You remember Craig James, the second fiddle behind Eric Dickerson in SMU's Pony Express and later the only surplus on the deficit-ridden Washington Federals of the U.S. Football League.

These days, James, 24, is in Foxboro, Mass., where he has played a leading role in helping the New England Patriots into a first-place tie with the New York Jets in the AFC East at 7-3.

James has more yards in fewer carries than the Los Angeles Rams' Dickerson, last year's NFL rushing leader with a league-record 2,105 yards.

And James, not the faster Dickerson, has the longest run from scrimmage in the NFL this year, a 90-yard scoring run against the Bears.

After gaining 92 yards on 18 carries in New England's 34-15 victory over Indianapolis Sunday and 119 yards on 23 attempts in a victory over Miami two weeks ago, James is fourth in the AFC in rushing with 695 yards on 146 carries, a 4.7-yard average. The Jets' Freeman McNeil, the conference's top rusher, and Cleveland's Kevin Mack are the only players in the top 10 with a higher per-carry average.

"I'm finally back on track," James said recently. "I have my health and I've been given an opportunity to carry the ball and show what I can do."

Health was never a problem for Jesse Craig James until he became a pro. At Stratford High School in Houston, James was all-district, all-greater Houston, all-state and all-America. And physically, he was always all right.

At SMU, he became the school's second-leading all-time rusher, behind Dickerson, with 3,742 yards. Because he also punted for better than a 40-yard average in his junior year, James became the first player in 21 years to be named to two positions on the all-Southwest Conference team.

As a pro, he had the initial excitement of a new league and big money. His contract was reported to be for four years and $1.5 million. But the harshness of the game caught up with James in Washington.

"It was my turn to sit down for a while," he said.

In 1983, his first season with the Federals, James suffered the first real injury of his career -- a slight fracture of the upper dorsal spine. He was out of action nearly a month.

"This is a new one for me," he said at the time. "If it had been one of those injuries where they said if you get hit again in the same spot you have a chance of being paralyzed, I'd never be able to carry a football again. The doctors say my injury will heal 100 percent. But still, you think."

In 1984, James strained knee ligaments in the second game, but by then the Federals had severe financial problems and the two sides worked out a deal in which James was put on waivers. He signed with the Patriots, who held his NFL rights, in April.

"I'd do it again," James said of the USFL gamble. "I took a chance that the league could go and make it. (Federals owner) Berl Bernhard is as good a man as there is, and I knew that when I met him. He is a great man to work for. Now the USFL is talking about nine teams. If they all had owners like Berl Bernhard, it would be successful."

At New England, James was reunited with then-coach Ron Meyer, who had been the coach at SMU for James' first three years. But with the Patriots, James did not break into the starting lineup until the seventh game last season. He finished the year as the team's leading rusher, and Meyer finished the season unemployed. Now, Raymond Berry is in charge, and James said the transition hasn't been difficult.

"It's been a plus for me," James said. "Raymond Berry is an enjoyable man to play for. When Ron Meyer was here, I didn't play a whole lot . . . he was a little worried about favoritism. Tony (Collins) was coming off a Pro Bowl year, and it might have looked suspicious if he threw me in right away."

Even this season, in the early games James wasn't getting the ball as much as he would have liked. Now, James said, he and Collins are getting their hands on the ball in good proportions, if in different ways.

"It seems that the last three games, I've been carrying the bulk of the load running, while Tony has been doing the bulk of the receiving," James said before this weekend's game. "I'm the leading rusher and he's the leading receiver (36 receptions).

"We've had to adjust to the number of times we handle the ball," said James, who threw a touchdown pass to Collins earlier. "He's been carrying the ball 10 to 15 times a game and catching four to five passes. I've been carrying 15 to 20 times and catching one or two passes. The amount we're touching the ball has worked out well."

The Patriots' play is also working out well, but James isn't satisfied.

"We feel we should be 8-1," he said before the Colts game. "We blew games against the Raiders and Cleveland. We're a few points from being 8-1, and we have confidence in ourselves."

James said he gets along well with his teammates, but it is a different situation than the one he was in with the Federals. "We were more close as a group in Washington," James said, "because the only friends we had were on the team."