By Mike KahnSeahawks Insider
The memories are so vivid for Shaun Alexander that he sometimes he seems overwhelmed by it all. You see, this happy-go-luck persona he has fostered during the 30 years of his life doesn't mean that he doesn't see and feel things in a deeply sincere manner.
Actually, he can become particularly emotional when it's a passion of his, such as his family, friends, mentoring kids or supporting worthy causes. But there's more to this story and it is reflective at fiercely loyal and bound to people he really is.
At his 30th birthday bash on Aug. 30 orchestrated by his wife of five years Valerie, she blew him away with a video presentation of his football history that blew him away. From his extraordinary prep career at Boone County (Ky.) High School just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to becoming the all-time leading rusher at Alabama, to leading the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl XL in 2005 with the most touchdowns in the history of the NFL that season until broken last year by LaDainian Tomlinson..
The highlight, oddly enough, may very well have been when Alexander led Boone County to a stunning victory over Cincinnati parochial powerhouse Elder. And it surprised him.
"I was so excited, I couldn't believe it," Alexander said. "But I'm watching myself as a 17-year-old kid jumping up and down celebrating. I don't ever want to forget something like that. That feeling really got to me."
And it has a lot to do with why Alexander is so excited about the Seahawks playing host to the Cincinnati Bengals this season. It's the second time the Seahawks and Bengals have met since the Seahawks drafted Alexander in the first round of the 2000 draft out of Alabama. His franchise records and pursuit of NFL history notwithstanding, playing the Bengals is a different deal for him.
When they played the Bengals during his fourth season, the Seahawks suffered a tough 27-24 defeat in Cincinnati. Alexander's homecoming was solid, if unspectacular with 86 yards rushing on 20 carries, plus seven receptions for 52 yards and no touchdowns.
"I can't even remember it that clearly," he said. "What I do remember is getting Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken for everybody and they all said it was the best chicken they ever had."
He's older now, more mature, but just as excited about rekindling childhood memories. You see, it was in the middle of sixth grade when the NFL hit him like a ton of a bricks. The Bengals won the AFC in 1988 and suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. His mom had thrown a Super Bowl party, Alexander invited friends over, and they were mesmerized by the game. That was the start of his passion for the game.
"Everybody in my age group attaches themselves to that team," Alexander said. "We had heard about Kenny Anderson growing up and their first Super Bowl. But we were into the Icky (Woods) Shuffle and then came Boomer Esiason. The father of one of our best friends helped build Boomer's house, and Boomer gave him a jersey. Every day we would go to my friend's house and just look at that jersey. To us, we were looking at a real NFL jersey every day! It was awesome.
"So to me, playing for the Bengals was the most elite level you could play football. That's why playing the Bengals is really playing the team that as a kid, I always thought I'd be play for."
It was only a few years ago rumors were bubbling that Alexander could be dealt to the Bengals for their top back Corey Dillon – a Seattle native that would make the trade so nice and tidy for both sides. But it was really more steeped in fantasy that fact.
Instead, Alexander came into this, his second season on a new contract with the Seahawks with the extraordinary numbers of 8,713 yards rushing, 107 total touchdowns and on a mission coming off a sub-par season of 869 yards and 7 touchdowns as a result of a broken foot that caused him to miss six games and struggle the first game back.
He came back this season in the best shape of his career and great quickness after staying in the Pacific Northwest the entire offseason for the first time. Perhaps some of it is turning 30, often considered an age of transition for a running back. But Seahawks running back coach Stump Mitchell begs to differ.
"He's a young 30 because he hasn't been the third down back for a long time now and he just hasn't carried the ball anywhere near as much as back that productive at his age," Mitchell said. "He's always on a mission. Last year it was 2,000 yards rushing until he got hurt. This year he wants to get it all back."
And this week it will be against the team of his childhood - those Bengals. More people than he can even imagine are coming out for the game. He's dropped hints that they bring some of his hometown favorites like Famous Recipe Chicken, Grippo's barbecue potato chips, Skyline or Gold Star Chili, and some United Dairy Farmer's ice cream. All of it and more means so much to him. He concedes he, Valerie and their three daughters may "stay in Seattle forever," but that isn't counter to never letting go of those ties from home – just as it is to watch the annual basketball rivalry between the University of Cincinnati and Xavier.
"I still miss it," said Alexander, who has a degree in marketing from Alabama and pursuing a second in advertising. "The average is maybe 2 percent when they graduate remain close with more than 2 people from their high school. I'm definitely one of that 2 percent. I have tons of people from back home and high school that I'm still friends with. Even though I moved all the way across the country, I'm still close to everybody and everything there. I love being in Seattle and I'll probably be here forever. But that doesn't mean those aren't great times and great memories. So whenever we play the Bengals, it will be special for me."