When Shaun Alexander arrived in Seattle as a first-round pick out of Alabama, he didn't immediately step into a prominent role, both because of the presence of veteran running back Ricky Watters, and also because Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren worried about the rookie's pass-catching and blocking ability.
"Coming into the Seahawks, he was a great runner, he always did that stuff, but he was not a very good blocker," Holmgren said. "And I was sometimes hard on him about that, so he probably got mad at me a little bit.
Eventually, however, Holmgren came to the realization that Alexander's talent as a runner was just too elite to keep in check.
"Then I realized, what am I doing? I should just hand him the ball and get out of the way, because he can really run," Holmgren said.
And run Alexander did, putting together a dominant stretch of play that saw him become the only MVP in franchise history, and one of the best running backs of his era. And on Sunday during halftime of the Seahawks' Week 6 game against the Cardinals, Alexander's memorable Seahawks career will be recognized when he is inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor.
Alexander will become the 15th member of the Ring of Honor, a prestigious group that also includes his head coach, Holmgren, and former teammates Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Cortez Kennedy.
"It's humbling and it's exciting and it brings back all the great memories of the guys I got to play with, Cortez of course, he's already in it, so to play with him then see him go in, it's those kind of memories," Alexander said. "I think of Ricky Watters, who was like the greatest big brother in the world, Mack Strong, who was a great friend. All those memories of playing cards, sitting up and talking about how to be great and turn our program into a championship program, all of those things come to mind, and it's pretty sweet."
Alexander's individual accolades include the 2005 MVP award, being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, three-straight Pro Bowl selections from 2003-2005, and first-team All-Pro honors in 2005 as well as second-team recognition in 2004. Alexander was also the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2005.
After Holmgren made Alexander the starter in 2001, he went on to rush for more than 1,100 yards for five straight seasons, averaging 1,500.8 rushing yards and 19.6 total touchdowns over that five-year span. And by the time his Seahawks career was over, Alexander established the following records that still stand:
- Career Rushing yards: 9,429
- Single season rushing yards: 1,880 (2005)
- Single game rushing yards: 266 (2001 vs. Oakland)
- Career carries: 2,176
- Single season carries: 370 (2005)
- Career touchdown: 112
- Single season touchdowns: 28 (2005)
- Single game touchdowns: 5 (2002 vs. Minnesota)
- 1,000-rushing yard seasons: 2001-2005
- 100-yard games: 37
- Longest run from scrimmage: 88 yards, two times
Alexander's impact was also felt in the community during his playing days, and continues to be to this day through the numerous nonprofit organizations he works with through the Stand Together Foundation.
"Shaun always had that personality where you never really saw him without a smile on his face," said Seahawks Legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson. "He was that kind of guy in the locker room was always upbeat, good spirits, good mood, all that stuff, good teammate that way. And then as a runner, I mean, numbers speak for themselves. I don't know how many backs had the vision Shaun had. Shaun saw the whole field the whole time. So he was always found a way to find daylight, even on the plays where it looked pretty grim from that standpoint."
And perhaps the biggest legacy for Alexander and his teammates from those 2000s-era teams is the winning culture they established in an organization that up to that point hadn't had a lot of success. The Seahawks made the playoffs four times in the 1980s, then again in 1999, Holmgren's first year in Seattle, then they really got going in 2003, reaching the playoffs five straight years, winning four division titles, and reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history following the 2005 season in which Alexander took home MVP honors.
"I love the way that we changed the culture," Alexander said. "… We win the four (NFC West titles) in a row, go to the playoffs five years in a row. It created the culture that this is a winning town."
When it comes to Alexander's 2005 MVP season he and others involved remember a year in which darn near everything went right, even when it shouldn't have as Alexander rushed for 1,880 yards and scored a then NFL record 28 touchdowns.
"Oh man, that year, it was amazing," he said. "I feel like it was one of those moments where you feel like you're floating in the air, angels are carrying you. It seemed like every play just worked. When you're in the zone in basketball, you're shooting 3s and it just kind of make sense. In football, it takes so many people to make a running play work, and one or two guys mess up and it just doesn't."
And yet that year sometimes it did, Alexander said, noting he or a lead blocker might go the wrong way, but that everyone else would somehow compensate and make it work.
"That's the kind of year we had," he said. "Even the plays we didn't do it right, it turned out right on film and it turned out right in the game."
For all the things Alexander did well as a player, perhaps his most defining trait was his ability to find the end zone. His 28 touchdowns in 2005 is still the second-highest single-season total in NFL history, and his 112 career touchdowns are the most in team history. There were plenty of reasons for Alexander's prolific scoring numbers, from a standout line that featured two Hall of Famers, to an offensive mastermind of a head coach who should be in the Hall of Fame, to a Pro-Bowl fullback in Mack Strong, but more than anything, it was Alexander's will to put the ball in the end zone.
"It was desire," Hasselbeck said. "He loved getting in that end zone. You talk about people that are just very, very competitive, whether it's Michael Jordan or whoever you're talking about, just that burning desire to not be denied—that was Shaun in the red zone. He would play at another level, he'd be in another dimension."
Alexander joked that he also knew he had to score when they got the chance in the red zone because Holmgren would only give him so many shots.
"He'd be like, 'I'm going to give it to you once, you'd better do something with it,'" Alexander said. "That became our thing, and if you see it, it'd be the first time I touch it that we'd score, because I knew he was going to throw it after that."
Alexander and his former teammates hope that his name being back in the spotlight this week might also help restart the conversation about his Hall of Fame credentials. Alexander's name is once again on the list of nominees for the 2023 class, but so far he hasn't gotten far in the process despite some impressive credentials. Most notably, every other player with 100 career touchdowns who is Hall of Fame eligible is in the Hall of Fame, and the majority of his teammates on the All-Decade team have also been enshrined in Canton.
"I was blessed with an amazing line, an amazing fullback, a really good system, and I just busted my tail, and we scored 100 touchdowns," he said. "For it not to be perceived as Hall of Fame worthy has always been hard. I hope this gives me a shot at it."
Said Walter Jones, someone who ought to know Hall of Fame talent when he sees it, "I think he is. I think it's just a matter of when, not if. It's just so hard to get into this thing, but I will say in the future, I think he should. He had great numbers. He ran for 1,000 yards every year, and then you he won an MVP. That's the only MVP we got… I'm always going to push for my guys."
Seahawks Legend Shaun Alexander will be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor on October 16, 2022. Take a look back at the 2005 MVP during his time in Seattle and beyond.