James has plenty left in the tank

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Edgerrin James knows the angle, and you’ll have to forgive him for making a cutback move and refusing to play along.

Instead of buying into the convenient story line – that spending half a season getting less action than Bernard Madoff at a Jewish seniors dance left him spry and rested for the playoffs – the Arizona Cardinals halfback sees his recent reemergence in even simpler terms.

Photo James made enough of an impact last week.
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)

“You can call it ‘fresh legs’ if you want to,” James said Tuesday while kicking back at his rented Phoenix-area condo. “Everybody’s looking for a different reason to explain it. Nobody wants to say what it really is: Edge can [expletive] ball.”

Though James, the NFL’s leading active rusher with 12,121 career yards, didn’t have eye-popping numbers (16 carries, 73 yards) in the Cardinals’ 30-24 first-round playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons last Saturday, he gave Arizona enough of a threat to provide the balance coach Ken Whisenhunt’s offense had been lacking for much of the 2008 season.

With James grinding out yards and setting up play-action opportunities for star quarterback Kurt Warner, the Cards believe they’ve got a legitimate chance to upset the second-seeded Carolina Panthers in an NFC divisional playoff clash in Charlotte Saturday night.

“It’s about time,” injured Arizona linebacker Clark Haggans says of James’ return to the lineup, which began with the 30-year-old back’s 100-yard rushing effort in the team’s regular-season-ending victory over the Seahawks. “I was saying we needed more of him back in September, even when he was playing – like, why are we throwing it so much? Everybody on the outside was saying, ‘Oh Edge has lost it.’ The guys on the team were like, ‘No, he’s just chillin’ on the shelf.’ Because trust me, if you lose it, you don’t regain it.”

Considering the circumstances of what James calls the “bad [expletive] dream” he endured after losing his starting job in the middle of the season – things got so bad that he asked Cardinals general manager Rod Graves to release him – his revival is all the more remarkable.

“Just like everybody else, I’ve been watching the whole saga all year,” Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy says. “I saw him on the sidelines – arms folded, not happy – for most of the season. My heart goes out to him for the way he handled the situation, still trying to be a mentor.

“Unfortunately, when you get to a certain age, people think you can’t do it anymore. But when the opportunity came he made the most of it. He’s running the way he was running when I was playing against him twice a year in the AFC East. He’s not staying behind the line of scrimmage; he’s making one cut and hitting the hole. When he does that, you have to start honoring the run at some point. You can just stay back in zone and try to stay on top of the receivers. They’re getting more balanced at the right time.”

As with the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb, whose reemergence as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback probably wouldn’t have been possible without backup Kevin Kolb struggling in a relief appearance, James knows his return to the lineup was done more out of necessity than as part of some grand plan. Rookie Tim Hightower’s struggles – he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the regular season and hasn’t had more than 35 yards in a game since Nov. 2 – left Whisenhunt with little choice than to lean on the veteran with the season on the line.

What’s more striking is that Whisenhunt got James so involved in the team’s attack. Against the Falcons, Arizona opened its second drive of the game with three consecutive running plays, and James gained 21 yards. On the fourth play, James took a handoff and pitched it back to Warner, who hit Larry Fitzgerald with a 42-yard touchdown pass off the perfectly set up trick play.

“It shows they’re serious about trying to win,” James says of the lineup switch. “Earlier in the season, when we were throwing it all the time, there was no place for me. I’m no scatback. Some guys can sit back there, carry every once in awhile and have a few plays where you’re tackled for loss and some no-gainers and all of a sudden bust off a 70-yarder, and it looks like a good day. My thing is to give you four [yards], four, four, five, three and wear you down. Put me in that position, and I can give people hell.”

That sounds like a reasonable description of what James did during his seven years in Indianapolis, which included back-to-back NFL rushing titles in his first two seasons. Also a gifted receiver, the former University of Miami standout was the perfect complement to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, but he left as a free agent following the ’05 campaign and signed a four-year, $30-million deal with the Cardinals.

