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Originally published December 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 21, 2005 at 1:06 PM

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Steve Kelley

Hawks FB Strong deserves Pro Bowl selection

Mack Strong is paid to open holes. He is paid to stick his helmet and his shoulder pads into the guts of the orneriest players in his game...

Seattle Times staff columnist

KIRKLAND — Mack Strong is paid to open holes. He is paid to stick his helmet and his shoulder pads into the guts of the orneriest players in his game. He is paid to wedge just enough of an opening for Shaun Alexander to slither through.

It's a little like being paid to challenge a Hummer in a game of chicken. Every weekend Strong is asked to sacrifice his aching limbs for the good of the game plan.

"I feel like I've been in 60 or 70 car wrecks every weekend," Strong says with a smile that almost looks like a grimace.

The joke is that Strong was 6 feet 4 when he came into the league with the Seahawks in 1993, and now he's 6 feet even.

"That's not a joke," Strong says, laughing again. "That's actually true, or at least that's how I feel sometimes."

He is the point man in the Seahawks' offensive assault. He is Alexander's personal bodyguard. His job is to keep linebackers with bad intentions away from one of the league's most dangerous weapons. He's the battleship protecting the fleet's aircraft carrier.

Asked about his job description, Strong says, "I just do the dirty work. Everything. The blocking. Catch a couple passes every now and then. Maybe get a run just to keep people off balance. But for the most part, I know that my job on this team is to do the blocking."

Saturday

Indianapolis at Seattle, 1:15 p.m., Ch. 7

Asked what part of his body hurts, Strong says, "It would be easier to ask me what doesn't hurt. My stomach doesn't hurt. That's probably the only thing on my body that's not sore right now."

He's a fullback and a throwback. He could have played the game in the days of leather helmets and no face guards and black-and-white television.

"What people don't realize is that he's the best fullback in football," says Alexander, who has rushed for 1,668 yards this season. "And to me he has been for the last three years. And he's never complained about what he has to do."

Strong, 34, has been selflessly opening holes for Seahawks' backs for so long, he almost seems older than Kirkland.

"I think he roomed with Steve Largent," Alexander jokes. "Didn't Jim Zorn throw his first dump-off pass to Mack?"

But through it all — the pounding that wracks his body with pain every Sunday, the seasons that have yo-yo'd from the good, to the bad, to 12-2 this season — Strong has been as consistent as the phases of the moon.

Today the NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections. No Seahawk deserves to go more, no Seahawk is more overdue for recognition, no NFL fullback is having a better season than Mack Strong.

"I said that three years ago and no one believed me," Alexander says. "He is Mr. Seahawk. We're building for the long haul here, but I really want to win one [Super Bowl] for him right now."

Strong always seems to be the league's afterthought. Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott is the perennial Pro Bowler.

"Why don't you ask Alstott who he'd rather run behind," Alexander says. "Himself or Mack Strong. He'd choose Mack Strong."

Alexander thought so much of the dirty work Strong did in front of him last season that he took his fullback with him to the Pro Bowl. This year, for the first time in his career, Strong's invitation should come from the league.

"Being the personal protector, the blocker for Shaun Alexander," coach Mike Holmgren says, "then looking at what Shaun's done, you could make a pretty good case that Mack is as valuable as anybody we have."

All of us should care as much about our jobs. All of us should work at our craft with the same dedication. All of us should be as good at what we do and as quiet about the way we go about it as Strong.

"I care [about going to the Pro Bowl] obviously, up to a point," says Strong. "Everybody wants to be recognized as one of the best at their position. I've been doing this for a long time and there've been a couple of years, definitely, where I felt I had a good enough season to go.

"I'd like to think that I'd get some recognition for all that I feel like I've given, not just to this organization, but to the game. I feel like I've done a lot. But if I don't go, it won't be the end of my career or anything like that. I'll just keep moving forward."

That's what Strong does. He moves forward and moves defensive players backward. For 13 seasons he has been inexorable and practically anonymous.

Strong has only rushed 17 times this season. He has caught only 20 passes. His successes are more personal. His Pro Bowl qualities are less measurable.

"I get the most joy when Shaun can go untouched by the guy that I'm blocking," he says. "Those are the ones that give me, probably, the most pride. It may not even be a long run, or a touchdown run, but if I do my job, which is to keep guys from touching him, then I feel very satisfied by that."

Mack Strong doesn't need the Pro Bowl, but he has earned a moment in the sun. He belongs in Hawaii. His dirty work deserves recognition.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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