Jesse Craig James was born January 2, 1961, in Jacksonville, Texas, and would grow up in the Houston, Texas area.
In high school, James led his team to the Texas class 4A championship football team, setting the single-season Texas 4A rushing record with 2,411 yards gained in 15 games. James also played baseball and was offered a contract by the New York Yankees out of high school, but chose football instead.
James was heavily recruited out of high school and ultimately chose Southern Methodist University, where the national player of the year Eric Dickerson had also decided on. The running back duo would become known as "The Pony Express" and one of the best backfield's in college football history.
James actually outgained Dickerson 761 to 477 in their freshmen season. In the 1980 Holiday Bowl, James had 225 yards rushing on a 9.9 yard per carry average. But Dickerson would ultimately prove to be the go-to back and James figured out other ways to help the team. He returned kicks and even became the team's punter, finishing sixth in the nation in punting.
James played on SMU teams that were involved in "under the table payments" to players in the 70s and much of the 80s. in 2012, James admitted to receiving insignificant gifts while playing at SMU. SMU received the death penalty from the NCAA for the scandal.
After his senior season, James was drafted by the Washington Federals of the USFL. Despite signing with the Federals, the New England Patriots also drafted the rights to James in 1983 in the 7th round. James' first year with the Patriots was the 1984-1985 season. In 1985-1986 James was a Pro Bowl player, rushing for 1,227 yards. That was the last time a white NFL player cracked the 1,000-yard mark until Peyton Hillis did it in 2010.
James was plagued by injuries and retired from the NFL after the 1988 season, having rushed for 2,469 yards and eleven touchdowns in his five seasons with the Patriots. He also had 819 yards receiving and two touchdown catches. He would then go into radio and TV broadcasting and pursued a career in politics.
Happy birthday, Craig James.