TAMPA — Edgerrin James spent the entire game next to the heater. Hey, it was cold in Philadelphia that night, and James wasn’t playing, so, what the heck?
Once among the most dangerous running backs in the NFL, James tried to cope with life as a backup this season, getting a single carry in one game, another carry the following week and not playing at all the week after that. It was, he said, a learning experience.
“You learn about sideline etiquette,” James said.
Huh? Sideline what?
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“It (depends) on who’s coming to the heater. If Fitz is coming to the heater, then you have to move over. Some guys, you got to move. I have a little seniority,” he said.
“Fitz” is Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is expected to have an impact on the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Guess who else will play a role?
And one of the reasons James is back is because of the way he handled his benching. He didn’t bellyache to the media. He didn’t throw a tantrum on the sideline. He continued to work hard in practice and stayed ready.
“That revealed his character,” Cardinals cornerback Eric Green said.
It is during those times when adversity is coming at you like the Pittsburgh defense when a person’s character is revealed.
“I wasn’t benched because I couldn’t play,” James said. “Everyone knows that. It was like, ‘The team is going in a different direction.’ I said, ‘(Darn), I wish I knew that earlier.’ But at the same time, I signed up for this. When you sign up for something, you either deal with it or you say, ‘I can’t take it.’ ”
Besides, James knows first hand what can happen to someone who doesn’t handle adversity well.
“I wasn’t raised to act up,” he said. “I have three brothers in prison because of the way they reacted.”
The different direction was rookie running back Tim Hightower, who pushed his way into the lineup Nov. 2 and ran for 109 yards that day against the Rams in St. Louis.
Hightower started every game the rest of the season, but the closest he came to matching his debut as a starter was 35 yards two weeks later at Seattle.
As the season wore on, Hightower found that the first player to meet him when he came off the field was the man whom he replaced.
“People don’t understand the half of what he went through, and they don’t understand the half of what he meant to me,” Hightower said.
“For me, he served as a friend, a mentor, a brother, a father, all in one. A teammate, a coach, all in one. It’s not very often you get to experience that much in one person at one time. I don’t know how he knows what he knows, but he knows something about everything. He’s not shy to share those things with me, trying to make me the best I can be.”
“In life you have to take the good with the bad,” James said. “Everything’s not always going to be good.”
It’s good now. James is back in the starting lineup, rushing for 203 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ three playoff games.
“I was just sitting there waiting and I continued to pratice and continued to do what I’ve always done,” James said. “All of a sudden, we’re back to doing what’s best for the team.”