Ed. note: Roy Hobbson is one of the best voices in the Indianapolis area. He’s contributed before to 18to88.com, but most know him for his work on The Silent Pagoda (RIP) and Flipside Sports (sigh). He is my favorite writer on the internet, bar none. Please welcome his debut piece for Colts Authority. -NID
Edgerrin James came to Indianapolis perceived as the least-Indianapolis person in the vast history of least-Indianapolis people, ever. He left as its most beloved.
More so than Reggie.
Or Peyton even, or Kurt Vonnegut or anyone else, because “beloved” is a tricky word.
He was an enigma wrapped in 4 AM games of craps wrapped in our own misconceptions, and “he led by example,” explains Bill Polian. “He set as great an example as I ever saw.”
Because of course he did. Because nothing about Edge was ever one-dimensional or simple.
If we are honest with ourselves, and even if we aren’t, we tend to pre-judge people on occasion. And in the beginning, we all did, I fear. We groundlessly pegged him as an unsavory type. We judged him not by the content of his character or his pass-blocking skills, but by the color of his teeth (24K GOLD!!). He strode in from the Immokalee hell-swamp with a hustler’s swagger never before seen here.
We expected the worse.
Because, MY GOD! THOSE DREAD LOCKS!! THOSE RIMS!! THOSE TATS!! YOU, SIR, ARE NO L.S. AYRES!!!! STRANGER DANGER STRANGER DANGER!!!
We were wrong.
Preconceived notions are lousy adjudicators.
Edge ended up being the most insightful, most engaging, hardest-working, toughest, most loyal and INTERESTING athlete this city had ever encountered. He was never bigger than life — but realer. He kept odd hours and odder friends, and he politely listened to early suggestions that he change who he was.
He politely declined.
He had plenty of fucks to give, of course — but he gave none.
Instead, he quietly gave us two rushing titles and a billion soundbytes in his first two years, as well as the final piece of our Hall of Fame trio.
He gave the Colts even more.
“His popularity with his teammates was very high,” says Polian. “Inside the group, he was a leader who was beloved and was respected greatly. Everything he did, he did to the hilt. He was as responsible and dedicated a player as I’ve ever been around.”
“Edgerrin was the heartbeat of our locker room,” remembers Tarik Glenn. “As a player, Edge was a blue collar, hard worker that loved to let his playing do the talking.”
To Tony Dungy, “he was a joy to coach.”
And possibly the most fascinating dichotomy alive. Because this beloved and revered and apple-polishing leader of the Colts drove a Chevy Caprice in college, a car he’d bought “in the middle of the night, from some white lady in Immokalee, after I won a bunch of money shooting dice.” (GOOD LORD THAT’S SO EDGE!!)
This tatted-up, free-spirited, cut-back contradiction-of-a-man actually wasn’t a contradiction at all.
From the start, he was who he is — nothing more or less — and the only “contradictions” came from us and our preconceived notions of dice-shooting hustlers from the poorest depths of the Everglades. And in the end, the only ones who loved him more than the fans were his teammates, which is rare among Hall-of-Famers, in any sport, because Hall-of-Famers are typically insufferable snakes.
Against the Chargers in 2004, Peyton Manning had already amassed 47 touchdown passes and needed one more to tie Dan Marino’s record. Near the goal line, the play called for a pass to Edgerrin in the flat for the score. And as the huddle broke, Edge quietly told 38th-string running back/practice player James Mungro to switch places with him, unbeknownst to Manning, and it was Mungro who ended up hauling in the historic, record-breaking catch.
Take it away, Edge-(I’ll just let you explain it as I sit here and cry and think about what a horrible dick-teammate I probably always was, by comparison):
You want your teammates to have the ball, too. You have to understand the game. (Wanting others to have the ball), that’s part of being a teammate and being a friend. You just go out and play. That’s what keeps teams and players together. You don’t want the spotlight just to be on you, or on just one player. You have to spread it around so everyone has something to hang their hat on.James (Mungro) for the rest of his life is going to remember that play, how it exactly went down. Being a part of that special moment when you did something for someone at an important time when it wouldn’t hurt the team, I knew it would help James as a teammate and person. It’s part of having fun. Everyone got to eat on our team. That’s the way we looked at it.
“Edgerrin was one of the best teammates I’ve ever had in my entire football career,” Peyton Manning famously said.
And he comes back home, on Sunday, unchanged, still what he was the day he arrived: the most-Indianapolis person ever.