Despite feeling uncomfortable in Denny Green’s offense in ’06 and, after the coach was fired and replaced by Whisenhunt, again in ’07, James managed to grind out consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Only 10 players have more career-rushing yardage than James, who approached the ’08 campaign as though it was an opportunity to clinch a Hall of Fame induction.

“I worked harder than ever in the offseason and spent more time here than I ever had in the past,” says James, who typically trains with his old strength and conditioning coach, Miami’s Andreu Swasey, in the spring and early summer. “This year, even during the season, I picked up my [weight-lifting regimen] to make sure my legs would be stronger. I mean, this is what I’ve waited for my whole career – to be able to pass up the Jim Browns and the Tony Dorsetts and some of the greatest men ever to play this game.”

Yet after carrying seven times for 17 yards in a 27-23 defeat to the Panthers in late October, James lost his starting job to Hightower and all but disappeared from the team’s attack. He sat out three of the next eight games and, in the other five, carried just 11 times.

Though James tried to have some fun with his predicament, joking with his teammates about becoming an expert in sideline etiquette (“You’ve got to stand by the coaches when the offense takes the field, then move over to the side when they come back off”), he made no attempt to hide his displeasure to his superiors. Eventually, he asked Graves to cut him in the hope of hooking on with another playoff contender. When the GM refused, James resisted the urge to make a scene, instead concentrating on mentoring Hightower, with whom he has a good relationship, and looking ahead to a likely escape from Arizona after the season.

“I asked to be released because I didn’t want to be a dark cloud,” James says. “I’m not a guy who’s gonna walk around like, ‘Yeah, I’m fifth on the depth chart – let’s go!’ You had other teams with winning records that needed somebody to carry the ball. I’m like, ‘I’m here.’ I could’ve been in South Florida, or somewhere where I fit what they’re trying to do.

Photo James took no pleasure in being a spectator.
(Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

“In my early years, to have that set up – to get paid without getting hit – I’d have been all over it. I’d have been all smiles. I’d have thrown so many [expletive] parties, you would’ve had to wake me up in meetings. But that’s not where I’m at right now. I was angry. And it’s a good thing it wasn’t happening to someone else in my family, ‘cause there’s a reason I have some brothers in prison right now. Because if they get done wrong, they react. One of my brothers would’ve went the [expletive] off.”

However, James disputes an assertion in a recent Arizona Republic article that he nearly quit and walked away during his time on the bench, staying with the team only because he got a few carries here and there.

“That’s a misinterpretation,” James says. “No way did I consider quitting. I’ve seen players back down because they’re financially strapped, but I’m not in that position – they could’ve come after some of my [signing bonus] and that wouldn’t have stopped me from walking away. What stopped me is this: I’d hate for my son one day to pull up clips from 2008 and say, ‘Hey, Edge walked away.’ If I was trying to stress to him that it’s important to stick with things, and he saw that? I’m not going to give my son that kind of ammunition.”

Now James has once again become a viable weapon for a team with three 1,000-yard receivers, two of which (Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin) were chosen as starters in the Pro Bowl. Two victories away from the Super Bowl, a game that has so far eluded him, James swears he has no regrets.

“Where we’re at right now, I wouldn ‘t trade this position for anything,” he says. “To be in the playoffs for the Arizona Cardinals, one of four teams left [in the NFC], getting ready for a huge game – this is exactly where I want to be. I’m just trying to live for the moment. All of that [expletive] I went through, to get me right here? I’ll take it all.”

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Keyed by their defensive captain, Keith Bulluck, and their unabashed ballhawk, Cortland Finnegan, the Titans will eke out a victory over the Ravens on a late Rob Bironas field goal. … Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson will shine in his home state, and his team will stun the Panthers in Charlotte Saturday night. … It wouldn’t be a truly provocative Gameface without me picking against the Eagles and Chargers, so here goes – both teams will play valiantly in defeat on Sunday.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Start spreading the news … That’s right, I’m headed back to the unparalleled American metropolis where I began the 2008 season, this time with a warmer coat (you’ll have to read on to find out what kind of material it’s made of) and a healthier body (I was battling strep throat, which ultimately kept me home for the season’s first Sunday). And the Giants and Eagles should put on one hell of a show in Jersey on Sunday.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Narc-ing on Bill Belichick will turn out to be a terrible career move for Eric Mangini.

