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Alexander the great

Sports | Talented running back Shaun Alexander continues to be a mystery in Seattle

Issue: "Five-man legacy," Jan. 28, 2006

At least one thing about Seattle running back Shaun Alexander is certain: For the 60 minutes in between the whistles, he's just about the best thing going. In 2004, he rushed for 1,696 yards-one yard shy of the league lead. This season he led the NFL in rushing yards (1,880) and set the NFL single-season record with 28 touchdowns. His efforts earned him the NFL's MVP award and helped propel the Seahawks deep into the playoffs.

But to his teammates, Mr. Alexander comes across as two personalities. There's the Mr. Alexander that the public knows: The man who professes a deep faith in Jesus; the man who named his two daughters Heaven and Trinity; the man who served as the president of the University of Alabama chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a junior. He's the man former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz credits for helping one of his star players turn around his life at an FCA camp during the summer of 2001.

But that's not the side of Mr. Alexander teammates have always seen in Seattle. In the locker room, teammates have privately described Mr. Alexander as aloof. And that attitude created a rift. Before the 2004 season, Mr. Alexander, a de facto team leader in terms of ability and production, received only one vote for team captain-his own.

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By his own admission, the talented running back treated fellow Seahawks as business associates-nothing more. That is, until his wife and also his closest friend on the team, Heath Evans, confronted Mr. Alexander before the 2004 season about the way he carries himself. "The thing about Shaun is that he hates to practice," Mr. Evans, a backup Seattle fullback, told The Washington Post. "But that's one thing the team looked at as such a 'me' attitude. He never really realized they viewed that as selfishness or all about me. He was humbled."

When he personally apologized to many of his teammates before the 2004 season, it appeared that the two personalities had fused. But the good feelings fell apart late in the 2004 season when he seemed to backslide. After the final regular season game, Mr. Alexander said he felt betrayed after coach Mike Holmgren called a touchdown-scoring quarterback sneak on what turned out to be the last offensive play of the season. As it turns out, the touchdown won the game, but left Mr. Alexander one yard shy of the rushing title. After the game as Seahawks players celebrated the win, Mr. Alexander fumed about his personal loss: "I got stabbed in the back."

And it got worse before it got better. Mr. Alexander threatened to hold out before this season if the Seahawks didn't sign him to a long-term contract. He said it wasn't about the money-something local columnists found hard to believe since the running back used to post a list of the world's wealthiest people in his locker. He never got the long-term deal, either, instead signing a contract that makes him a free agent again this March.

Seattle will once more have to make a decision on Mr. Alexander. He doesn't create Terrell Owens-type locker room problems. In fact, some have called the 2005 incarnation of Mr. Alexander a model teammate (he was named captain). Even so, teams don't pay players to be model teammates, but rather for what an athlete can do on the field. And that's the one place where no one has ever doubted what Mr. Alexander can do.

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