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Alexander leaves Seattle cocoon

Associated Press

Detroit — The league MVP, rushing leader and touchdown record-setter comes to the Super Bowl, and isn't even the most-recognized running back at the game.

For Shaun Alexander, that figures.

"I never felt like I was completely overlooked. I was always just one of the other guys," Alexander said Monday, Day 1 of him being the other guy this week behind Pittsburgh Steelers star and Detroit native Jerome Bettis.

Bettis may be retiring after Sunday's game. But Alexander, the best little-known player in the land, will play on.

And he has many games to play.

One is chess. Alexander enjoys beating teammates, friends — everyone except Erik Anderson.

Alexander said the Seattle-area entrepreneur and founder of the American Foundation for Chess is the last person to beat him at one of his many loves outside of football.

"Yep, first or second week of the season. But he got lucky," Alexander said, feigning disgust.

Chess is just one of the many sides to Alexander that the nation never sees.

Much of it remembers Alexander for lashing out at Mike Holmgren after the 2004 regular-season finale against Atlanta. Instead of giving Alexander the ball from the 1 in a bid to tie for the rushing title, Holmgren called a quarterback sneak that Matt Hasselbeck scored on on what turned out to be Seattle's final possession.

Alexander finished a yard behind the New York Jets' Curtis Martin and infamously said Holmgren "stabbed me in the back" — an incident both men now say was overblown.

Much of the nation doesn't know Alexander has a foundation in his name that focuses on leadership and character modeling for fatherless, teenage men.

"I love seeing young men go finish high school, going to college, getting married. It's a great honor to help kids do that," he said.

It doesn't know the 28-year-old Alexander is in many ways a kid himself. That he loves Eddie Murphy movies and puts them on one of the four DVD players aboard the team plane for each Seahawks road trip.

That he devours M&Ms just before he slithers past defenders on one of his many cutback runs each week.

That during a recent midweek off day, Alexander was inside a children's playroom in suburban Seattle with a television camera in tow. He sweated through rolling around on mats, dancing, clapping to music and playing miniature basketball with a small group of kids. They treated him like just another playmate instead of a multimillion dollar NFL star.

Before that, he hosted a young cancer patient from a Seattle suburb at a Seahawks practice and told him, "Man, I see more people win that battle than lose it."

Alexander's aunt died in her early 50s last month from cancer. And his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was in high school in Florence, Ky. But she is still living and is a huge inspiration to her son.

"She taught me about being bold in your commitments to being excellent, on the field and off the field," he said.

Much of the nation doesn't know all this, partly because Alexander is tucked into the far, upper-left corner of the country.

That could change Sunday.

The league MVP has played in that season's Super Bowl 21 times in the 39-year history of the game. Ten of those 21 won the Super Bowl — and six also became Super Bowl MVPs.

Then again, Alexander maybe it won't change. Maybe he will continue to be somewhat anonymous.

"I just be myself," he said. "I can't worry about other people's perceptions."

Still, his 28 TDs this season didn't go completely unnoticed.

"Oh, we know who he is," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "We definitely pay attention to the highlights. We all watch it on TV."

Whether anyone sees him in a Seahawks uniform past this week is uncertain. This is the last game of his Seattle contract, making him potentially the biggest plum in March's free-agent tree.

When asked last month what if he has stopped to consider what his team would be like if it did not have Alexander and his team-record 1,880 yards rushing, Holmgren said: "Why would I do that? I don't have to think about that."

He might by March 3 when the annual free-agent derby begins — if Seattle doesn't reach an agreement with Alexander on a new contract beyond the one-year, $6.32 million one he is playing under this season as the team's "franchise" player.

Alexander's agent, Jim Steiner, said Monday the two sides are "still too far away" to be able to be able to predict whether Alexander will remain a Seahawk.

"We still have a lot of negotiating to do with the club," said Steiner, adding he last talked to Seattle executives before the postseason began Jan. 14.

"He has done everything he can possibly do to warrant a new contract with Seattle. But that's the business of the NFL," Steiner said.

No one in Seattle is expecting Alexander to leave.

"I believe Shaun wants to stay in Seattle. He and I talk about his future often," Holmgren said.

"I know the club's position is we would like him to stay. It is my experience if you get that type of situation, you can usually work it out — if there is some reasonableness to everybody."

That "reasonableness" could be the rub. Though no one will talk numbers publicly, the Seattle consensus is that Alexander will command a signing bonus of over $20 million.

Last offseason, the team sprang for a $16 million bonus to re-sign Hasselbeck, another $20 million-plus in bonuses to keep perennial Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones — and has another potential, Pro Bowl free agent this offseason, guard Steve Hutchinson.

But why would Alexander worry? As his lead blocker, fullback Mack Strong said, "Shaun's going to get paid."

Alexander said he hopes those checks continue to come from Seattle.

"I love the Seahawks, it's been said the Seahawks love me," he said. "It's just a matter of putting the numbers together."

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