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An MVP in the making
The most successful season in Seahawks history quickly morphed into a national tour for Shaun and the Big Blockers.
Shaun Alexander and the line of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear, as well as fullback Mack Strong, not only took their show on the road, they took it all the way to Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
As the house band at Qwest Field, well, let’s just say the joint was rockin’.
The Seahawks posted a franchise-best 13-3 record before winning the NFC Championship, while Alexander scored a then-league record 28 touchdowns, led the NFL in rushing and became the first player in club history to be voted league MVP.
Alexander went out of his way to share the credit with his blockers, who in turn played off his virtuoso performance.
“We looked at his records as our records, too,” Tobeck said. “We looked at the touchdown record as ours. We wanted it as much as he did. Maybe more.”
The loudest cheers, of course, were directed at Alexander. That ’05 season was the capper to an oh-yeah-wait-until-you-see-what-I’ll-do-next five-season run that featured Alexander rushing for 7,504 of his franchise-record 9,429 yards and scoring 98 of his club-record 112 touchdowns.
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The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
Not surprisingly, when the readers of Seahawks.com cast their votes for the 35th Anniversary team, Alexander was the obvious – and overwhelming – choice over a quality field that also included Curt Warner, Chris Warren, Sherman Smith and Ricky Watters. Alexander pulled in 3,274 votes, which was 1,556 more than Warner; who got 1,589 more than Warren.
“Anytime you get mentioned as the best in any group it’s certainly a cool honor,” Alexander said this week, when he returned to his is Washington, D.C.-area home after an extended trip to Alabama – where he was inducted into the Crimson Tide’s Hall of Fame.
After being the 19th pick overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, Alexander grew into his role. He split time with Ricky Watters as a rookie and again in 2001. But in ’01, Alexander began a run that would see him become the only player in league history to score 15 or more touchdowns in five consecutive seasons: 16 in 2001; 18 in 2002; 16 in 2003; 20 in 2004; and 28 in ’05.
“I’ve competed against Shaun Alexander for a long time,” former Broncos linebacker Al Wilson told the Rocky Mountain News in 2006 – and Wilson also was at Tennessee while Alexander was at Alabama.
“He’s bigger and stronger now than in the past, but he’s becoming one of the best to ever play the game.”
Alexander’s glide-and-slide style made it difficult to fully appreciate him, even for perhaps the best running back to ever play the game.
“He’s a mystery man to me,” Jim Brown, the Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns, once said. “I cannot see what he possesses that allows him to do what he does. I look at his results; I just can’t look at the methodology.”
That was part of Alexander’s subtlety. Or a deceptive approach that he referred to as “drip, drip, gush” – like a leaking facet that suddenly bursts.
“He runs here, cuts back there and it feels like a 3-yard gain,” former Broncos safety John Lynch said in the same 2006 article. “But the next thing you know, he’s got 11 yards. That’s just kind of his style. But he’s effective at what he’s doing.”
And, Alexander did it with far greater production than any back in the Seahawks’ first 35 seasons. In addition to being the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (100) and total TDs, he holds the single-season records for points scored (168), touchdowns and rushing yards (1,880), as well as the single-game records for points scored (30), touchdowns (five) and rushing yards (266).
Alexander didn’t just compile record-breaking numbers, he obliterated the previous marks. His 100 rushing touchdowns are 45 more than Warner, the runner-up. His 27 rushing touchdowns in 2005 were 11 more than the second-best totals he put him in 2002 and 2004. His 9,429 career yards are 2,723 more than Warren, who ranks No. 2. His 37 career 100-yard games – which just happen to match his uniform number – were 13 more than Warren.
But in ’05, Alexander was in overdrive – propelled by those big blockers up front. He had 11 100-yard rushing performances that season and scored TDs in nine consecutive games, both franchise records.
“Unbelievably talented,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team and a rookie during that ’05 season. “I’ve seen him run people over, too. That was the crazy thing about it. He had a good frame on him. Because of his ability to make people miss and his elusive nature, people thought he was just a shifty back.
“But, nah, he was tough, too.”
Despite making it look so easy. Just as he had done at Boone County (Ky.) High School, where he scored 54 touchdowns and rushed for 3,166 yards as a senior to push his career totals to 110 and 6,657. Just he did at Alabama, where he rushed for 3,565 yards and scored 50 TDs – just two of the 15 school records he set.
“I’m just now starting to realize all the stuff I did in high school, college and pros. Just now,” Alexander said. “I remember when I was getting ready to leave the Seahawks, one of the coaches said, ‘Shaun, the stuff you do, one, you made it look easy; and, two, you made it seem like everybody should be doing that.’
“But that’s how it was my whole life. I would just play hard and have fun.”
Alexander was never tougher, or had more fun, than in ’05 – when he carried a franchise-record 370 times. That record-setting season came despite Alexander missing the spring minicamps after being given the franchise tag.
“I had great linemen and great teammates,” Alexander said. “When I finally got there, we were like, ‘OK, Shaun hasn’t been here. So let’s get really intense about how we’re going to do this.’ It was almost like one of those things that could have been bad, because we were behind when it came to chemistry, but we all worked twice as hard to make sure it would turn out OK.”
OK? Make that A-game-OK. Alexander reeled off 100-yard efforts almost effortlessly: 173 yards against the Cardinals; 172 against the Titans; 165 against the Rams; 144 against the Falcons; 141 against the Texans; 140 against the Cardinals; 139 yards against the Colts; at least 108 against four other opponents. Then there were the touchdowns: Four against the Cardinals; four against the Texans; three against the Rams; three against the Colts; two in a game against five other opponents; the record-breaking 28th in the season finale at Green Bay.
One play stood out for Alexander, even if he can’t remember the opponent.
“Walt kicked his guy out. Hutch slips on his block and instead of worrying about it, he just runs up to the next guy and takes him out,” Alexander said. “Mack cuts his guy, and Robbie loops around Mack.
“It looks like a play that should get nothing, and I break it for a long run. It was a mistake, a slip. But everybody just knowing each other allowed it to happen. That’s one of those things you can’t coach. It’s just chemistry, and everybody wanting to be the best. It was fun.”
After leaving the Seahawks during the 2008 offseason, Alexander played in four games for the Washington Redskins that season. Since then, he has been spending time with his wife, Valerie, and their children – Heaven, Trinity, Eden and Joseph.
“I’m thankful that I got paid so well that I can spend this time with my wife and the kids,” said Alexander, who made his first visit to Seattle in three years this spring because Valerie’s parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
“We’re just sort of discovering each other in this way and deciding what we want to do next. I haven’t really set up anything yet. I’ve told everybody that this August I will actually comeback out of my family period and see what’s out there.”