Peyton Manning Endorses Edgerrin James for HOF

Story Originally Published on CBS Sports (1/24/20)


While he made it clear he is not currently worried about his brother Eli's Hall of Fame future, Peyton Manning has decided to go to bat for one of his former teammates that has a shot at being part of this year's induction class. Manning, who will undoubtedly earn induction into Canton in 2021 (his first year of eligibility), has written an endorsement letter for former teammate Edgerrin James, a former All-Pro running back and Manning's teammate with the Colts from 1999-05. The letter will be distributed by Mike Chappell, a Hall of Fame voter and longtime Colts beat reporter.

James, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL rushing champion during his seven years with the Colts, the only running back that is part of the 15 modern-era finalists who will their cases for induction debated on Saturday, Feb. 1. Five of the modern-era finalists will make up the 20-member centennial class that also includes ten senior nominees, three contributors and two former coaches in Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher. 

"I think that (Manning's letter) will carry some weight," Chappell said during an appearance on The Dan Dakich Show, via Joey Mulinaro of 107.5 The Fan. "I'm optimistic, I'm confident, but just as we know when you think you really know what will happen something else will happen and he won't get in."

Along with Peyton's note, Chappell has prepared his facts to help make James' Hall of Fame case. 

"A couple numbers that just jump out at me," Chappell said. "Four players in NFL history have rushed for at least 1,500 yards four times: Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, and Edgerrin James. Three first-ballot guys and Edgerrin James. The numbers are there."

The acquisition of James, who was the Colts' first-round pick a year after the team selected Manning with the first overall pick, immediately paid dividends for the Colts. After winning just three games during Manning's rookie season, the Colts went 13-3 during James' rookie season. And while the addition of James helped Manning earn his first Pro Bowl selection during the 1999 season, James earned All-Pro honors while leading the NFL in rushing with 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

Over the next five years, James -- who again led the league in rushing in 2000 -- teamed up with Manning and Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison to form the NFL's most prolific RB/QB/WR combination. The trio not only put up prolific numbers while turning into Hall of Fame-caliber players; they also established a winning culture in Indianapolis while helping the Colts establish themselves as one of the NFL's upper-echelon teams. 

After two consecutive postseason trips in '99 and '00, the Colts, after hiring Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, returned to the playoffs in 2002 after a one-year hiatus. The Colts would then advance to the AFC Championship Game in 2003 before losing in the divisional round each of the following two seasons.

How valuable was James during that run? So valuable that Colts owner Jim Irsay, who placed James in the team's Ring of Honor in 2012, decided to award James with a Super Bowl ring after the Colts won Super Bowl XLI despite James signing with the Cardinals as a free agent the previous offseason. And while his greatest years came in Indianapolis, James still managed to put up impressive numbers in Arizona while helping the Cardinals advance to their first Super Bowl in 2008. James' body of work during the decade earned First Team honors on the NFL's All-Decade 2000s Team.

James retired after the 2009 season with 12,246 rushing yards, which is currently the 13th highest total in league history. His 15,610 career all-purpose yards is 16th all-time (the 13th highest by a running back) and is more than the totals produced by Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss and Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who are 17th and 18th all-time in that category, respectively.

There are several reasons why James, who is in his sixth year of eligibility, is still waiting for his call to Canton. One reason is that he played in an era with other prominent running backs (a list that includes Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Clinton Portis, and Eddie George) who are also not currently in Canton. The fact that James' best two statistical seasons were his first two NFL seasons may be held against him, too, even though Dickerson's best two seasons were also his first two seasons in the NFL.

Perhaps the biggest reason why James is still waiting for induction is the fact that he played with other Hall of Fame talent that includes Manning, Harrison, and receiver Reggie Wayne, who is also a finalist for induction in this year's class. And while James surely benefited by playing alongside other great players, the same could be said for Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Terrell Davis, Marshal Faulk, and a slew of other running backs whose careers have already been immortalized in Canton.

Furthermore, the fact that the Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3 the year they acquired James is even more proof of the impact he had on that team. That fact will likely be one of the many tidbits of James' career that will be included in Manning's note to the Hall of Fame voters, a note that may ultimately help get another one of his teammates to Canton.