Craig James (running back)
Prior to becoming a sportscaster, James was a professional football player for the New England Patriots of the National Football League and for the Washington Federals of the United States Football League. He ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in Texas in 2012, but was defeated in the first round of the Republican primary.
James was born in Jacksonville, Texas, in 1961 and grew up in the Houston, Texas area. When he was in the first grade, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother and brother (former Major League Baseball player Chris James) to Pasadena, Texas. James has talked about growing up witnessing his mother being abused and struggling financially to support her sons.
James attended Stratford High School in Houston, where he was a star running back on their 1978 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 on his high school baseball team and was offered a contract by the New York Yankees out of high school to play first base in the minor leagues, but chose to pursue a football career instead.
James was heavily recruited out of high school and decided to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. James stated that he decided on SMU because his girlfriend at the time (and future wife), Marilyn, was already a freshman student there. Parade's national high school running back of the year, Eric Dickerson, as well as a large number of blue-chip recruits, also signed with SMU in 1979. The star running back tandem was to become known as "The Pony Express", and the tandem would alternate possessions throughout their four-year careers at SMU.
In his freshman year in 1979, James proved more reliable than Dickerson, outgaining him 761 yards to 477, and was named the Southwest Conference's Offensive Newcomer of the Year. In the 1980 Holiday Bowl (later known as the "Miracle Bowl"), James' offensive production of 225 rushing yards and 9.9 yards/carry were not enough as SMU lost the Holiday Bowl, though he set records that stood for 13 and 15 years respectively.
By 1982, while the pair continued to alternate possessions at tailback, Dickerson had established himself as the featured back as he carried 232 times for 1,617 yards compared to James running 197 times for 938 yards. James found other ways to contribute to the team as he took over punting duties midway through the year after the regular punter was injured, and finished sixth in the nation in punting. That year, he also scored on a 96-yard touchdown reception to set a new record as the longest scoring play in Southwest Conference history.
James played on the 1981 SMU team that won the Southwest Conference title while being on NCAA probation as a result of recruiting violations dating back to the mid-1970s. In later years, SMU was further caught up in the Southern Methodist University football scandal, which involved payments to players in the 1983 recruiting class, with such payments improperly continuing while SMU was again on probation in 1985 and 1986. As a result of the repeated violations, SMU received the "death penalty" from the NCAA, shutting down the program in 1987 and 1988. Neither James' recruitment nor his participation in the SMU football program were cited by the NCAA in levying sanctions against SMU.
In 2012, James admitted to having received what he called "an insignificant amount" of improper gifts while playing at SMU. He has always denied that improper financial inducements had anything to do with his decision to attend SMU.
Professional football career
Washington Federals (USFL)
After his senior season, James was drafted by the Washington Federals of the USFL with the fourth overall pick in the spring league's inaugural draft in 1983. James signed with the Federals to a series of four guaranteed one-year deals. He stated that he decided to join the USFL rather than the NFL because of a desire to be a "pioneer" to a new league, similar to what he and Dickerson did at SMU. Despite already being signed to the Federals, the New England Patriots, who were coached by James' former SMU coach Ron Meyer, drafted the rights to James in the seventh round of the 1983 NFL Draft.
His first pro season in Washington saw James and the Feds struggle to a 4–10 record. He started all 14 games and rushed for 823 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes out of the backfield that season. The following year, 1984, James suffered a knee injury on March 4, in a game at RFK against the Philadelphia Stars. He was placed on injured reserve later that week. James was released by the cash-strapped Federals a month later, allowing him to join the Patriots for their training camp in August that year.
New England Patriots (NFL)
In James' first year with the Patriots in the 1984–85 season, he was initially a backup to Tony Collins under his old coach Meyer. When Meyer was fired after a 5–3 start to the season, new coach Raymond Berry made James the starting running back and he finished the year as the Patriots' leading rusher with 790 yards.
In the 1985–86 season, James started at running back all season and rushed for 1,227 yards and was selected for the Pro Bowl. He was the last white player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season until Peyton Hillis reached that mark in 2010. In week 2 against the Chicago Bears he caught a 90-yard touchdown pass from Tony Eason which was the longest touchdown from scrimmage in Patriots history at the time. He was a major factor in the Patriots' 31–14 upset win over the Miami Dolphins in the AFC title game, rushing for a career postseason high of 105 yards. However, he was dominated by the Chicago Bears' defense in Super Bowl XX, which held him to only one yard on five carries.