2. Even though Matt Millen was great on TV before he became the Detroit Lions’ president, and even though he’s terrific now, he shouldn’t be allowed to appear on-air as an NFL analyst.

3. Millen will also co-host a talk show on Detroit’s WDFN with this guy.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

I may not have enough faith in the Chargers for some people’s tastes, but I will never doubt the team’s awesome public relations staff after they helped dig me out of a huge hole at home. The background: After my brand new leather jacket disappeared from a Pacific Beach bar last Saturday night, I remained hopeful that we’d somehow be united. And while I wrote about the traumatic occurrence in Monday’s column, the fact that the jacket was missing managed to escape notice from my wife, who had given it to me for Christmas, as I embarked upon an exhaustive and futile search to purchase a replacement. Despite enlisting the help of my fashionista brother-in-law, Mark Tourgeman, the jacket model in question seemed no longer to exist. I was starting to give up hope on Tuesday afternoon when the email published below arrived, and just in the knick of time: A couple of hours later I returned home from taking my daughter to soccer practice to encounter a visibly peeved spouse, who had been alerted to the column by her friend June Wood. The email:

“Most stories that start with a sad ending usually conclude with a happy ending … reports out of Pacific Beach, California confirm that it is indeed the case of the Missing Leather Jacket Caper, a jacket that Mr. Silver received for Christmas that was apparently lost with a pair of prescription designer sunglasses at RT’s Longboard Grill following the San Diego Chargers’ 23-17 overtime playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts.

Exhaustive research and investigation has discovered that Sheila, the female acquaintance of Chargers Ticket Associate Brad Stewart, accidentally walked out of Longboards with Silver’s jacket, as well as one belonging to Chargers Managing Editor of Website and Publications, Casey Pearce. Once Brad and Sheila recovered from their inebriated state on Sunday morning, they discovered the mysterious jackets in the back seat of Stewart’s truck and wondered aloud how they had gotten there. Like good citizens, they promptly returned them to Longboards, only to discover on Monday that in fact the jackets were those of Silver and Pearce. On Tuesday, Sheila went back to Longboards and recovered the by-now well-traveled menswear. Mr. Stewart plans to secure the jackets from Ms. Sheila on Tuesday evening and return them to Messrs. Pearce and Yoffe on Wednesday.

If the reunion goes as planned, Mr. Silver, his leather jacket and his prescription sunglasses will be reunited this weekend in the Steel City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Mr. Silver will no longer have to explain to Mrs. Silver how his Christmas present disappeared from Pacific Beach at 1:30 am. Truly a Happy Ending for All.

Sincerely,

Scott Yoffe

Chargers Assistant PR Director, Storyteller and Missing Jacket Investigator”

The postscript: Thanks to the diligence of Chargers PR assistant Jen Rojas, I’ll be wearing the jacket on my flight to New York City on Friday. As for my wife, she’s all for happy endings – but she issues this cautionary claim: “I’d have been a little upset if you’d lost the jacket. But I’d have been really mad if I’d found out you’d spent a bunch of money on another jacket to try to cover it up.”

Thank you, Chargers. And thank you, leather gods.

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Steve Leventhal, the longtime L.A. County Court Commissioner and L.A. City prosecutor, who passed away suddenly last weekend while watching a playoff game. In addition to having an exceptionally sharp legal mind, Steve had the restraint not to bust out his gavel when I spent time with his lovely daughter (and/or her lovely little sister) during our childhood and beyond. He will be sorely missed by a large and loving family and many close friends.

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

Haas Pavilion experienced The Full Monty last weekend, as the Golden Bears (14-2) opened the Pac-10 season with victories over Arizona and then-No. 17 Arizona State. New coach Mike Montgomery – or, as my friends are calling him, the Best Thing Since Beer – has Cal playing like a bona-fide NCAA tournament contender, and junior point guard Jerome Randle may be the nation’s most improved player. On Thursday, the first-place Bears – picked to finish eighth in the conference – improved to 3-0 in the conference and won their eighth straight overall with a 57-50 victory at Washington State.

