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Tuesday, January 04, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Alexander backtracks on missing rushing title

Seattle Times staff reporter



Wearing an "NFC West Champions" cap, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander yesterday held a news conference to apologize for his outburst on Sunday.

KIRKLAND — Shaun Alexander issued an apology yesterday, confirming that the Seahawks' Pro Bowl running back will not be listed on the injury report with stab wounds to the back this week.

It came after Alexander fell one yard short of the NFL rushing crown in the Seahawks' NFC West-clinching victory against Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. It was delivered with a smile on his face and an "NFC West Champions" hat perched atop his head.

The fashion statement served as a not-so subtle nod to critics who questioned his priorities in the wake of Alexander's "I got stabbed in the back" comments after the Seahawks' 28-26 win over the Falcons. The Seahawks ran a quarterback sneak for the yard he needed on what turned out to be their last offensive play and winning touchdown.

"And here I am," Alexander said.

Sitting in front of dozens of reporters, cameras flashing, tape rolling, backtracking from his comments a day earlier.

Saying he wanted the crown for his fullback, for his linemen, for his coaches. Saying he didn't need to apologize to coach Mike Holmgren or his teammates because they already know where winning stands on his priority list. Saying reporters caught him before he had a chance to think.

"The biggest thing in the world is how apologetic I am to this whole situation," Alexander said. "How ... my feelings about a record could even take any excitement, any of the light away from us winning a championship.

"I'm human. The thing is: Anybody can, at one time, pop off. And I've done it several times. I'm not worried about my image."

After the game, Holmgren expressed disappointment in Alexander gaining one less yard this season than New York Jets running back Curtis Martin. Holmgren was not available for comment yesterday.

At team headquarters, the word was that if the Jets had beaten the St. Louis Rams, giving Seattle the NFC West title on Sunday morning, the Seahawks would have approached the rushing record differently.

As it was, the Seahawks needed to beat Atlanta to win the third division crown in team history. They knew his recent statistics — 12 carries inside the 10-yard line in the last four games for eight yards, two touchdowns and two fumbles, abnormal numbers for Alexander — and decided to run the sneak.


St. Louis @ Seattle, 1:30 p.m. (Ch. 4)

After the game, Alexander implied it was intentional. Yesterday, he backed away, saying he didn't think Holmgren knew he was that close.

"That was a little too extreme," Alexander said. "What I meant by it was: We're like family, especially coach Holmgren and I. Any time you get close to doing something, and you feel like the person you're closest to didn't help you, you're like, 'Oh, man. Did you stab me in the back?' "

Those who know Alexander well say he did not set out to lead the league in rushing yards, that a Super Bowl championship has always been more important.

More money was not a reason for Alexander's outburst Sunday, as he had no incentive in his contract that would give him a bonus for winning the rushing title. He had already met the only incentive in the final year of his original five-year contract with the Seahawks, which kicked in when Alexander passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Alexander already received a substantial pay raise for hitting an escalator in his contract that took effect this season. His base salary jumped from $545,000 to $3.25 million after Alexander rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

He reaffirmed his desire to remain in Seattle if a deal can be reached before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March. But the Seahawks and Alexander have not had any contract talks of substance this season, even though Alexander was open to signing a contract extension had he been presented with an offer.

"There is no bonus or paycheck in the end for (the rushing title)," Duran Alexander, his brother, said from Kentucky by phone. "Please, let's end that. Shaun was ready to talk and sign at the beginning of the year. Let's quit acting like he's only producing because of that."

While Alexander was publicly backing Holmgren, his brother spent time during the morning defending Shaun. Duran noted that fans rip Shaun for not running hard outside the red zone, then pointed out that he leads the NFL in runs of 20 yards or more (15).

He noted message boards that ripped Alexander for losing yards on some of his 19 carries against Atlanta, then pointed out his carries in losses to Arizona (12), Buffalo (13) and New England (16). Conversely, the Seahawks are 22-5 when he gets at least 25 touches.

"The fans are saying, 'Hey, we won the West. That should matter,' " Duran Alexander said. "It's not that it doesn't. The rushing title is bigger than Mike Holmgren vs. Shaun. If this is really a family, then you'd want that for your family member. People think he's selfish, but there's nothing he's shown other than the greater betterment of this team.

"People say he's always smiling. What do they want? Terrell Owens? Keyshawn Johnson?"

Meanwhile, Alexander smiled at each individual camera taking pictures at his news conference yesterday, expressing disbelief that his comments created such a controversy.

"I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal," Alexander said. "But, it is a great story. I bet you people read it."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or Staff reporter José Miguel Romero contributed to this article.

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