NFL MVP Shawn Alexander Leaves Seattle Cocoon, Enters America’s Grandest Sports Stage
By GREGG BELL – The Associated Press
DETROIT – There is somebody who can beat NFL MVP Shaun Alexander at his own game. Erik Anderson, the founder of the American Foundation for Chess?
Alexander said the Seattle-area entrepreneur is the last person to beat him at one of his many loves outside of football. “Yep, first or second week of the season. But he got lucky,” Alexander said, feigning disgust.
Alexander is at the top of his day-job profession this week, a potential Seahawks free agent, league rushing champion and NFL record holder with 28 touchdowns this season. And he is about to play in its ultimate game, Sunday’s Super Bowl against Pittsburgh. Yet chess is just one of the many sides to Alexander that the nation never sees.
Much of it remembers Alexander for lashing out at Mike Holmgren after the 2004 regular-season finale, after the coach called a quarterback kneel-down instead of one additional run that could have given Alexander the rushing title. Instead, Alexander finished 1 yard behind the New York Jets’ Curtis Martin and infamously said Holmgren “stabbed me in the back” an incident both men now say was overblown.
Much of the nation doesn’t know Alexander has a foundation in his name that focuses on leadership and character modeling for fatherless, teenage men. “I love seeing young men go finish high school, going to college, getting married. It’s a great honor to help kids do that,” he said.
It doesn’t know the 28-year-old Alexander is in many ways a kid himself. That he loves Eddie Murphy movies and puts them on one of the four DVD players aboard the team plane for each Seahawks road trip.
That he devours M&Ms just before he slithers past defenders on one of his many cutback runs or ducks his heads for first downs and touchdowns each week. That there is more than pawns and bishops to Alexander’s relationship with Anderson.
Anderson’s nonprofit chess federation has also started a program to teach chess to grade-school children across the country to improve critical thinking, math and problem-solving skills.
Hanging with kids now that’s another game Alexander loves to play. During a recent midweek off day, Alexander was inside a children’s playroom in suburban Seattle. A television camera caught him working up a sweat while rolling around on mats, dancing, clapping to music and playing miniature basketball with a small group of kids who treated him like just another playmate instead of a multimillion dollar NFL star.
Before that, he hosted a young cancer patient from a Seattle suburb at a Seahawks practice and told him, “Man, I see more people win that battle than lose it.”
Alexander’s aunt died in her early 50s last month from cancer. But his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was in high school in Florence, Ky. She is still living and is a huge inspiration to Alexander. “She taught me about being bold in your commitments to being excellent, on the field and off the field,” he said.
Much of the nation doesn’t know all this, partly because these sides of Alexander are tucked into the far, upper-left corner of the country. That could change Sunday. The league MVP has played in that season’s Super Bowl 21 times in the 39-year history of the game. Ten of those 21 won the Super Bowl and six also became Super Bowl MVPs. Then again, Alexander is still somewhat anonymous. And that’s fine with him. “I just be myself,” he said Monday. “I can’t worry about other people’s perceptions.” Or some of his realities. Such as, this the last game of his Seahawks’ contract. Thus, he is potentially the biggest plum in March’s free-agent tree. When asked last month what if he has stopped to consider what his team would be like if it did not have Alexander and his team-record 1,880 yards rushing, Holmgren said: “Why would I do that? I don’t have to
think about that.”
He might by March 3 when the annual free-agent derby begins if Seattle doesn’t reach an agreement with Alexander on a new contract beyond the one-year, $6.32 million one he is playing under this season as the team’s “franchise” player. Alexander’s agent, Jim Steiner, said Monday the two sides are “still too far away” to be able to be able to predict whether Alexander will remain a Seahawk. “We still have a lot of negotiating to do with the club,” said Steiner, who added he last talked to Seattle executives before the postseason began Jan. 14. “He has done everything he can possibly do to warrant a new contract with Seattle. But that’s the business of the NFL,” Steiner said. No one in Seattle is expecting Alexander to leave. But many are silently fearing it. “We are all aware of his contract situation. I believe Shaun wants to stay in Seattle. He and I talk about his
future often,” Holmgren said.
“I know the club’s position is we would like him to stay. It is my experience if you get that type of situation, you can usually work it out if there is some reasonableness to everybody.” That “reasonableness” could be the rub. Though no one will talk numbers publicly, the Seattle consensus is that Alexander will command a signing bonus of over $20 million. That is not nearly as much as two-time MVP Peyton Manning’s $34.5 million signing bonus. But it is plenty for a team that last offseason sprang for a $16 million bonus to re-sign Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, another $20 million-plus in bonuses to keep perennial Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones and has another potential, Pro Bowl free agent this offseason in guard Steve Hutchinson. But why would Alexander worry? As his lead blocker, fullback Mack Strong said, “Shaun’s going to get paid.” Alexander said he hopes those checks continue to come from Seattle.
“I love the Seahawks, it’s been said the Seahawks love me,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting the numbers together.”
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