Meanwhile, Cal’s other awesome hoops coach, Joanne Boyle, has her 13th-ranked Bears tied for first after Thursday night’s 68-45 drubbing of Washington State. Senior forward Ashley Walker scored 25 points, moving into second place on the school’s career scoring list, and pulled down 10 rebounds. The Bears began the Pac-10 season with last weekend’s road sweep of Arizona and ASU. The latter victory came in thrilling fashion, as Walker’s steal and layup with 1.8 seconds left gave Cal a 54-53 triumph. Translation: This could be the most memorable March in Berkeley (no, not that kind of march) in a long, long time.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

One team’s tragic toll

ROLLIN’ WITH THE ROYALS

Reading was bounced from the FA Cup in a 2-0 defeat to Football League Championship rival Cardiff City, allowing a pair of second-half goals in a game that saw American midfielder Bobby Convey get his first extensive action in months. The Royals, still second in the Football League Championship table on goal differential, return to league action Friday against Watford at Madejski Stadium. The team’s other American, keeper Marcus Hahnemann, remains out with the calf injury, which he suffered four weeks ago against Blackpool. (And yes, I’ll start paying closer attention to these guys after the Super Bowl.)

TRIPPIN’ ON E(MAIL)

“I just wanted to say that you are the biggest jackass I ever heard of. You have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to Philly. Maybe you should read a little bit and watch them before you make any more stupid predictions about teams winning and losing in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Have a great new year and remember E-A-G-L-E-S all the way with their momentum.”

Paul
Manahawkin, N.J.

Yo, Paul, let me ask you this: If I had read more a few weeks ago, would that have convinced me that the Raiders would beat the Bucs on the final weekend to allow the Eagles a shot at the playoffs in the first place? You do realize that when I pick the Eagles to win and they are unsuccessful, fans of the opposing team line up to call me “jackass” (though perhaps not quite so forcefully)?


“From all of San Diego to you Mike Silver: You know nothing about the Chargers and you clearly know nothing about football. Eat your words!”

Megan Eriksen
San Diego

Can I wash them down with some Dos Equis and Don Julio at the Shore Club?


Frauds, my ass. Told you so!”

Cath Bovenizer
San Diego

Ladies, ladies! It must be that time of the year … playoff time.


“I hate to say I told you so, … not really I’m actually enjoying it. Next time you write an article about the Bolts, watch them play …”

Richard
location unknown

I actually watched them play quite a bit this season. I saw them attempt an onside kick that, if Dwayne Bowe had held on to it, would have ended their season. I saw them holding hands on the sidelines praying that Kansas City’s Connor Barth’s 50-yard field goal on the final play would miss. I admire your faith in the Chargers, and they certainly exceeded my expectations against the Colts. But spare me the whole ‘How could anyone have questioned this team?’ rap.


“Michael, I play a game against you all year long to see if I can pick more winners by the end of regular season. However, I missed getting your total W-L score. Could you help me out here? Thank you very much!”

Larry
Perris, CA

Yes. Read more about the Chargers and E-A-G-L-E-S, and pick them every week.


“Wow, you demonstrated amazing prescience in absolutely nailing the Cardinals-Falcons game. When I first began reading you several years ago, I thought that you were aloof and sassy for its own sake, but I’ve come to see that your articles are consistently thoughtful, astute, eloquent, witty, admirably detached, and extremely knowledgeable. Increasingly, I am of the view that you’re the best football writer in the country. Happy New Year and how do you see the Broncos doing next year?”

Joshua
Seattle

It’s tough to give you a Broncos assessment without knowing who the coach will be, but any team with a franchise quarterback, stud left tackle and pair of young standout receivers has a chance to do some damage. And, in general, I appreciate your growing sense of clarity.


