The Gameface: For James, fatherhood comes first

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The offer Edgerrin James(notes) had been waiting for finally came over the weekend, and given that it might have been his last best chance to land with an NFL team this season and continue a drive toward Canton, logic suggested he’d jump at the opportunity.

Yet when the Seattle Seahawks suggested to James’ agent Drew Rosenhaus that the 31-year-old running back fly diagonally across the country from south Florida last Sunday, EJ said, “No way.”

As James explained Thursday night, “Monday was the first day of school. Trust me, I wasn’t going to miss that for anything.”

Photo James fights off Pittsburgh’s Tyrone Carter in Super Bowl XLIII.
(Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

That accompanying his children to their respective public schools in Naples, Fla., was a deal-breaker makes sense when placed in the context of James’ heartrending offseason. On April 14 James’ four kids, all under the age of 12, sat with him in a Tampa hospital room watching their mother, Andia Wilson, die after a spirited battle with leukemia.

Wilson, his longtime girlfriend, had always been the one to handle the first-day-of-school frenzy while James plied his trade in Indianapolis or Arizona. This time, he was determined to be present – for his kids, for himself and for her.

“I had to be there,” he said. “There was no leaving.”

The Seahawks understood, and James delayed his departure until Monday evening, sticking around long enough to pick up his kids and get the lowdown on the big day’s events.

Now the NFL’s active rushing leader with 12,121 yards, a total that places him 11th on the league’s all-time list, is soldiering on with his family’s blessing while keeping his vocation in its proper perspective.

Even as he copes with tragedy, James hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Ask about the speculation that he’ll ultimately challenge incumbent Seahawks halfback Julius Jones(notes) for a starting job, and James replies, “Nah, it’s cool. The way I look at it is I’ve played 10 good years, and I’ve done everything a running back can do. I want to help. I think I want to be like Ginobli now – I want to come off the bench. I’m the new Manu Ginobli! How about that?”

Though he reached his first Super Bowl last February, completing a late-season revival that coincided with the Cardinals’ unlikely drive to the brink of a championship, James does not look back fondly on his final year in the desert. Stung by a midseason benching, James likened the experience last January to a “bad (expletive) dream” and couldn’t wait to relocate. Privately, he was dealing with the stress of Wilson’s illness, flying home at every opportunity and spending many nights on the phone assessing her condition.

After the Super Bowl, as things worsened, James tried vainly to help Wilson continue her fight. “I never believe in giving up in anything,” he said. “I’d sit there with her phone in the hospital and call her friends and get them to talk to her. I had Coach [Tony] Dungy say some [inspirational] words. Anything we could do to bring her through we were going to try.”

The end, James says, “just came out of nowhere. It was like a straight fall – in the morning she was fine, and she didn’t make it through the day. She had everything she could possibly have – the will to fight, great doctors, financial support, a [bone-marrow] donor lined up – but she was too weak to go on. The hospital room was packed with people. My kids watched her take her last breath. That’s some crazy stuff.”

Amid the painful circumstances James’ and Wilson’s families rallied, forging a plan to ensure that the kids would enjoy the most stable reality possible under the circumstances. At first James, released by the Cardinals after they drafted Beanie Wells(notes) in late April, figured that meant his career was over, and he was at peace with it.

Determined to live in the moment and of the moment, James remembered that before the 2008 Presidential election, he and Wilson had talked about taking a family trip to Washington, D.C., to commemorate a potentially historic triumph. “If Obama won,” James said, “we said we’d go big.”

So, in June, James went really big, chartering a coach bus and driver and inviting about 60 friends and family members on a week-long trip from Florida to the nation’s capital. They stopped in Charlotte, N.C., to visit former University of Miami teammate Damione Lewis(notes), now a Panthers defensive tackle. Another ex-Hurricanes star, Redskins halfback Clinton Portis(notes), hosted a barbecue in the D.C. area.

Other than that, the James Gang was a typical bunch of tourists. “We went to the White House, all the monuments and a bunch of other attractions,” James said. “We had an itinerary all mapped out. It was low-key, and everyone had a lot of fun.”

The following weekend was Father’s Day, and James took his kids to Atlanta. He’d avoided discussing a potential return to football, but when the subject came up, his children didn’t hold back.

