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Monday, January 03, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Holmgren wrong to deny Alexander his stat crown

Les Carpenter / Times staff columnist

They will never understand each other, which is too bad, because never have two people around this franchise needed each other like Shaun Alexander and Mike Holmgren. The playoffs are coming, and never has it been more clear that the Seahawks will be nowhere without their star running back.

But when Seattle's most dominant player looks his coach in the eye, there is a void. It's almost as if each is standing on a different planet.

Yesterday it was all about a yard.

On a day when the Seahawks won the NFC West by less than 3 feet, Alexander came a yard short of the NFL's rushing title. A yard he believes he could have gotten on Seattle's last offensive play, when the Seahawks were at second-and-one on the Atlanta Falcons' 1-yard line.

For three straight plays, Alexander carried the ball from the Falcons' 16 to the shadow of the end zone. Then, instead of handing off to Alexander for the crowning run that would have tied him with the Jets' Curtis Martin with 1,697 yards, Holmgren called for a quarterback sneak. He sent Matt Hasselbeck lunging over the line, passing arm outstretched, until Hasselbeck disappeared in a pile of Falcons jerseys.

"We were going to win anyway, we were on the freaking goal line, and I got stabbed in the back," Alexander said in the locker room afterward before being quieted by a Seahawks media-relations employee.

Too late, the words were out.

Later, as he walked out of the stadium, Alexander paused by the exit and said: "We didn't want to win that rushing title."

Asked if when he said "we" he meant Holmgren, he said, "Yes."

Asked again if he was sure he wanted to say this on a day the Seahawks won their way into a division championship, he again said, "Yes."

Then he added, "Please make sure I'm saying this in the nicest way possible."

Which is sure to infuriate and confound Holmgren even more.

The coach had a fair at best run as general manager and franchise architect. But one of the best moves he made was choosing Alexander in the first round of the 2000 draft. In five seasons, Alexander hasn't missed a game, has rarely fumbled and has scored touchdowns with startling regularity.

Yet in that time, Holmgren has never truly warmed to his most potent offensive weapon. He never comprehended Alexander, seeing him as a prima donna, eager to bask in the spotlight and too quick to smile, even in the wrong situations.

There is irony in the way the coach appears to hold Alexander at a distance while trying to embrace his disaster of a 2001 first-round pick — Koren Robinson — who appears to be getting yet another chance next week despite Robinson's third benching for disciplinary reasons by the team in two years.

Likewise, Alexander is convinced Holmgren was intentionally trying to keep him from winning the rushing title. Looking at the circumstances, he is probably right. After all, it was a second-down play and with 4:32 left in the game and Seattle clinging to a one-point lead, there was no way the Seahawks were going to pass. It was reasonable to assume he'd get at least one more try at the touchdown, if not two.

"Oh, definitely, I knew how many yards I had," Alexander said. "I knew it was one yard or two that I needed."

And when Seattle got to the 15-yard line, he said he assumed he would be carrying the ball until the Seahawks scored. He has been the team's most effective red-zone player over the years.

When asked later about Alexander, Holmgren expressed regret about the title. He said he wished the Seahawks could have gotten the ball back one more time so his running back could have had another chance. Unfortunately, he added, that chance never came.

The fact of the matter is, Holmgren probably did stab Alexander in the back. And in his mind he probably felt he was justified in keeping Alexander a yard short — good enough for everyone to know he had a great season, but just inches from the thing he wanted most.

And given the way Alexander reacted, Holmgren must have felt vindicated. Now everyone would see the side of his running back that people inside the Seahawks don't like.

But why? Holmgren had to know how much Alexander desired that rushing title. Everyone in the stadium knew how close he was. Alexander's friend, Heath Evans, was counting the yards on the sideline. Then, when Alexander was just a yard away, he sent his banged-up quarterback into the heart of the scrum.

In other words, on the eve of the playoffs he'd rather risk Hasselbeck than give Alexander a lousy yard.

Was it really worth it?

This isn't a Super Bowl team. Once more the Seahawks let a team drive the length of the field in the last few minutes to nearly beat them. This time it was a backup quarterback with one NFL start who almost broke their hearts. Their best chance to go anywhere is to put the ball in the Alexander's hands and let him run.

And yet Holmgren again held the door open for Robinson — a receiver who should be sent far, far away from here.

While at the same time letting that door slam his best player in the face.

So maybe Alexander sounded selfish yesterday.

But this time he deserved to be mad.

Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or More columns at

The longest yard
Curtis Martin of the New York Jets beat Shaun Alexander for the rushing title in the closest finish in NFL history. A look at other close finishes:
Year Player, team Difference

Curtis Martin, N.Y. Jets (1,697 yards)

Shaun Alexander, Seattle (1,696)

1 yard


Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,304)

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo (1,297)



Christian Okoye, Kansas City (1,480)

Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,470)



Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,553)

Terrell Davis, Denver (1,538)



Emmitt Smith, Dallas (1,563)

Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,548)



Emmitt Smith, Dallas (1,713)

Barry Foster, Pittsburgh (1,690)


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