MIAMI, Fla. – The anticipation ends late Saturday afternoon for Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne.
To be determined: does the waiting end for James, and will Wayne’s wait be brief?
Two of the most Indianapolis Colts’ most popular and productive players are among the 15 Modern-era candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. A day-long session by the Selection Committee – I am one of 48 selectors – will result in a maximum of 5 nominees boosting membership in the NFL’s most revered neighborhood.
James has been here before. The Colts’ career rushing leader is in his sixth year of eligibility – a player must be out of the NFL for five years – and has reached the Final 15 for a fourth time. He advanced to the Final 10 for the first time last year.
“If it happen, you make the most of it,’’ James said. “If it doesn’t, you don’t get too down on it.
“I’m not going to get all gung-ho because every year it’s the same routine.’’
James’ frustration with the selection process is clear. He believes a player’s candidacy is as much about his popularity as his resume. He’s never participated in the choreographed days leading up to Selection Saturday that consist of TV and radio interviews.
“I don’t like to do the politicking thing,’’ he said. “It doesn’t really serve a purpose.’’
A player should earn enshrinement, James believes, solely on the magnitude of his career. He ranks 13th in NFL history in rushing (12,246) and 16th in total yards (15,610) from scrimmage. Of the 12 all-time rushers ahead of him, the only ones without a bronze bust in Canton are Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson. Both still are active.
James’ numbers would have been markedly fatter had he not suffered a knee injury in week 6 of 2001, his third season. He had joined Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell as the only players since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in rushing in their first two seasons, and was on pace to make it three straight.
“I don’t think (selectors) even know what they’re doing. There’s no true formula to it,’’ James said. “If it’s about stats, then make it about stats. If it’s about being a certain type of player, then make it about that. If it’s about being popular, then make it about that.
“You can’t put your finger on it. You can’t say, ‘Well, if you had done this or that . . .’ You can see popularity has a lot to do with it. So it matters what market you’re in. Indianapolis is not a big-time media market.’’
Again, James steadfastly believes his 11-year career speaks for itself.
“When I played, I did everything I was supposed to do. What more could I have done?’’ he said. “But my personality will always work against me. All I wanted to do was play ball. I played ball and did my job. The numbers were there. You’re not going to find too many who were all-around better than me at a high level and did what I did.’’
Wayne, meanwhile, is knocking on the door for a first time.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to go this far,’’ he said of reaching the Final 15. “I ain’t expecting to be a Finalist, not this year.’’
Now that he’s a step away, he wouldn’t mind completing the journey and joining former sidekick Marvin Harrison in Canton.
“What a lot of people forget is when I did shut it down, I was 7 in one category and 9 in the other,’’ Wayne said. “Along with my playoff numbers, I was always consistent. I was always in the tops, especially when Marv left.’’
Wayne ranks 10th in both career receptions (1,070) and yards (14,345). In the postseason, he’s 3rd in receptions (93), 5th in yards (1,254) and tied for 9th with 9 touchdowns.
“Reggie’s going to make it and he deserves it,’’ said Tony Dungy, the former Colts’ coach and a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016. “I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later.’’
Dungy insisted this should be James’ year.
“It really should be,’’ he said.
Like Harrison, another member of the Class of 2016, Dungy had to wait three years before being enshrined. He’s convinced James’ frustrations will quickly fade once he hears his name called.
“My buddy Donnie Shell is going in after 27 years,’’ Dungy said. “I didn’t think he was going to get there. I always thought if anybody deserves it, (Shell) does.
“Talking to him the other day and he’s so excited. It’s incredible. He had to wait a long time, but he’s a Hall of Famer.’’
If the wait ends Saturday for James and/or Wayne, they’ll be introduced to the sellout crowd Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium during Super Bowl LIV. Each is a product of the University of Miami and has deep roots in the area.
“To go out on that field and get introduced on Sunday would be tremendous,’’ Dungy said.
Imagine if it’s Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne.
“That would be pretty dope,’’ James said with a laugh.
The Final 15:
- RB Edgerrin James
- WR Reggie Wayne
- S Steve Atwater
- OT Tony Boselli
- WR Isaac Bruce
- S LeRoy Butler
- G Alan Faneca
- WR Torry Holt
- G Steve Hutchinson
- S John Lynch
- LB Sam Mills
- S Troy Polamalu
- DE Richard Seymour
- LB Zach Thomas
- DT Bryant Young