“They actually wanted me to play,” he says. “My oldest [daughter Edquisha], she knows where I rank on the rushing list, and she’s big on that. She said, ‘Daddy, you could be in the Hall of Fame! You’ve gotta go try and pass some more of ‘em up.’ ”

Given that James is 22 yards shy of Marcus Allen, he’ll surely be a top-10 rusher before the leaves turn, with Marshall Faulk(notes) (58) and Jim Brown (191) also in his immediate sights. If James runs for 619 yards in ’09 he’ll pass Tony Dorsett and could rank as high as seventh, though he could be overtaken by the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) in the process.

In a development he never saw coming, James is now playing for his second Jim Mora. The first, who coached him in Indy, was a taskmaster whose departure – in favor of the gentler Dungy – did not cause James a whole lot of regret at the time.

Now he says, “I had my best seasons, statistically, under Jim Mora, so it’s tough not to see that as a positive. I played for the father; now I’m playing for the son. It’s cool.”

He’s also playing for an offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, who favors the zone-blocking scheme in which James thrived in Indy. “I told Coach Mora the other day, ‘Damn, why couldn’t I have been in this system three years ago?’ ” James said.

More significant to James is the system that’s in place to take care of the kids in his absence. Three family members, including his mother, are devoting themselves to the effort, and though James jokes that there are limits to his contributions – “I’m not saying I’m gonna be a soccer dad, driving around in a minivan” – he’s clearly in a different space than he was during the first decade of his career.

“As football players, we’re so programmed to do well in our job that sometimes we forget about our house,” James says. “I look at my mom, who’s helping with my kids, and then I look at them. My kids don’t have that mom. When you really think of it like that – damn, it’s heavy.

“If my daughter would’ve said, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to go play,’ then 100 percent guaranteed I wouldn’t be playing. I’ve gotten to enjoy so many things, but right now it’s time to be a parent first, and I don’t want to blow it.”

On Monday, James made sure he didn’t, shuttling Edquisha (seventh grade), Eyanha (third grade) and Edgerrin Jr. (pre-kindergarten) to each of their schools, while his youngest, Euro, stayed home with grandma. It was an eventful morning but not a particularly stressful one: While this might have been James’ initial foray into first-day-of-school madness, he was painstakingly prepared for the moment.

As he explained Thursday from his hotel room in Bellevue, Wash., “We did everything the night before. It was super-organized. All the clothes were laid out, all the lunches were made, and all they had to do was wake up, eat breakfast and go.”

His voice trailed off as he finished the recollection.

“The kids were excited,” he said quietly. “It was sweet.”

And, of course, it was bittersweet.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

After being offered some insignificant but face-saving contract upgrades by the San Francisco 49ers, rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree(notes) will realize he’s tripping and join the team a week before the regular season opener. … The Cincinnati Bengals, conversely, will stubbornly lowball Andre Smith(notes) until after the season is under way. … The Delaware County Daily Times staffer who wrote this headline is either unintentionally funny or desires a ton of grief from PETA.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Chad Ochocinco’s(notes) plans to circumvent the NFL’s no-tweeting policy will be foiled when a New England Patriots video assistant is caught filming his hand signals.

2. No one is cheering more for Mark Sanchez(notes) than Pete Carroll.

3. Thanks to Stanford sports sugar daddy John Arrillaga, when Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh takes care of business in his office bathroom, harp-playing angels sing Free’s “All Right Now” in mellifluous tenors.

MY BUDDY’S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

When we last left my buddy Malibu, he was eking out a third consecutive third-place finish in his Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football League with his beloved No. 1 overall pick, LaDainian Tomlinson, on the bench as per my advice. Naturally, Malibu responded by conducting this year’s draft without my consultation – and by taking LT No. 2 overall, a move that would have occurred over my staunch objections, and letting his free-flowing love for the Chargers contribute to his delinquency. But don’t just take it from me; take it from one of Y! Sports’ esteemed fantasy experts. Brad Evans will be breaking down my tips this season to Malibu and UCSB women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb (who’s back for a second year and promises to include me in this weekend’s draft deliberations).