James struggled to continue his Pro Bowl form in the 1986–87 season, finishing with just 427 yards on 154 carries. At the end of the year, he had surgery to repair his right shoulder after suffering from recurrent dislocations during the year. James returned for the start of the 1987–88 season, but got just three carries in the first two games of the year before being was shut down with another shoulder injury.
After gaining 15 yards on four carries and 14 catches for 171 yards in the first six games of the 1988–89 season, James suffered from posterior shoulder dislocations and underwent surgery in October, missing the remainder of the season. James 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 receiving yards and two touchdown catches, and completed three of six pass attempts, with all three completions going for touchdowns.
Radio and television career
After his retirement from play in 1989, James went on to become a radio analyst for SMU college football games, then the sports anchor for KDFW-TV. During this time, he also appeared on ESPN as a studio analyst on the College GameDay and College Football Scoreboard programs. James worked the Game Day Desk with Lee Corso and would pick up the nickname Mustang Breath from Lee in the 'Not So Fast' segment on their pick 'em segment. In 1996, he joined CBS, where he served as a studio analyst on College Football Today as well as The NFL Today programs before becoming a game analyst on NFL on CBS. During his CBS stint, he served as a reporter during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship as well as the 1998 Winter Olympics. In 2003, James moved to ABC. He served as a studio analyst on their college football coverage through the 2008 season. James also appears as an analyst on ESPN's Thursday night package as well as other college football programs such as College Football Live. He then teamed with Mike Patrick and sideline reporter Heather Cox as game analyst for the 2009 season, working ESPN on ABC Saturday afternoon broadcasts, while still working the Thursday night package. On December 19, 2011, James announced that he was leaving ESPN to run for the United States Senate.
James also operates his own broadcasting school, eponymously called the Craig James School of Broadcasting.
James said in 1998 that the Wisconsin Badgers were "the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl." Wisconsin went on to defeat #6 UCLA 38–31 in the 1999 Rose Bowl. Afterward, Badger coach Barry Alvarez fired back, "Well, I know we're at least the second worst."
James is a voter in the AP college football poll, and has received some attention and criticism for his reported tendency to give low votes to teams from outside the Automatic Qualifying conferences, such as Boise State and TCU.
On August 30, 2013, Fox Sports Southwest announced that it had hired James as a college football analyst and co-host of the network's college football studio show. On September 2, after only one appearance, Fox Sports Southwest abruptly cut ties with James before he'd formally signed a contract. Reportedly, Fox Sports officials were displeased that James' hire had not been vetted. Additionally, The Dallas Morning News reported that Fox Sports officials were upset at anti-same sex marriage statements James made during his Senate run. On February 25, 2014, Liberty Institute filed suit on James' behalf against Fox, claiming he was fired for his religious beliefs. Also in 2014 James joined the Family Research Council as assistant to president Tony Perkins intending to "fight the kind of 'religious bigotry' [James] blames for his firing by Fox".
Texas Tech controversy
James' son, Adam, was the center of the controversy that resulted in Texas Tech suspending, and later firing, head football coach Mike Leach shortly before the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Leach allegedly had Adam twice stand in a shed for two hours during practice. James in response had gone directly to the chancellor Kent Hance and members of the board of trustees with his accusations. In light of the allegations, ESPN removed James from announcing the Alamo Bowl, replacing him with Bob Davie. In a lawsuit filed by Leach against Texas Tech, he alleges that Adam "voluntarily placed himself into the electrical closet and apparently took pictures with his phone camera." In response, James stated, "Since the James family is not a party to the lawsuit, we deem it inappropriate to discuss it."
Leach later filed suit against James and others for defamation and wrongful termination related to the publicity surrounding this incident. In August 2013 Leach's claims were dismissed on summary judgment.
In an interview with WFAA-TV in Dallas, James revealed that he was interested in getting involved in politics as a member of the Republican Party. James is a self-described conservative and states that government intervention in business and health care are his main concerns. He founded a political group called Texans for a Better America.
2012 run for U.S. Senate
On December 19, 2011, James announced he would run for the United States Senate as a Republican in 2012 for the seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Public Policy Polling found during the race that "as Craig James has become better known he's just gotten more and more unpopular." During a 2012 debate, James upbraided former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert for attending a gay pride parade, and declared that gays would eventually "answer to the Lord for their actions." Those and other controversial statements subsequently cost him his job at Fox Sports Southwest. On May 29, 2012, he finished a distant fourth out of nine candidates in the Republican primary with 3.6% of the vote.