“Great take on the Colts’ aching loss last weekend. I read a lot about how Manning choked (he didn’t play great, but he did not ‘choke’); how Sproles ran over the Colts (he did fine, but any back runs for 100 yards against us). I have read about the referees (Ron Winter does take his job a wee bit too serious, but that did not kill us – we have been ‘jobbed’ before as every team has and still have won). The critical difference in this game was the freaking punter of the Chargers! I mean I have seen special teams win games but never have I seen a punter single-handedly and tactically beat a team before until Sat night. No one in a hostile environment could survive an artillery barrage like the Colts suffered – that last one that bounced ninety degrees out at the 1 was biblical! This dude is not in the Pro Bowl? I am amazed that the Colts even had the lead. Our D played heroically and sans the OT drive, the Chargers scored all 17 points from a short field. I mean if ‘Golden Boot’ just hit one or two average punts I strongly believe we pull it out. Keep up the great work.”

Kevin
Indianapolis

Thanks for the kind words – and for the remarkably evolved handling of your disappointment.


“Mr. Silver: After spending three glorious days in San Diego, highlighted by the stunning Chargers victory over the Colts, it was off to the airport and back to reality. Sunday evening lining up in the security line and dreading the thought of leaving the ‘best city’ in the world, I was surprised to see you up ahead in line, obviously heading back to reality as well. I did notice you were wearing only a T-shirt and would have offered you my black leather jacket, but I need to save it for next week’s Chargers-Steelers game as it will most likely be colder than you know what. … Hopefully your Christmas present is found and returned, because: first that really sucks, and second if you’re heading to Pittsburgh next weekend you’ll need it! I would have enjoyed talking to you at the airport, but you were on your phone, and I was running to my flight. I enjoyed your article on the Chargers victory, it brought tears of joy to me again recounting the events of Sat. evening, just like on Saturday evening from Section 33 at Qualcomm, when Sproles bolted to the end zone, and hearing Dan Rowe’s call and Hank Bauer replayed on the radio over and over. Keep up the great commentary! Now back to reality, where is that damn report I need to file? … Devin P.S. If by chance I am back in SD in two weeks for the AFC championship (only if Baltimore beats Tenn. and of course my Bolts take down the Steelers), I’ll check the lost and found at the Pacific Beach’s Longboard Grill.”

Devin Valentine
Vacaville, Calif.

No need (see above) – but if the Ravens and Chargers do end up sending me to Longboard’s the night before the game, come see me and I’ll definitely buy you a beer (with the money I was going to spend on the replacement jacket).


“I didn’t realize that genuine leather was so hard to burn …”

Dewey Weber
San Diego

Ouch. Stay classy, San Diego.


“Mr. Silver – in the event you don’t get your leather jacket back … what’ s your size? I own four leather jackets, but the sleeve size is about 48 (I’m a little over 6’2” and 250 lbs.) For the most thought-provoking sportswriter online (even if I don’t agree with you 50 percent of the time), I’d be willing to part with one if you don’t get yours back … and if the dimensions of the jackets would work for you. From one leather-jacket and NFL fan to another.”

Jared X. Thomas
Lynnwood, Wash.

First of all, thank you for the offer – and for restoring my faith in humanity. Secondly, if we ever have an email exchange that seems combative, realize that it’s nothing personal. (I say this because none of what we discuss here is worth fighting over – and because, although we are the same height, you outweigh me by a good 60 pounds.)


“Hi Michael, I seriously almost fell out of my wheelchair at your FOTC reference. ‘Business Time’ is a classic. Love your column. Keep up the good work. Jeff Hayne p.s. Bear down!

Jeff
Minneapolis

Thanks, man – and I’m really glad your email contained the word “almost.”


“Colts whining about penalties, there’s a shocker! Will we get a Freeney rule now, you have to give DE free access to the QB at least twice a game? Polian to the rescue.”

Jo
Boston

Ha, Polian deserves that. But in terms of whining about penalties, Chargers fans – albeit with cause – have done their fair share post-Hochuli. Still, Mike Holmgren, his players and Seahawks fans (sorry, Jared X!) post-Super Bowl XL remain the all-time champions.


“this is not question i hope that payton manning don’t never win another super bowel an that is a fact”

John Eder
Glencoe, Ala.

I definitely hope that if Peyton Manning has anything to do with a super bowel, I am nowhere near him when that happens.


