James, born and raised in Immokalee, is now among the 338 players picked as the game's greatest and elected to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio Naples Daily News
MIAMI — The wait is over for Edgerrin James, and Collier County has it's first Hall of Famer.
James, born and raised in Immokalee before an 11-year NFL career at running back, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. He is one of five members to make up the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, which will be inducted in Canton, Ohio, in August. Induction weekend is Aug. 6-9.
His election comes after James was a finalist for Canton four times. Frustration mounted for the former All-Pro back, who said as early as 2014 that he felt he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.
“It means everything to me to be sitting here,” James said on stage during a press conference with the Class of 2020 plus the seven-member Centennial Class for the NFL’s 100th year.
“After I’ve been through the process for years … you just have to be patient. The work is done, it’s just a matter of time. It’s one of those things you can’t be too high or too low about, and when your number is called you get to be right here where we are today.”
James announced his selection on his Instagram account at 4:29 p.m., minutes before the start of the NFL Honors awards ceremony at the Arsht Center for Performing Arts in downtown Miami.
James, 41, gradated from Immokalee High School in 1996 before becoming a star at the University of Miami and an All-Pro in the NFL. He played for the Indianapolis Colts (1999-2005), Arizona Cardinals (2006-08) and Seattle Seahawks (2009).
Getting voted into the Hall of Fame while in South Florida — where he played in college, where he currently owns a nightclub, and just a few hours from where he was born — meant a lot to James.
"In South Florida, we live football," James said. "Go out to the youth football programs and the parks, and you’ll see how seriously we take it. Once you get a feel for (how serious we take) football here in South Florida, you know why we put out so many great players. This is what we do.”
And James is proud to represent the area. He’s also proud to give back.
James has hosted free youth camps in Immokalee and Ave Maria in Collier County. He also hosts a free summer camp through his charitable foundation in Orlando. When Hurricane Wilma (2005) and Hurricane Irma (2017) ravaged his hometown, James paid thousands of dollars for food and supplies to be brought to those in need.
“I always wanted to be a great example,” James said. “I always carried myself as myself. I never tried to be anyone else. I’ve always been Edge.
“Me going to the parks gives those kids confidence, gives them hope. You see someone who looks just like you, comes from the situation you came from, to be able to get to the NFL, it means a lot to them. I’m always going to try to represent all the youth that come from the same situation I cam from. Hopefully it trickles down to them and they can get here and do the same thing.”
James becomes the second member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame from Southwest Florida. The first just happened to be on stage with him Saturday.
Deion Sanders, graduate of North Fort Myers High School, helped introduce the Class of 2020 at NFL Honors. Although former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young announced James to the audience, Sanders yelled, "239! 239!" as James came on stage — a reference to the area code where James and Sanders grew up.
Saturday was the fourth time James’s career has been debated among the 48 Hall of Fame voters. He was one of 25 semifinalists for the Class of 2015 in his first year of eligibility. James then was one of 15 finalists voted on the day before the Super Bowl in 2016, 2018, 2019 and this year.
Each of the 15 finalists had a member of the media present their case to the voting committee on Saturday morning. Mike Chappell, who covered James’s seven seasons with the Colts for the Indianapolis Star, stated the case for the Immokalee native.
“(James) is in his sixth year of eligibility and this is the fourth time we’ve discussed his worthiness,” Chappell told the voters in a clip posted on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Twitter account. “Obviously others have waited longer and still are waiting, but I’m here to discuss Edgerrin James and why it’s time and it’s his time.”
Chappell compared James to the other top rushers in NFL history. There are 19 eligible players in the top 22 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, including James at No. 13, and 15 are in the Hall of Fame. Fourteen were enshrined in their first of second year of eligibility, Chappell said.
Jerome Bettis waited until his fifth year of eligibility to be elected. Of the 15 running backs elected in the past 30 years, per Chappell, 12 got into the Hall of Fame in their first of second year eligible.
Already Collier County’s most famous and awarded football player before the Hall of Fame vote, James ran for 2,127 yards as a junior at Immokalee and was a Parade All-American as a senior. His final two years at Miami (1997-98), James totaled 3,019 yards of offense and 33 touchdowns.
The Indianapolis Colts used the No. 4 overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft to take James, who held his draft party in Immokalee. He made an immediate impact, leading the league in rushing as a rookie with 1,553 yards. James’s 2,139 yards from scrimmage in 1999 are the second-most by a rookie in NFL history, and the most since Eric Dickerson had 2,212 in 1983.
James also led the NFL in rushing his second season (1,709 yards). It was the second of his four seasons with more than 1,500 rushing yards. The only other NFL players to have that many 1,500-yard seasons are Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Dickerson.
Though he's known mostly for his time with the Colts, James topped 1,100 yards in his first two years with the Arizona Cardinals (2006-07). Those two seasons are among the top eight in individual rushing yards in Cardinals' history.
James' only Super Bowl came with Arizona. The Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season. The game was in Tampa, in James' home state just a few hours north of his hometown.
In 11 seasons – including a season cut to six games due to injury in 2001 and seven games before retiring in 2009 – James ran for 12,246 yards. He’s 13th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list and was 10th at the time he retired.
James topped 1,000 yards seven times in his nine full seasons and went for 989 yards in another.
Before Saturday only three players in the top 16 of the NFL’s career rushing yards list were not in the Hall of Fame – Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, who still are active, and James.
Previous coverage: Will Saturday be the day Edgerrin finally makes the Hall?