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Originally published September 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 26, 2007 at 2:46 PM

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Steve Kelley

Alexander can smile because there's more to life than this

Alexander isn't tough in the way Jim Brown or Bo Jackson were. But he is football tough.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sunday

Seahawks @ San Francisco, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

The edge is softer with Shaun Alexander. He doesn't spit blood and teeth after football games. He isn't all gnarly and snarling, win or lose.

His approach to the game is different from the typical football player.

For one thing, Alexander smiles.

A lot.

He's grinnin' even when he's not winnin'. And that can be infuriating to fans, coaches and even some teammates, who believe, as Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi believed, that "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Yes, it was maddening two weeks ago, when the Seahawks running back wouldn't accept at least a large share of the blame for his collision with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck that caused the fumble that led to Seattle's 23-20 loss at Arizona.

After that game we waited for Alexander to take the heat off Hasselbeck, or fullback Mack Strong. Take the hit for the fumble. Admit he screwed up.

We were looking for some accountability.

Instead, Alexander smiled. He always smiles. He said the play reminded him of a funny movie. He said, because of a blocking breakdown, he thought maybe he had misunderstood and Hasselbeck had audibled out of a running play and into a pass.

We wanted Alexander to be testy as he answered the postgame questions, because that's what we expect from players after losses.

But Alexander smiled — even giggled, on occasion.

Those of us who grew up listening to our coaches quote Lombardi — "If you accept losing, you can't win" — wondered how Alexander could accept this crushing loss so blithely.

It didn't seem right. It almost seemed selfish.

But it was just Shaun being Shaun. He was compartmentalizing the loss. Putting it where he thought it belonged — in the past tense.

Shaun Alexander is an anomaly in his game.

He isn't football-centric. He believes, and he certainly is correct, that his is a wonderful life. He is surrounded by love — from his family, his friends, his church.

His motivation comes from some different place in his soul. He has told us many times he feels he is blessed. Whether we share his beliefs, the important thing is, it works for him.

His life is bigger than the game.

For fans who want to rip out stadium seats and hurl them in disgust or for teammates who kick holes in walls after losses, Alexander's approach to the game can be off-putting.

That smile can be as annoying as fingernail scratches on a chalkboard.

But that smile is who Alexander is, and that isn't all bad.

We can't have it both ways. We can't rail against the charlatans, then get angry with a player as above reproach as Alexander.

We can't ask what is wrong with a league where quarterback Michael Vick confesses to felonious dogfighting charges. We can't rue the sins of the Cincinnati Bengals. We can't rail about the multiple indiscretions of Adam "Pacman" Jones or the gun-toting misadventures of Tank Johnson, then get angry at Alexander just because he smiles.

He may not be the rusher from Central Casting. He may be able to let go of losses quicker than the fans in the Hawks Nest, or the coaches on the sideline. But he is a role model in a league looking for more.

Alexander isn't tough in the way Jim Brown or Bo Jackson were. But he is football tough.

He is willing to play this Sunday in San Francisco with a cracked bone in his left wrist. And even though he missed six weeks last season with a broken foot, he lobbied coaches repeatedly to get him back on the field before the foot had healed.

In his seven NFL seasons, he has rushed for at least 1,300 yards five times and he's on pace to do it again this year. He has 98 career touchdowns.

Sure, he can be annoying. Sometimes he doesn't seem to get it. Doesn't seem to understand that his teammates need something from him besides a smile.

Often his postgame comments make us want to roll our eyes. But so often we — whether it's fans or sportswriters — wish players would show their appreciation for the good fortune, for the talent they have that has allowed them to live the good life.

Well, Shaun Alexander knows how good he has it. He understands his good fortune.

He may appear frustratingly unaccountable when mistakes are made, but he is that postgame smile. He is exactly that guy.

A little goofy. A little different. But still a very good running back, who, despite the grins, still wants very badly to win.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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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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