I came out the womb with a gold teeth mentality. I came out the womb me. I’m a product of my environment. Immokalee is the Poor South Florida. Don’t picture no South Beach. It’s grit and grind. All we ever knew was hard. But it’s so tight-knit. Everybody’s your cousin’s cousin, you know what I mean? We really get it out the mud. Maybe you got it out the grass. Maybe you got it off the pavement or whatever. But in Immokalee, we get it out the mud, MyBoii.
My mother is a Jehovah’s Witness. And they don’t believe in birthday presents. They think every new day is supposed to be your gift. And man, that’s a beautiful philosophy. I can see that now. But when you’re a little kid, all that means is you ain’t getting no presents! You’re not setting foot in no Toys “R” Us, boy!!!! But lucky for me, I was born on August 1. That was always the first day of Pop Warner season. Football, man. That was always my birthday present, every year.
I had the Walter Payton VHS tape. Think it was called Pure Payton. Never seen a runner so smooth and so tough. I used to picture him in my head when I was playing in the mud with my boys.
Football was easy for me. I’m not gonna lie to you. It ain’t a complicated game. It’s just work. I realized it young, like, Wait a minute … you’re telling me all I gotta do is outwork this man across from me? That’s it? S***, it’s game over then.
I’ll never forget what my mom said when this fancy high school wanted me to transfer there to play football. I asked my momma if I could go and she said, “What? You’re not going anywhere. If I gotta go through all this, then you do too. If you’re good enough, the game will find you.”
In high school, I had a cheat code, for real. I used to wake up at five in the morning before school and do workouts by myself in this field behind my house. Then I’d shower and go to school like nothing happened. I didn’t tell nobody — even my boys. It was my secret weapon. And man, I used to do the same thing in the NFL. No lie. It’s two o’clock in the morning, and I’m in the club. I used to see dudes from the other team, and they’re looking at me like, Ahhh, alright, it’s cool. Edge out here partying, too!!! So it’s not a big deal, right? But what they didn’t know was, I’d be leaned back sipping on some cranberry juice. Right in the same type of cup as their liquor was poured in. We leave the club and everybody else is going to the crib to pass out. But I’m in the GYM at three-four-five o’clock in the morning by myself, putting in work. While they was sleeping, I was grinding.
Let it be a lesson. Judging a book by its cover and all that. You saw what it was on Sundays. You saw how I stood in the paint on pass protection. Yeah, I was always myself. But I was always about my business.
That’s what they don’t understand about The U. See, they’re jealous of the U. Everybody else, they talk about us like we were wild. And yeah, we were wild, like all youth. We were wild as hell, matter of fact. But the U in the ’90s? It was about that WORK. I mean, oh my God. It was FIVE-STARS ONLY. It used to be a dogfight every single practice. Reggie Wayne. Santana Moss. Ed Reed. Somebody was always coming for your spot. I remember we used to have a saying whenever somebody got hurt. They’d be icing their leg like, “Man, I’m out today. I can’t go.” And the reply was always, “Damn … your bad.”
I’ll never forget my guy Reggie Wayne showed up freshman year and he refused to get off the couches (as a freshman you’re not supposed to sit on the couches in the locker room). I loved the fact that he showed heart and was ready to go to war about what he felt was right. (So I stepped to him and pulled him to the side and the rest is history.) 87–32 From the U to The Horseshoe!!
I don’t want to hear about no other schools. The U is different. Where else you gonna be 18 years old rolling with Trick Daddy around South Beach after the game? I remember Trick Daddy being like, “Hey, don’t you got class tomorrow morning?” And I said, “Don’t worry. As long as I’m there before it ends....” Pulling up to 9 a.m. Economics in Trick’s whip like, What’s Goooood.
Uncle Luke left scarves in my dorm room, O.K. That’s just a Tuesday night at the U. When Uncle Luke stamps you as a player, you know that you’ve arrived.
I played a kiddie game to put my family in a better position. Period. In South Florida, football ain’t just a game. It’s one of the few paths out. When you’re a young African-American kid growing up in that environment, you got the whole deck stacked against you. It’s stacked up high, man. So what you gonna do? Some people try to find a way around it. I jumped over that motherf*****.
