Remembering Bradie James

7 Oct 2000: Bradie James #11 of Louisiana State Tigers calls out a play during the game against the Florida Gators - Scott Halleran/Getty Images Sport

Remembering Bradie James, the first LSU athlete I truly loved.

Yesterday, former LSU superstar Bradie James signed a one-day contract with the Dallas Cowboys and officially retired from the NFL after a long and productive career. James played last season for the Houston Texans, but the previous nine seasons of his career were all played in Dallas. The article denotes that he finished his career with 1,000 career tackles, including a season with 202 tackles, which must be a team-inflated stat, because none of his profiles indicate as much. NFL.com lists James finishing with 821 career tackles, 16 career sacks, 2 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and 1 touchdown.

It's really no matter, because Bradie James' NFL career carries no bearings on my thoughts and feelings about him. As a kid, I remember hearing a lot about LSU. My grandmother worked in the Athletic Department and she talked about Joe Dean and brought home an autographed picture of Gerry Dinardo, who she claimed was the nicest man, even if he couldn't coach (her opinion). I was an LSU fan by birth. Both of my folks attended LSU during the Shaq days. My grandma would tell stories of seeing Shaq playing pick-up ball on campus. My parents talked about seeing him roaming the mall, towering above the pedestrians. His presence was larger than life in my household. Both my grandfather and my great grandfather were diehard LSU football fans, but funny enough, I can hardly remembering watching LSU football as a child. I remember hearing of Tommy Hodson and how great he was, but little else. There's a picture of me dressed up in an LSU football uniform that I wore for Halloween, complete with plastic helmet.

But, being a military brat, I was up and moved away from Baton Rouge at a young age and off to Mississippi, then California, then North Dakota and finally Oklahoma. In California I developed an affinity for baseball, collecting Starting Lineup Figures. We lived in Northern California and in a time before baseball games were nationally televised pretty much every single night the choice was pretty simple for me: Giants or Braves. The Braves, because they played on TBS. I attached myself to the Braves, the team I probably have the longest fandom of to this day. 1995 proved a glorious year in my childhood. I collected baseball cards, gathering as many Chipper Jones cards as I could. My father built a plaque for me, stained wood, etched out Braves in the top and glued in a portion of the Braves wallpaper trim I had in my bedroom. On the plaque were 1995 Leaf baseball cards of the entire Braves starting lineup, as well as a few pitchers, in hard cases. The plaque sits in my parents basement today and will someday be featured in some type of sports room I put together of all my collectibles.

Next I adopted the NBA. I, like most 90s kids, obsessed over Michael Jordan, fawning at his greatness. My parents bought me jerseys, t-shirts, caps, you name it. Because of Michael Jordan, I was certain I would play in the NBA someday. I played traveling basketball and I was a post, despite never topping 6'1". It was mostly a sign of my lack of athletic ability. We moved to Oklahoma and my interest in basketball and baseball waned a bit. I became obsessed with professional wrestling, which I also loved as a young child. The Attitude Era drew me in, just like any number of young men and women from my generation. It was cool and funny to see wrestler's swear and beat up their bosses and so on and so forth.

Yet, by high school, I reached that point of accommodation. I was perpetually an outsider, not so much because I was strange or disliked, but just in the sense that was I moved four times in 14 years and constantly in the process of building new friendships. I hated it as a kid, but I look back now and think it probably spawned a lot of the positive traits in me today. But in high school, I desperately wanted to be liked. I was a good kid - never drank, partied, did drugs. That wasn't my scene. I got heavily involved in my local church, but I could see the true avenue to being a "made man" was to know sports and chief among them, football.

So I started to watch football. I tripped to Norman to watch Oklahoma play Ell Roberson and Kansas State. I cheered for Oklahoma that day, before deciding I loathed them, namely for the asshattery that defines most of their fans. If you have not interacted with Oklahoma fans, just imagine what a cousin of an Alabama fan is like. I somewhat rooted for Oklahoma State to rebel against the monster that was OU, there in the midst of their sensational 2001 National Title run, but that proved rather unsatisfying. Let me tell you that cheering for Aso Pogi isn't my idea of a good time. In hindsight, it's funny that those are the teams I'd utilize to become acquainted with college football, since they were coached by the man that would go on to eventually lead LSU football.

I had a decision to make and I knew it was time to re-associate myself with my roots. So I threw myself into LSU football, partially to endear myself to my peers through the vehicle of football, partially to play the antagonistic voice in the flood of crimson and cream nonsense... "OTHER PEOPLE PLAY GOOD FOOTBALL TOO, YA KNOW!" I somewhat remember watching LSU get their teeth kicked in by Florida in 2000, what of Josh Booty's three picks after Rohan Davey went down with injury, following a dominant performance against Tennessee. It's the first time LSU football broke my heart. I was too novice to realize we weren't on Florida's level at the time, but I just knew this Rohan Davey guy could take us anywhere.

I didn't much keep up, though. By 2001, I was sold. Davey was healthy and we were good, really good. I remember listening to the Alabama game on the radio, you know, the one where Josh Reed went bat shit, catching 19 passes for 293 yards. I remember chuckling with glee with my dad. HE CAUGHT EVERYTHING. On New Year's Day we played an outmatched Illinois and slept walk through the 2nd half to a 13-point victory.

But those teams weren't all offense either. Two linebackers were garnering national acclaim: Trev Faulk and Bradie James. I would later learn that James was part of a recruiting movement that turned LSU into the force that it is today, but at the time, he was a standout star, almost singular in his presence. I remember other players on that defense, but only as names and bodies and not so much as forces like James and Faulk. But let's be clear: Trev Faulk was good, Bradie James was special.

Bradie James won Defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl after being a 2nd team All-SEC player as a sophomore. We knew he was good really early and he somehow just kept getting better. By 2002, he was the first two-time, first-team All-SEC linebacker at LSU since Warren Capone in the 70s. He was an All-American. He notched 154 tackles, a record that stands today. The defense was affectionately known as "The James Gang," not just because of his stellar play, but because he was also a sensational leader. And hell, if all that wasn't enough, he was a National Scholar Athlete and a member of the SEC Academic Honor. Before Patrick Peterson was the well-rounded tour de force exemplar of all LSU athletes, Bradie James was that guy.

And you know what, Bradie James is a class act. His mother died of breast cancer during that fabulous 2001 season, so Bradie started Foundation 56, dedicated to providing access to services and resources for breast cancer patients and survivors. Did I mention that his father also passed just months after his mother? His mother gave up her health insurance and medical treatment so that her husband could use the money to battle his own liver disease.

Bradie James was the first LSU hero I can remember having, and it's always fun to see your childhood idols live up to the lofty reputations you assign to them.

Congrats, Bradie James. Job well done.

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