CHENEY – He’s been to two Pro Bowls, broken 15 team records and won an NFC rushing crown.
And yet Shaun Alexander still feels incomplete.
“I have not had a successful NFL career in my eyes,” Alexander said Tuesday night, during the final week of another Seattle Seahawks training camp.
His lament comes from an elusive playoff victory, the inability to get to a Super Bowl and, to a degree, his failure to completely win over the hometown fans.
If there were ever a year to do it, this would be the one. Because the way things stand now, Alexander could be in his final season as a Seahawk.
“The greatest spiritual growth I’ve had this year is that, even though I love Seattle and my family loves Seattle, that it might be the time for us to go,” said Alexander, who is playing under a one-year, $6.323 million contract that stipulates he can’t be designated the Seahawks’ franchise player in 2006. “So that was kind of hard for me to swallow. It was like, wow, it really might be time for me to leave here.”
In his next breath, Alexander expressed optimism that he’ll be signed to a long-term contract. A half hour later, he flip-flopped again.
“I’ve told everybody from the beginning that I just plan to have a contract before the (regular) season starts,” Alexander said during a 33-minute interview. “If I don’t have a contract before the season starts, it’s definitely because the Seahawks have a plan for me not to be here.”
Entering the sixth season of an already-impressive NFL career, Alexander continues to be an enigma. As much as fans want to love him, his actions sometimes leave them feeling hesitant.
He might just have one more year to get everyone back on the bandwagon – if that’s even possible.
“I don’t think that I have to win a lot of fans over,” Alexander said. “There are always one or two fans that aren’t going to like somebody. I’m sure there are still fans (in Boston) that say: ‘Tom Brady, why did we draft that guy?’
“I’m telling you, I was in Boston when one of my friends got married, and you’d be amazed. They’ll be like: ‘If only we had a guy who could run like Michael Vick …’ It’s three Super Bowls. What are you shooting for here?”
As he embarks on what may well be the final season of his Seahawks career, Alexander is setting his goals characteristically high. He’s hoping to eclipse his own franchise records of 1,696 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns from last season and believes that a first-ever NFL rushing title is well within his grasp.
“He’s a guy that shoots for the stars,” running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. “And if he can’t reach them, he might land on the moon. And he’ll be happy with that. He wants to be No. 1, that’s his goal.”
Being No. 1 has always driven Alexander, sometimes to the extreme. Despite his outwardly friendly public persona, the Seahawks’ 27-year-old running back has an inner passion that sometimes exposes itself in detrimental ways. Such has been the case over the past eight months, when Alexander accused his coaches of sabotaging him, threatened to skip training camp and eventually asked to be traded.
“At times he can be led by his emotions,” said Miami Dolphins fullback Heath Evans, a former Seahawks teammate who remains one of Alexander’s closest friends. “Over the last couple years there have been times where … let’s just say I’ve been able to get to him and extinguish some fires.”
One fire Evans could not put out was Alexander’s much-publicized blowup in the 2004 regular season finale, when he told two local reporters that he felt “stabbed in the back” for not getting the ball on the Atlanta 1-yard line when he was one yard shy of the NFL rushing title.
Evans tried – he stopped his teammate as Alexander walked off the field after Matt Hasselbeck’s 1-yard touchdown and tried to console him – but the running back couldn’t help himself afterward.
More than eight months later, Alexander contends that his comments were misconstrued and overblown, but he also admits that it was a mistake to make them.
Mitchell doesn’t apologize for Alexander’s January comments, nor did he claim them to have been taken out of context.
“It wasn’t misunderstood by the public because he said what he said,” Mitchell said. “Now, he was totally wrong. We were aware of the situation, and we wanted him to get the rushing title. … I wish I could’ve gotten to Shaun before that interview, because we were definitely trying to get (the title) for him.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. There are a lot more things we have to accomplish thing year, and that’s one of them.”
For a while, it looked as if Alexander might not be in position to chase any goals in 2005. His five-month contract impasse looked as if it would carry well into training camp and possibly threaten his availability for the Sept. 11 regular season opener. Yet Alexander signed his $6.323 million contract tender before the start of camp and eventually reported to the Eastern Washington University practice site.
“My mindset coming into camp was that we probably weren’t going to have him,” Hasselbeck said Tuesday. “And then it kind of surprised everyone when both sides did come to an agreement.
“… I’m actually kind of impressed that he took the route of coming to camp. I was impressed that he came to camp and said, I want to be a part of this team, let’s find a way. Most guys in that situation kind of take the easy way out.”
Even Mitchell, who maintains a close relationship with Alexander on and off the field, was taken aback when Alexander signed his tender.
“I’m always surprised with what Shaun does,” Mitchell said. “He’s not a guy that, for the most part, is worried about what someone else is doing. He’s going to do his own thing.”
Now Alexander professes to have the recent past behind him. Although his contract is slated to expire after the season, Alexander says he’s dedicated to the task at hand.
“What I would like to see would be a great year, the Super Bowl, lots of yards and touchdowns,” he said. “In the middle of this, I’d like to see a big contract.”
No matter what has happened in the recent past, or what may happen in the future, some people in the Seahawks’ organization believe he’s fully dedicated to the franchise.
“My view of Shaun has not changed,” Mitchell said. “I still think he’s one of the best backs in the league, and he has the numbers to support that. I’m a Shaun fan.”
There are plenty out there. But there are still some who are waiting for more.
Like Alexander himself.
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