what it takes to be a pro."
Leaders like Jordan come to their positions because of fierce competitive fire, ability on the field and the sheer force of will. That's why old No. 55 needs to meet new No. 56.
When James was a senior at LSU, the defense was named after its middle linebacker: The James Gang. Cute, but with a reason. He couldn't assume that role as a pro, however, until he figured out the game. That happened last year, near midseason, when Dat Nguyen came out of the lineup for good with a neck injury. James' play picked up noticeably with his added responsibility. Then-teammate LaRoi Glover commented just about a year ago that even the other players could see James' light switch coming on.
And once that happened, James could assume the role for which he admittedly feels naturally suited, the role of leader.
"It's not my first time in a leadership position," James said after Monday's practice, and he says it in the most un-prepossessing way.
There is almost a total absence of braggadocio or arrogance.
"I guess it's just something I was born with," James continued. "It was that way in high school. I don't go outside of myself to do this."
Maybe that's the key, because when a player proclaims himself to be the leader (see Quincy Carter, training camp '04), it means he isn't. Jordan never said it. Troy Aikman never said it. Bradie James doesn't proclaim it. It just is.
Somehow, at some point late last season, James became the media go-to guy, the one who stood up every day, not once a week, in the locker room to look straight at you and answer your questions directly. He earns the right by what he does on the field, and what he does on the field gives him the right to stoke the sideline fires when they need stoking.
Sunday's game against the Colts was a perfect example. If you've watched a bit of football, one thing you could see in a hurry was that the Dallas defense was interested in playing. Several of them contribute to the atmosphere: Aaron Glenn, Roy Williams, Terence Newman. It's James who gets them going.
When the Cowboys grabbed the lead for the first time Sunday, it was James rallying the defenders on the sideline, reminding them, none too gently, of the task at hand. In today's NFL, a fourth-year player is a seasoned vet and can take command.
Parcells quickly acknowledges his linebacker's leadership skills, saying Tuesday, "He gets it. He has that. The good thing about this football team is, their sensitivity level is pretty well gone by now. They can say anything to each other."
In the heat of athletic battle, that's what's required. It's not all encouraging, "Hey, fellows, chins up, we can do this!" Sometimes it takes a boot up the butt, and if you don't respect who's delivering it, you don't respond.
James believes the key is that "we don't have two or three guys carrying the load on this team. At one time or another we've got eight, nine, 10, 11 guys, all of scratching to make that play."
Those of us (yes, guilty as charged) who believed the Cowboys would be good this year because of their defense are particularly encouraged by recent trends. Points are down, takeaways are up. There is a growing sense of purpose permeating the defensive huddle. Its ringleader is Bradie James.
Lee Roy Jordan hasn't met Bradie James yet. But he ought to be very proud of what he's doing.