Lionel James, Speedy Back Who Covered a Lot of Turf, Dies at 59


Lionel James, a quick, elusive working again nicknamed Little Practice, who shared the backfield with Bo Jackson at Auburn College and set a single-season N.F.L. document for all-purpose yards that stood for 15 years, died on Feb. 25 in Birmingham, Ala. He was 59.

His spouse, Kesha Mallory James, confirmed his demise however didn’t specify the trigger, saying solely that it got here after an extended sickness.

James used his pace and darting strikes with the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers through the 1985 season to amass 2,535 yards from scrimmage: 516 as a working again, 1,027 as a receiver, 779 as a kick returner and 213 as a punt returner, surpassing the earlier document set in 1975 by Terry Metcalf of the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals.

James was practically unstoppable in a recreation late that season towards the Los Angeles (now Las Vegas) Raiders. He piled up 345 all-purpose yards (the second most in a single recreation in league historical past till then), together with a 34-yard landing cross from Dan Fouts within the third quarter and a 17-yard dashing landing that received the sport, 40-34, in time beyond regulation.

“Once I broke into the open,” James advised The Los Angeles Instances after the sport, “I assumed to myself, ‘That is like heaven.’”

At 5 toes 6.5 inches tall and 170 kilos, James was most likely the smallest participant within the league, making him tough to identify as he slithered rapidly previous tall, meaty linemen. And his 33-inch vertical leap enabled him to be aggressive for passes towards taller defensive backs.

His dimension had not been a hindrance, in faculty or within the N.F.L.

“That is the way in which I determine it,” he advised Sports activities Illustrated through the 1985 season. “If some man’s greater than me, then he’s not as quick, and if he’s as quick — then I assume it’s about time for me to get out of the league.”

James by no means got here near matching his document for all-purpose yards in his subsequent three seasons, and shortly earlier than the beginning of the 1989 season, the Chargers lower him in favor of a rookie with related expertise, Dana Brinson, who was a bit taller however whose profession would quickly fizzle out.

“I liked what he did the primary couple of years,” San Diego’s new head coach, Dan Henning, stated after releasing James, “and if I assumed he may nonetheless try this, he’d nonetheless be right here.”

Lionel James was born on Could 25, 1962, in Albany, Ga. His father, Joseph, was a grasp electrician. His mom, Cherrine (Wright) James, was a highschool bodily schooling instructor.

After attending Dougherty Excessive Faculty, Lionel acquired a scholarship to Auburn. After dashing for 561 yards in 1981, he ran for 779 yards in 1982 when he teamed with Jackson, who had 829 yards.

In a recreation that November, with Auburn’s document 8-1, James took a pitch from quarterback Randy Campbell and was practically caught within the backfield, however he broke free, lower to the left and raced untouched for an 87-yard landing, one of many longest in group historical past.

“The ball most likely shouldn’t have been pitched,” Jack Crowe, Auburn’s offensive coordinator, stated afterward, “as a result of their man was proper in his face. Lionel simply made him miss.”

Auburn took the lead however Georgia received, 19-14.

The following season — when James gained 728 yards and Jackson 1,213 — Auburn completed 11-1 and had been ranked No. 3 within the remaining Related Press faculty soccer ballot. They went on to defeat Michigan within the Sugar Bowl.

James was drafted by the Chargers within the fifth spherical of the 1984 N.F.L. draft. Throughout his first coaching camp, he rapidly confirmed that he was not intimidated.

“Practice will stand as much as anybody,” Coach Don Coryell advised The Instances. “He doesn’t again all the way down to linebackers or lineman who’re twice his dimension.”

In his 5 seasons with San Diego, James gained 6,619 yards from scrimmage, together with 2,278 as a receiver, and a pair of,094 as a kick returner.

After his taking part in profession, he opened a sporting items retailer and taught math in colleges in Dawson, Ga., and in Birmingham, the place he additionally coached soccer.

Over the following few years, James was an assistant coach at Appalachian State College in North Carolina; the tight ends coach at Auburn beneath Coach Terry Bowden; and the working backs coach for the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs beneath Marty Schottenheimer through the 1998 season, his solely 12 months with the group.

In early 1999, he was hospitalized for 2 months for pancreatitis.

After teaching in 2000 with the Birmingham Steeldogs of the AF2, the Enviornment Soccer League’s improvement league, and with the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL in 2001, James returned to instructing highschool math in Birmingham for a number of years.

He was inducted into the Alabama Sports activities Corridor of Fame in 2006.

Along with his spouse, he’s survived by his mom; his daughters, Kasey James and Janet Jones; his son, Lionel II; two grandsons; a sister, Devorah Simon; and two brothers, Edgar and Tim.


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