Before I get to Evans’ critique, here are Malibu’s selections in his 12-team league for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, with overall pick number in parenthesis: LT (2), Marion Barber(notes) (23), Kurt Warner(notes) (26), Donovan McNabb(notes) (47), Hines Ward(notes) (50), Reggie Bush(notes) (71), Bernard Berrian(notes) (74), Steve Breaston(notes) (95), Joe Flacco(notes) (98), Zach Miller (119), Darren Sproles(notes) (122), Michael Crabtree (143), LeRon McClain (146), Nate Kaeding(notes) (167), Malcom Floyd(notes) (170) and Michael Vick(notes) (191). Evans’ analysis: “Unless starting two quarterbacks is a requirement, your boy is packing-heat-in-the-waistline-of-loose-fitting-jeans kind of stupid. Warner, McNabb and Flacco were all tendon-snapping reaches. According to average draft position values, each is going roughly 20 picks later than where he selected them. As a result, his receiving corps suffered massively. The Chicago Bears have more talent at wideout. A WR thrice of Ward, Berrian and Breaston won’t win you any championships. … Suppressing team loyalties can be difficult, but in virtual pigskin it’s a necessity. Assuming Peterson went first, bypassing MJD, Forte, Turner and DeAngelo for a geriatric back with thin tread is a grave risk. Thankfully, he was wise enough to handcuff Sproles – for an excellent value, mind you – later in the draft. … To further prove his misguided lunacy, he also drafted a kicker well ahead of the Mr. Irrelevant round. … For your buddy’s sake, hopefully he relishes dark, dank and musty conditions, because his primary residence will likely be in the fantasy dungeon.”

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Despite winning the NFC North last season, fourth-year Vikings coach Brad Childress is believed to be in danger of losing his job if he doesn’t take his team further into the playoffs in ’09. The recent signing of Brett Favre(notes) shows that Childress is aware of the urgency of the situation. Yet what if Favre resembles the quarterback who struggled mightily in his last five games with the Jets, rather than the future Hall of Famer who performed at a high level in his first 11? If desperation sets in, would Childress have the guts to bench a legend and end his precious consecutive-games streak? Would Childress consider giving Favre the first series of each game and then yank him? Would Favre then stop publicly referring to his coach as “Chilly”? I’m not rooting for this to happen – I hope each of the NFC North quarterbacks lights it up this season – but it would be compelling theater.

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Former NFL official extraordinaire Burl Toler(notes), who died earlier this month at the age of 81. Toler, the first African-American official in a major American sport, was the beloved patriarch of a tremendous family, and I know his son, Burl Jr., will help carry on a tremendous Bay Area legacy. Speaking of admirable Californians, let’s raise our glasses for former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard for proving you can still shred at 72.

THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Natalie Coughlin is one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. history, not to mention a Golden Girl who ranks with the greatest of all Golden Bears. Now Coughlin is getting ready to represent on a reality-TV juggernaut – and best of all, she’ll be doing it with a fellow Cal alum. Like Coughlin, Alec Mazo, her partner on Season 9 of “Dancing with the Stars,” studied psychology at the world’s greatest university. Mazo, who captured the Season 1 championship with Kelly Monaco, has already tasted glory; Coughlin will be out to prove that the stereotype she once related to me about swimmers – that they’re sort of, uh, spazzy on land – isn’t absolute. “It’s completely true – with me the exception,” Coughlin said jokingly. I’ll be tuning in beginning Monday, Sept. 21, to watch her prove it against some of my favorite interview subjects, including Chuck Liddell, Michael Irvin and Joanna Krupa. I adore them all, but Coughlin will eat them for lunch.

Meanwhile, it’s time for some current Golden Bears to strut their stuff, beginning with the great Alex Morgan, who had a hat trick in Cal’s season-opening 4-1 win over Nevada in women’s soccer last Friday. The junior forward leads the 16th-ranked Bears into battle against No. 3 Portland in the City of Roses on Friday night. (Cal’s seventh-ranked men’s soccer team kicks off its season the following weekend at Georgetown and Maryland in the D.C. Area Classic.) And the Bears’ sixth-ranked women’s volleyball team gets things going this weekend at the Nevada Marriott Courtyard/Fairfield Invitational, beginning Friday night against UC Irvine. Throw in the blessed reopening of “The Fish” and the impending start of the 2009 football season, and things are looking mighty rosy in the center of the universe.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Josh you say race doesn’t matter

