and most experienced players, “He’s a consummate professional, a great role model for all our guys in the locker room. The way he practices, the way he studies film, all the things you guys don’t get to see — we see it day in and day out.
“He’s the standard to which a lot of guys set themselves. He sets the bar really high.”
Now, he’s finally reached the pinnacle.
“For 10 years I’ve been playing,” James said, “and to finally get here, that’s big.”
About as big as James sees his place in history.