Nevertheless, James, who missed two games in 2002, rushed for 989 yards. He says he became a more savvy runner, explaining, "The game slowed down for me, which was great, because I needed every edge I could get. Before, I was just running on instinct."
He has gained perspective, too. Earlier in his career, when the yards came easily and he thought he was bulletproof, James spoke of quitting after six seasons and turning his life into an endless vacation. Now, humbled by the injury and heartened by the presence of Dungy, who runs a far more player-friendly operation than predecessor Jim Mora, James says he can envision playing "12 years, maybe 15. All the stuff away from football gets boring after a while; you realize there ain't s—to do."
During the summer, in his ongoing quest for amusement, James spent three weeks as the tour guide and de facto guardian for more than a dozen teenage boys from Immokalee, loading them into three vehicles and taking them to Atlanta and Indianapolis. During training camp he rented a bus and escorted 50 Indy-area youths on a two-day trip to Terre Haute, Ind., the Colts' summer home. On Sunday two of James's three daughters, Quisha, 6, and Eyahna, 2, were at the RCA Dome to see his big game. Someday the girls might appreciate that they saw their dad surpass 5,000 career rushing yards and register his 27th career 100-yard game in 54 regular-season tries.
Frustrated by his lack of action in the previous week's victory at Cleveland, in which he carried 15 times for 67 yards and caught five passes for 29 more, James forced the issue on Sunday. With the Colts leaning heavily on their no-huddle attack, James repeatedly lobbied Manning to audible to specific runs. On one such play early in the fourth quarter, on second-and-nine from the Titans' 39, James sprinted around left end and weaved his way through the Tennessee defense for 23 yards. While a holding penalty reduced the gain to 19 yards, a truer measure of the run's impact came as James returned to the huddle.
"Yo, Edge," Bulluck barked, "I'm going to have to let everyone know you're back."
"Hey, trust me," James replied, flashing his gold-toothed smile, "it's been a long time coming."