When the Colts drafted me, I didn’t know anything about Indy. I didn’t even know where it was. I’m looking at that map like … Mannnn, I don’t know. What are these people gonna think about me? Because I’m not cutting my hair. I’m not changing how I talk for anybody. Then I’ll never forget I go in to meet Jim Irsay and he’s got this little Colts outfit for my baby daughter, and he’s talking to me about hip-hop. I mean, like, really though. He knew what’s up. I remember leaving the meeting like, Man ... Irsay legit. I didn’t realize how close me and him would get. That’s my guy. The Colts are family to me, still. Always.
All them zeroes. The commas. You never forget seeing that for the first time. As soon as that first NFL check cleared, I remember just thinking, Alright, we can breathe now, Momma. I know what to do with some money. Listen, money can buy you a lot of cool things. I got toys. My kids got toys. But what it really buys you, if you come where I come from, is the feeling of a weight coming off your chest. It buys you a deep breath. Maybe the first you ever took in your life.
Peyton Manning. I’m sorry, see earlier I said I was always about my business. That’s true. But the guy who was really the undisputed heavyweight champion of being about his business was Peyton. We couldn’t have been from more different backgrounds, but we were kindred spirits when it came to Sundays. That’s gonna sound crazy to some people, but Peyton knows what I’m talking about.
Man, Indy gave me a Super Bowl ring and I wasn’t even on the damn team. After they won it in 2007 when I was with the Cardinals, Reggie Wayne pulled up one day and he’s holding a box. He said, “Mr. Irsay wanted you to have this, for everything you did to get us here.” I mean, a lotta guys won Super Bowls over the years. But how many guys can say that?
I get to the Super Bowl two years later with Arizona and now I gotta do something special. It’s in Tampa. It’s my homecoming. I got my whole family there. Two weeks before the game, I go to the dealership and I tell the guy point blank, “Give me the baddest car you got on the floor.” He takes me over to the white Lamborghini. Done. I tell him to deliver it to the team hotel, right out in front. Fast-forward to Super Bowl week and the Lambo is sitting right out in front of the hotel. Bad as hell. Shining. I bring my whole family out there — my cousins, my friends, my teammates, everybody. I’m thinking, Man, I’m about to show these kids that it don’t matter where you’re from. We got it out the mud. We made it. We in the Lambo at the Super Bowl. We here.
Man, I get in the car and I’m like, “Wait a minute, how the hell do you turn this thing on?” I’m bugging out. I mean I didn’t even sit in this thing in the dealership. I’m looking around the car and I don’t see anything familiar. All I see is paddles and red buttons. It’s looking like I’m trapped in a video game. Mind you, everybody is surrounding the Lambo. It’s like a movie. I’m sweating. I’m flipping paddles every damn which way and nothing is happening. Finally, I give up. I roll down the window and I’m looking at one of my teammates like, Who the hell knows how to start this s***?!?! We gotta find somebody into cars to show me how to start a Lambo!!!!
We didn’t win the game. But that’s a damn good memory. My children know what that game meant to us. They know what it meant to their mother, who was battling leukemia. She was too sick to travel anywhere by then. Just so happens the Super Bowl was in Tampa, right across the street from the cancer center where she was receiving her treatments. Some things feel like destiny to me, for real. (Like when you’re born on the first day of Pop Warner.) That Super Bowl week was about us. I don’t need to say anything more than that.
Twelve thousand yards. Four Pro Bowls. That’s whatever. That’s playing a kiddie game. What I care about is that I got a daughter in law school. I got another daughter killing it at an HBCU. I got more coming up the pipeline. I’m trying to go six-for-six on college degrees. Let that be my legacy as a man.
I didn’t change for anybody. When I’m long dead and gone, kids are gonna be walking the halls of Canton and they’re gonna come across the gold bust of Edgerrin James. (The only bust with dreads.) They’re gonna see somebody who looks like them. Somebody who did it his own way. Somebody who did it for the culture. They’re gonna see them dreads immortalized forever.
Started with the gold teeth. Ended with a gold jacket. That’s the story of Edgerrin James.
For more content from Edgerrin James, follow @edgerrinjames on Instagram.