ROLLIN’ WITH THE ROYALS

I’m back for a third season of stomach-churning devotion to the Reading Football Club, and the rollercoaster ride continues. After a late-season slide cost the Royals a chance for promotion back to the English Premier League and the services of manager Steve Coppell and several key players, Reading seems to be experiencing a bit of a hangover. In four Football League Championship games under new manager Brendan Rodgers, Reading has only a pair of 0-0 draws (with Nottingham Forest and Swansea City) and two one-sided defeats (to Newcastle United and Sheffield United) to show for itself. Reading sits 21st in the 24-team league table going into Saturday’s match at Barnsley, which on Tuesday knocked the Royals out of the Carling Cup with a 2-1 victory at Madejski Stadium. In other words, just above the relegation line. This could be a long season, but I’m holding out hope for a quick turnaround. On Thursday the Royals announced the signing of two players who could provide immediate help: Grzegorz Rasiak, a Polish international from Southampton, and attacking midfielder Jobi McAnuff, who played for Rodgers at Watford last season. Ideally, goal-scoring shall ensue.

TRIPPIN’ ON E(MAIL)

Silver, you guys really have to find something new to write about. All this Raiders stuff is getting old. Who cares about fights at practices or in the locker rooms? They happen all the time! It’s just not in Oakland. You’re a complete fool if you think this. They just never get reported. You all (writers) jump on it just because it’s the Raiders. I hear the Little League World Series is going on … how about taking your writing talent there. It suits you.

Tyler

NFL head coaches are alleged to have punched assistants and face questioning by police investigators for potential felony assault all the time? Really? Is this your fantasy league we’re talking about? Because in the one I cover, that’s extraordinary, and it’s important to point out that the contentious, paranoid, mistrustful atmosphere is perpetuated by one man. I think we all know who that is.


Well, Michael … It is very clear that you know nothing about keeping your personal feelings out of honest reporting. I am a true Raiders fan and I can say that, after years and years of heartbreaking games and “crazy calls.” But I love them. I am sure you are jealous or it reads that way. The Raiders are big and bold and beautiful. You are not and it shows in your words. Your Mommy did not let you play with the big boys. Leave the Raiders alone. They have a good team this year and they are not going away no matter what little boys like you write. There is always someone somewhere looking for trouble where there is none. Stop looking for something negative just because the Raiders are doing well. You had to really dig low for this story … you must be a 49ers Whiner. … The Raiders first-string beat the crap out of the 49ers first-string. That was all we had to do … the rest of the game was practice for us. … We are The Raiders, “The winningest Team in the NFL. so write about that Sissy Boy.”

Cyndi
Redding, Calif.

The reporting was absolutely honest. It appears you’re the one who’s taking it personally.


Michael, your recent column regarding the Raiders’ state of affairs is one of the most insightful and well sourced/researched articles I’ve read as a sports fan. The level of unprofessionalism you’ve described is truly shocking. You’ve outdone yourself, and when you say that you have outdone yourself, it means it was truly great journalism. Keep up the good work my friend.

Ashwin Sridharan
Boston

Thanks, I appreciate it. And would it be awkward if, instead of “my friend,” I asked you to call me “Sissy Boy”?


Michael; Long time Raiders fan. Grew up in Oakland. Stuck with them on their move to L.A. Was so excited with the move back. We all know Al needs to stop already with any thing to do with the football team decisions. Can he not see that he has torn this team apart with his meddling? Enough is enough! Is he that proud, why can’t he just hire a real good GM? Let him make the football decisions? As a fan what can I do? Write letters or a picket in front of his office? I can’t sit back any longer. I’ll do anything. I just want my team back. The story you just wrote was so disturbing at a personal level. I’ve played sports my whole life and I, as well as everyone else, knows this not how to run a team. Why doesn’t Al know? Thanks for your time.

Gene
Fresno, Calif.

In this case, I’m not sure there’s anything you can do. And that’s a major bummer, because you and your fellow Raider fans deserve better. In my opinion the only solution is regime change. Good luck with that.


Hey Silver. First off, I have never heard you ever print anything positive about Al or the Raiders. So please do us all a favor, when the Raiders get back to the playoffs just shut your stinkin’ pie hole okay. If any other team in the NFL had some altercation like this it wouldn’t even be news, but idiots like you love to write garbage. Guess it’s your way of getting even. Since (you’re a geek) who couldn’t ever play a sport. Lastly, Dre’ Bly(notes) and Nate Clements(notes) blowing their horns like they just won a Super Bowl? Are you kidding me? It’s freakin’ August and it’s practice. Silver, why don’t you tell all your readers how long it’s been since the Niners went to the playoffs? Why don’t you post their record since ’02. Jackass.

