He said the milestone means a lot to him because he feels like part of a “dying breed.” He believes rushing for 12,000-plus yards is increasingly difficult in a league that is moving away from teams having a lone, feature back.
Yet getting 18 yards on Sunday for the Seahawks against Arizona and passing Marcus Allen on the all-time list matters far less to him than what he’s already accomplished this week.
The 31-year-old single father surprised one of his three daughters during school Wednesday morning with a call into her class in Florida. He had arranged it with her teacher, who kept the secret.
“She was kind of caught off guard,” James said, with a grin as wide as any hole he’s run through while gaining 12,226 yards over 11 seasons.
Surprise calls. Letters. Text messages. E-mails. Even cross-country flights anytime he had more than a day free to consider it. James has used them all to keep in touch with Edquisha, Ehyanna, Edgerrin Jr. and Euro, who are being raised by James’ mother on the other side of the country. The children’s mother and James’ longtime girlfriend, Andia Wilson, died in April at age 30 of leukemia.
“I talk to him a lot about certain things he does to stay in touch – via the Internet, text messaging – just to keep them on their toes,” said Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who is married and has two daughters. “And certain things he teaches his kids is a thought in itself. It’s good, man.
“He’s a good father, just from talking to him. All he does is talk about his kids.”
James was a free agent from April until late August. He said he didn’t want to sign with a team until after Aug. 20 so he could be home to send his kids off to the first day of school in Florida. Missing training camp after grinding through 10 previous ones was a nice side attraction, too.
Sure enough, days after school started, James signed his one-year deal with Seattle worth $1 million in base salary.
Next week, he goes home. Father and daughter have set a time to have lunch together at the school, during Seattle’s bye week.
“So I’ve got a dinner date,” he said, laughing.
He said he has no hard feelings that the Cardinals released him to avoid paying him the one year and $5 million remaining on his contract last spring – six days after he was in Naples, Fla., burying Wilson.
James had requested the release. It came after Arizona had benched the former superstar with the Indianapolis Colts in favor of Tim Hightower last season. James then returned to revitalize the Cardinals’ offense with a rushing surge in the postseason, which ended in the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, asked the Cardinals to trade James during the season, but James himself didn’t make any waves during his exile.
He had far more on his mind.
“I had some personal things I needed to deal with. That was my main focus,” he said, without elaborating on Wilson’s death. “Football was secondary.”
For the last couple seasons he has been flying back and forth to Florida to care for his kids while he’s played on the opposite coast.
His native Immokalee is an impoverished south Florida town with a median household income of $24,315, about half of Florida’s average, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census. He spent $20,000 to give his town essentials such as clean drinking water when a hurricane struck. He sent another $14,000 to buy the Immokalee Indians team rings for winning the 2004 state high school football championship. He donated another $100,000 to the high school.
Houshmandzadeh just shook his head when asked how hard it would be for him to play so far from his children, and without the kids’ mother home to care for them.
“It’s tough, especially what’s transpired in his life recently,” Houshmandzadeh said. “But I’m sure after this week it’s going to be good for him to go home and see his kids, and just for them to see him.”
James is still beloved in Indianapolis. And he’s already one of the most popular Seahawks, a fountain of jokes and leadership even though he’s a backup who’s been around only eight weeks.
Yet he isn’t sure how much longer he can do this long-distance love. He marvels that Allen played 16 years.
“I don’t think I’ll be interested in 16 years,” he said.
He said his career is now on a year-to-year basis, but that “realistically, I probably have two, three more years left in me, because it’s so easy now. It’s not like it used to be, big guys out smoking cigarettes at halftime. … It’s not a physical game anymore.
“Kids these days are different,” he said. “They are of the video-game era. It’s all entertainment.”
Yes, James knows about “kids these days.” Perhaps as well as any player in the league.