Liked your Warner article. I’m a biased St. Louis fan. He’s hall of fame in my book. He’s almost too good for the hall of fame. It’d be disrespectful to his character not for Kurt to be a unanimous first-ballot selection. Had to compete for every scrap he got and performed at the highest levels on field and off. Name a better ambassador for life, NFL, etc etc. When he had those hand injuries – I wish the Rams would have benched him until he was healthy and put him back in when healthy. Story of St. Louis football – only one man has quarterbacked a St. Louis team to the Super Bowl and he did it twice – and still they dumped him. Duh! Isaac Bruce – best receiver in Rams history and they dump him too. Duh! Go Cards!”

Mike Mallery
St. Louis

Thanks. If a St. Louis resident is rooting Bill Bidwill’s franchise to succeed, Warner must be a really powerful motivating force.


“Good to see your mention of the knighting of Reading FC ‘founder’ John Madejski. Perhaps this is also recognition of his extraordinary longevity, given that the club was founded in 1871!”

Tony Dolton
Berkshire, England

Clearly, he is not the founder. And, just as clearly, I am lost.


“Mr. Silver: Thank you for reviving the journalistic tradition of doggerel and giving it a contemporary spin by riffing on popular songs. Pairing Bill Parcells with Social Distortion was inspired. Any chance we’ll see you perform some of your altered song dedications via podcast in 2009?”

Terence
New York, N.Y.

If so, I fear it would probably be called something that sounds like “doggerel” but is descriptive of something one might find on the bottom of his/her shoe.


“You are truly the best out there. I’ve attempted to write this each time I stumble across your column [like 10 times], I’m always entertained and informed. You are creative, funny and your retorts are classic! … love your crowd control. You must’ve hung out with a few brothers in your day … LOL But the power of your words and energy comes from your compassion. Through your columns I deeply feel your compassion for the game. And through your words I truly feel your compassion for the players. This is uncommon and much respect to you and your perspective. You are a rare breed and extremely talented. Thanks Michael, I’m a fan. Alonzo”

Alonzo
South Bay, Calif.

Thanks, man. I always knew hanging with the brothers (and sisters) would pay off.


Your Bone Thugs N Harmony reference to Big Ben was absolute genius! Best rap group in history … although I found it odd coming from you … you don’t seem like a hip hop kind of guy?

Randy Thiara
Hayward, Calif.

Like I said, I knew it would pay off.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

I confess that I am not heavily into Caribbean spiritual divination, an admission that some of you might cite as proof of my inability to predict recent games involving San Diego and Philadelphia. I did have a pretty decent season at the ol’ palm-reading booth, though it was far from Sublime, which brings us to our musical selection. I can’t sing like the late, great Bradley Nowell, but if I could, I’d come with something like this to explain exactly what I got – to the tune of “Santeria.”

I don’t practice Santeria
I ain’t got no crystal ball
Well, I picked 256 games and
I guessed ‘em all
But hey I dissed the Eagles, thought they’d get beat by the ‘Boys
Well I put my faith in Romo and my, it annoys you

What I really wanna know, my readers
Do you really think I have to pick your team?
Are you seeking affirmation, oh?
Do predictions soothe you?

If I think the Favre trade was a good one for the Pack
Cheeseheads gonna get up in arms
You felt the Jets,
felt the Jets,
felt the Jets until Brett hit the wall,
oh, yeah huh, well I told y’all

Do you really think we know, the future?
If I pick the wrong winner should I be fired?
Grow up, let it go
We’re talkin’ football …

Ohhh, what I really wanna say, sports fans,
What I really wanna say is I’ve got mine
and I’ll make it, yes, I’m goin’ to …

The Super Bowl
So if you know what is good for you, y’all better recognize
Daddy’s gonna drink with McNabb
And all the dudes I picked against will smile and give me dap
Believe me when I say that I laugh ‘cause you’re so sensitive

What I really wanna know, good people
Oh what I really wanna say is it’s just fun,
Attack, and I’ll take it, yeah
But go easy on the hate
Yeah, yeah, yeah