All this talk about Hall of Fames has gotten me interested in Shaun Alexander again. Make no mistake, I don’t think Shaun Alexander belongs in the Hall of Fame. He’s right there on the edge … but he doesn’t have the numbers to make it in.
In yesterday’s post, I talked a little shit about Curtis Martin making it in (and, in the process, lowering the bar for someone like Alexander). Well, I somewhat take that back – I guess longevity deserves recognition as much as actual ability – but I still stand behind my statement that Cortez Kennedy was the best of the bunch in the 2012 class.
Curtis Martin had over 14,000 yards rushing in 168 games over 11 seasons. 11 seasons for a running back is pretty damn impressive. Also impressive is, in 2004 – his 10th season – Martin won the rushing title (and had his best-ever season) with 1,697 yards (over a reckless 371 attempts … averaging a little over 23 attempts per game). I would argue that Martin was never a truly elite running back, but he was always pretty damn good. He had over 1,000 yards in each of his first ten seasons, with his body finally breaking down in that 11th and final go-around. With that kind of longevity, it’s hard to ignore those numbers. He was a fucking WORKHORSE.
Shaun Alexander, on the other hand, WAS an elite running back. From 2001 through 2005, I would argue no one was better; although, if you tack on receptions & receiving yards, it’s probably pretty apparent that LaDainian Tomlinson was better. Still, if you go by straight rushing, Alexander gets the edge (7,504 yards vs. 7,361 yards) and (87 touchdowns vs. 72 touchdowns).
Throughout that period, it was always neck-and-neck as to who was the best running back, Alexander or LDT. Fantasy experts would always side with LDT, but if you had to settle for Alexander, it’s not like you were getting a dog with fleas. You can’t argue with 87 touchdowns in a 5-year period! You’re looking at a 17 per-season average, with an NFL record 27 in that MVP 2005 season!
Alexander was in the Top 10 in the NFL in rushing four of those five seasons, with his 1,175 in 2002 still good for 13th (and with his 16 touchdowns tied for 2nd). In 2005, Alexander won the rushing title with 1,880; in 2004, Alexander lost the rushing title by 1 yard to the aforementioned Curtis Martin.
And in rushing touchdowns, Alexander was no worse than tied for 3rd in any of those five seasons (winning the rushing TD title twice).
When my friends and I had a huge
drunken civilized argument about Alexander’s Hall of Fame worthiness sometime in 2009 – in an era where we didn’t have iPhones to decide the winners of these debates – I didn’t even have to look at the stats to know that Alexander was a shoo-in. I mean, SURELY after such a period of dominance, Alexander was WELL beyond the 10,000-yard threshold that seems to be a solid indicator of whether you’re in or not.
Then, later, when I had a chance to sit in front of a computer, I was faced with the cruel, harsh reality: 9,453. With the final 24 coming in a Redskins uniform.
9,453. That number looks so small, so impotent. 9,453 of the daintiest little yards you’re ever going to see.
In today’s NFC West Blog, Sando wrote this, talking about Shaun Alexander.
In it, he talks about how Alexander’s stats are on-par with Earl Campbell, beloved hard-running battering ram who made his name for the Houston Oilers. He made it into the Hall of Fame with numbers actually slightly WORSE than Alexander’s. But, he made it into the Hall of Fame based on reputation. Reputation for never going down, never going out of bounds, never giving up on that extra inch. Earl Campbell killed his body over eight seasons (only five of which saw him go over 1,000 yards, although one of those sub-1,000 seasons was strike-shortened), and he was rewarded with induction.
No one, not even the dumbest of Seattle homers, is going to confuse Shaun Alexander’s running style with that of Earl Campbell. Although, I would argue there is one exception, and that’s the Red Zone. Whenever Shaun Alexander sniffed himself that sweet endzone apple pie cooling on Miss Blanchard’s window sill, he was a rabid dog in hot pursuit. He finished his career with 100 rushing touchdowns. 87 in his prime, 2 in 2000 when he was a backup to Ricky Watters, and the final 11 over his last two seasons with the Seahawks, when his body started breaking down (as well as his all-world offensive line). If anyone should have a hate-on for Tim Ruskell, it’s Alexander for him letting Steve Hutchinson go (and thereby letting all those wide-open running lanes go with him).
100 rushing touchdowns, by the way, has Alexander tied for 7th all time. The person he’s tied with (Marshall Faulk) as well as everyone above him (save Tomlinson, who will be a first-ballot guy whenever he retires) are all in the Hall of Fame, as well as the guy just below him (Barry Sanders) with 99. Alexander has more touchdowns than Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, Jim Taylor, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Thurman Thomas, Larry Csonka, and O.J. Simpson (all in the Hall of Fame). And you’re talking about a guy whose career was cut short by injury and circumstance!
Which is ultimately the shame of it all for a guy like Alexander. He was in the absolute prime of his life in 2005 when he led this team to the Super Bowl. Then, he signed a long contract extension, and promptly developed a foot injury. This injury prevented him from playing in 6 games in 2006 (and prevented him from playing all that well in the other 10 he was in) and 3 games in 2007. Tack onto that the fact that our offensive line went down the shitter thanks to Tim Ruskell’s idiocy, and the fact that Mike Holmgren was in the midst of being pushed out by an overly-eager front office looking to make a change just for the sake of making a change. Shaun Alexander didn’t stand a chance. He didn’t get to have a second career like Tomlinson has had in New York. Granted, Tomlinson was a little more durable in his first career in San Diego, but he still had an opportunity to tack on over 1,000 yards in these past two seasons as a reserve. Alexander didn’t even get THAT opportunity. He was picked up by the Redskins, sat on the bench most of the time, and then discarded like stale pizza crust.
I firmly believe, if we would’ve retained Hutch, it not only would’ve meant our continued success over the last half of last decade, but it would’ve meant Alexander would have easily cleared 10,000 yards. Even if he was battling injury, it would’ve made his job a helluva lot easier had he had the bodies in front of him capable of doing their jobs properly (as they had between 2001 & 2005).
Alexander got a raw deal, plain and simple. He may not get the respect of the media in Seattle – who like to belittle him every chance they get because he was a Big Fish in a Small Pond who didn’t kowtow to that Small Pond mentality – or even the respect of most of the fans – who like to conveniently forget all of his tremendous success on the football field in favor of highlighting the times he ran out of bounds to avoid contact – but I always appreciated him as one of The Greats. He may not ultimately have the numbers to truly rank and belong among The Greats, but he had the skill, the ability, and the drive. And for five straight years, he was NFL Royalty.
The Hall of Fame might not come a-calling, but will the Ring of Honor do?