Roland James jokes that Jamestown still has a single stoplight in town, the same one that’s been there for about 50 years.
That’s also the same amount of time the Super Bowl has been played.
Both of those things — growing up in a small town and the most watched sporting event in the United States — intersected for James this past fall. The 1976 Greeneview High School graduate returned to his alma mater to present an NFL golden football to commemorate Super Bowl 50.
“I couldn’t have drawn it up any better for me as far as being able to go to Greeneview and live in a small rural town like Jamestown,” James said. “Greeneview was special. Everybody knew everybody. … When I went to (the University of Tennessee) they tried to call me Opie. They’d ask me where Aunt Bee was. Without sports and and education I’d never been able to have that opportunity.”
James’ Super Bowl moment came on Jan. 26 in 1986 when the wild-card New England Patriots met the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. Chicago, behind one of the best defenses in NFL history, won 46-10.
“We were underdogs that whole time,” said James, who started at strong safety and helped the Patriots beat the New York Jets, Los Angeles Raiders and Miami Dolphins in the playoffs, all on the road.
“We weren’t even supposed to be in the playoffs, let alone in the Super Bowl. Playing against the Bears, they were special. Miami showed they could be beat and they showed how they could be beat. You had to be able to run to the ball. You had to be able to get your short passes off. And you had to be able to throw deep just to back them off. If you couldn’t back them off they were like sharks with blood in the water.”
Chicago set a Super Bowl record with seven sacks and held New England, making its first Super Bowl appearance, to a record-low seven rushing yards. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls since in eight appearances.
“It wasn’t a good day but I enjoyed the experience. I’ll never forget it,” James said.
James, the No. 14 overall pick in the 1980 draft and second defensive back taken behind No. 8 Mark Haynes, played 11 seasons with the Patriots. He played in 145 regular season games and had 29 career interceptions. His NFL touchdown came on a 75-yard punt return in 1980.
At Tennessee he was an All-American in 1979 and a two-time All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1978 and 1979.
And it all started at Greeneview. James said he never considered himself fast despite winning state titles in the 120 high hurdles (13.8 seconds) and 180 low hurdles (19.2), both in then state-record times, as a senior.
“I wasn’t slow, but I didn’t consider myself fast,” James said. “I went to (Tennessee) with Stanley Morgan and I played with him (with the Patriots). Stanley was fast. Irving Fryar was fast. Willie Gault was fast. I know fast when I see it and I wasn’t fast. I had decent speed. I ran like a 4.4 40 during the combine. I could run halfway decent and pretty strong for my size playing the secondary. A lot of it came from knowing the game of football and getting to the spot when you needed to be there.”
James, who lives about 30 minutes south of Boston, returns to Jamestown often to visit his parents, Raymond and Joanne James, and other family members.
When James visited last fall he had a chance to catch up with his junior high coach, Loren Reno.
“He was very instrumental getting me far and with the guys I grew up with,” James said. “Getting them prepared for sports and keeping them out of trouble. He really helped a lot of the kids with school.”
Today, James plans to watch the AFC champion Denver Broncos play the NFC champ Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 from the comfort of his New England home. His prediction?
“Everybody in the world should be betting on (quarterback) Cam (Newton) and the Panthers to win the game. They have a heck of a team offensively and defensively,” James said. “Cam and the Panthers should be the favorites, but I’m staying loyal to the AFC.”