Mark Alan Davis
Oakland, Calif.

I’m not sure if you’re related to the Raiders’ owner, or if you simply want to be, but I urge you to spend less time worrying about me and the 49ers and more time contemplating the toxic atmosphere that keeps the team you love from flourishing. If any other team in the NFL had an altercation like this it would be very big news, because our collective standards for the other 31 franchises are higher than for the one run by your (almost) namesake.


I challenge you to do an investigation into the other 31 NFL teams, just like you did here and speak only the true and not quote out of context like you did through everything you write towards the Raiders. Your bias, jealousy and hatred are well known.

Brent

I challenge you to give an accurate definition of “out of context” and explain where that term could possibly apply in the article.


Do you think Roger Goodell loses credibility if he doesn’t fine and suspend Cable for violating the personal conduct policy? Or are coaches above the players and rules? Personally, I think if it’s true that Cable hit the assistant while he wasn’t expecting it, then Tom Cable should be put to death by lethal injection. No place for cowards on this earth.

Donald Stubbs
Tatum, S.C.

Call me a Sissy Boy if you must, but that seems a tad extreme.


Love the last line of the Shaun Hill(notes) article. If Hill represents the cojones and grit of the head coach, that can only mean good things for this squad. I don’t expect extraordinary stats from him, but I’m glad he’s getting his shot.

Mike
San Jose, Calif.

If he can build upon his most important stat – a 7-3 record as a starter – you and Mike Singletary will both be very pleased.


Did you seriously write, “I want to go down with a guy like that” and “I like his balls” with a straight (pun intended) face?

Jared
Kobe, Japan

I did – and you’re good.


Hill! Him and Smith should just leave town and the NFL because neither one is an NFL quality QB and why the 49ers have put up with the two of them for the last three years just shows very poor judgment. If Eddie B was in charge they both would have never been signed. One thing Eddie B. liked was having a good or great QB.

Lee
San Jose, Calif.

Are you thinking of former 49ers owner “Eddie BeDartolo”? Because I’m pretty sure being called “Eddie B.” was one thing Eddie D. most certainly did not like.


Wow! What a truly touching, beautiful story you told of the life and death of former football star Derrick Thomas. I don’t follow football but am glad to have read your piece. I’m in awe … truly sad and truly amazing. He would have been my age had things not gone awry. Thank you for writing such a wonderful story about someone who touched your life so many wonderful ways.

Heather
Los Angeles

De nada. As always with Derrick, that column practically wrote itself.


Mr. Silver, your column – regarding D’Qwell Jackson(notes), Jeff Garcia(notes), Erin Andrews, other issues – made me once again regret the harsh tone I used in my very first e-mail to you. I now look as forward to your weekly columns as I do to Peter King’s. It’s nice to see sportswriters who “keep it real.” Keep it up, sir: you rock.

Bruce Norbeck
San Jose, Calif.

Thanks. When it comes to rewriting songs, no sportswriter rocks harder.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

I am the Lizard King. I can do anything – in brief, witty bursts via Mogotxt and Twitter. To the tune of the Doors’ “Tell All The People”:

Tell all the people that you see
Follow me
Follow me now
Tell all the people that you tweet
Feel the beat
Follow me now

You tell them they just have to click
To get my riffs on Michael Vick
Or my daughter’s soccer team
As the numbers grow it builds my self-esteem
Oh, yeah

Marvel at the humor in my tweets
Your day’s complete
Follow me now
Rampant narcissism can be fun
And I’m The One
So follow me now

Followers I blindly seek
Friday’s the best day of the week
Microblog celebrity
Supersedes integrity
Tell all the people that you see
It’s just me
Follow me now

Tell all the people that you see
Follow me
Follow me now
In the 21st century
It’s all free
Follow me now

Tell all the people that you see
It’s just me
Follow me now
Follow me now
You’ve got to follow me now
Follow me now
Tell all the people that you Tweet
Here’s fresh meat
Follow me now

Tell all the people that you see
Follow me
Got to follow me now …

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Aug 28, 2009