The Longest Yard

"The talk shows and message boards went ballistic. People called for Shaun's head. People called for Holmgren's head. People did exactly what Alexander himself had done, namely speaking in the heat of passion about a subject that had upset them."

It has been said that football is a game of inches played on a field measured in yards. For Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, one yard made all the difference in the world. The Seahawks had the ball on second and goal on the Atlanta one-yard line with four and one half minutes left in the game and holding a one-point lead. Shaun Alexander stood one yard shy of the NFL rushing title. Alexander had rushed six times during the drive, for 3, -1, 0, 3, 11 and 3 yards in that order and had been given the ball three times in a row. With the NFC West title and the first ever home Playoff Game at Qwest Field hanging in the balance, Mike Holmgren called a quarterback sneak. It worked and the Seahawks went on to win the game, the NFC West and earned their first home playoff game in five years. Shaun Alexander went to the sidelines visibly upset.

After the game, reporters predictably stuck microphones in his face and asked for his opinion. Shaun gave them what they were looking for:

“We were going to win, anyway. We were on the freakin’ goal line, and I got stabbed in the back. That’s it.”

The talk shows and message boards went ballistic. People called for Shaun’s head. People called for Holmgren’s head. People did exactly what Alexander himself had done, namely speaking in the heat of passion about a subject that had upset them.

At 4 pm the next day, Shaun called a press conference to clear the air.

“It got the best of me and I definitely blurted out stuff I shouldn’t have said … [Mike Holmgren] couldn’t have done it on purpose. He’s not like that.”

Of course, the talk shows and message boards have no interest in apologies. Pundits still stood on soapboxes and pushed personal agendas, some using the comments as proof that Alexander will leave the Seahawks next season, some using the incident as proof that Mike Holmgren is a poor Head Coach, and so on and so forth.

The reality of the situation is much more complex than one simple play call. For instance, if Holmgren had called Alexander’s number and Shaun had fumbled the exchange or failed to reach the end zone, the same folks who are calling for Holmgren’s head for not giving a player a shot at the title would be calling for Holmgren’s head because he put a player’s personal records before the needs of the team. If Alexander had fallen forward on just one of his runs, the record would have been sewn up before the Seahawks final play. If the Seattle defense had managed to stop Atlanta on any of the three third downs on the final drive of the game, he would have had a shot at the record.

What’s even more amazing to me is the amount of attention Shaun’s comments have gotten when there were at least two other incidents of NFL players making comments or doing things that were far more harmful to team chemistry than Alexander’s Sunday outburst.
Take, for example, Randy Moss walking off the field before the onside kick that would have given his team a chance at winning the game. Why weren’t you on the field trying to recover the kick, Randy? What if your teammates had recovered the kick and needed to throw a Hail Mary to win?

Or how about the New Orleans Saints’ Aaron Brooks who dropped this bomb on Friday when asked about Carolina QB (and former Saints backup) Jake Delhomme: “Jake is a great guy, a good quarterback. He’s on a team that plays well together. I’m the exact opposite. I’m a great quarterback and I’m on a team that’s kind of struggling and has been very inconsistent a lot of the time. I’ve been able to do some great things. There’s no comparison.” This from a guy who’s going to have his own half hour NFL Films blooper show and that’s just for the 2004 season.

Neither one of these incidents has gotten half of the attention that the Alexander comments have, and, perhaps Shaun’s previous impeccable public persona has a lot to do with it. Is anyone really surprised when Randy Moss acts like a spoiled 6-year-old? Or when Aaron “I owned them with my eyes” Brooks fails to take responsibility for his own shortcomings? No. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that when the press gets a shot at fresh meat, they go for the kill. Yet, somehow, I am.

It would seem that I’m not only one, either. Shaun himself seemed surprised by the amount of attention, both national and local, that his post-game comments have garnered. “I was amazed. There were one hundred thousand great things that this game did for us, and we focused on the one comment. But it is a great story. I’m sure people read it,” laughed Alexander.

When a player is one yard short of any record, there are a myriad of things that could have been different. To place the blame on any one play is to grossly oversimplify the situation. It is clear from his Monday comments that Alexander wants to put the whole thing behind him.

It’s time for the press and the fans to let it go, too.

Dylan Johnson writes for Seahawks.NET. He’s also well-known as “NJSeahawksFan” on our Fan Forums. Feel free to contact him at Top Stories