There Is No 'I' in Uneasy Truce

Running back Shaun Alexander set an NFL single-season record by scoring 28 touchdowns this season. He also led the league in rushing with 1,880 yards.
Running back Shaun Alexander set an NFL single-season record by scoring 28 touchdowns this season. He also led the league in rushing with 1,880 yards. (By Dustin Snipes -- Seattle Times)

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By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2006

SEATTLE, Jan. 12 -- The words came in the frustration of an opportunity lost and a goal unmet. Even a year of scrubbing can't make them go away completely.

"I got stabbed in the back."

It has been a year and an MVP award since Shaun Alexander fell a yard short of last season's rushing title, then stood in the locker room in the minutes after the Seahawks had clinched the NFC West and uttered that fateful sentence.

There was no doubt as to whom he believed was to blame: Coach Mike Holmgren, the pass-first keeper of the West Coast offense edicts handed down by Bill Walsh. A yard, Alexander thought, could have been found in a carry, maybe not that afternoon but in all the other days he never got the handoffs he expected.

Then when the rushing title didn't come, the words spilled out. Five years of an image built up from goodwill came crashing down.

Some around the team's headquarters nodded knowingly and said this was the Shaun Alexander they always knew, not a man of peace and God with a gentle smile, but something more cunning, more self-serving. They almost reveled in the public scorn.

Ultimately, what it seemed to show was the chasm that had grown between Holmgren, the Seahawks coach who demanded subservience, and Alexander, the team's best player who seemed to have too much of a mind of his own. The coach loved his running backs to be the embodiment of "smash mouth": burly, bruising players who would drop their heads and churn through the middle of the line no matter what stood in the way. His running back was more of a dancer, a player who glided across the turf, falling with the tackle rather than against it.

The coach seemed to prefer his way, yet the player wasn't going to change.

"You have a guy high-stepping through the line, making a big cut around a guy and taking on a tackler head-on to get three yards, or Shaun gets out of bounds after getting three yards, it's still three yards," Alexander's brother Durran said. "Three yards is three yards. If that's all there is to get then that's all there is.

"Which is the right way? The first way? What if he gets hurt trying to take on that tackler? Is that being concerned about the individual and not the team?"

That manifested itself in "I got stabbed in the back."

The thing is, the Seahawks did not have another player capable of gaining 1,800 yards regardless of the way he ran. Somehow player and coach needed to find a common ground. This would take some work because Alexander was a free agent at the end of last season, a huge payday was nearing, and the Seahawks were looking to trap him with the franchise tag.

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