The Curious Case of Shaun Alexander: What Happened to the Former NFL MVP?

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The Curious Case of Shaun Alexander: What Happened to the Former NFL MVP?
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

I sort of remember this guy. He was a running back for some team, somewhere. He was pretty good, I think.

He won some sort of award, MVP or something. Yeah, now I remember him.

He had 100 rushing touchdowns and almost 10,000 career rushing yards—three Pro Bowls and the 2005 MVP award. In that same year, he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and racked up a stunning 27 TDs.

He had good hands for a power back too: 1,520 receiving yards for his career that led to 12 of his TDs.

So how does a guy like this go from top of the sporting world to becoming a free agent doomed to mediocrity?

He seemed like he was on the right track to stardom, drafted 19th overall in the 2000 NFL draft. However, playing behind starter Ricky Watters resulted in a subpar rookie season, rushing for 313 yards and a measly two touchdowns.

His sophomore season (2001) was a breakout year for the then-23-year-old. Due to Watters' decline in activity and eventual retirement, Alexander played his way to 1,318 rushing yards and a team-leading 14 TDs.

This immediate success was no surprise, as Alexander was a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy in college, setting and re-breaking his own school records many times while playing with the University of Alabama at the college level as one of the premier players in the nation.

In 2002, he generated a NFC-leading (and franchise record) 16 rushing TDs. He went on to set an NFL record that season against the Minnesota Vikings. Alexander produced four rushing TDs and caught an 80-yard reception into the end zone for five first-half touchdowns.

His reputation as one of the league's elite offensive players continued to grow, as did his statistical accomplishments; over the next two seasons, he garnered a combined 30 touchdowns on 3,100 rushing yards.

Alexander's 2005 MVP season registered an NFL-record 28 single-season touchdowns on over 1,800 yards. For his historical efforts, he became the league's MVP, the first Seahawk to do so.

So, what happened...?

Why did the league's best player suddenly plummet to become a bottom dweller among the NFL's peasantry?

2006 saw the running back's productivity take a shocking hit, as many serious injuries and key player departures took their toll on No. 37.

Alexander's offensive line began to weaken drastically over the next two years, as Seattle said "goodbye" to vital component Steve Hutchinson.

The retirement of Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck further enfeebled the Seahawks' once dominant offensive line, further contributing to the diminution of Alexander's productivity. Mack Strong suffered a career-ending injury, and as Alexander's lead blocker left the franchise, so too did his hopes of returning to his old, record-breaking form.

The fact is, after his MVP campaign Alexander went on to generate only 11 TDs for the rest of his anticlimactic career, in two seasons with the Seahawks ('06, '07) and one with the Redskins ('08).

So as Alexander's pending, inevitable retirement looms, I have to ask myself: Was it his fault?

Luck played the biggest factor in the unfortunate end to this gifted athlete's career. It's sad, isn't it?

James Joyce once said, "Life is a cruel game of chance."

Truer words have never been spoken, James.

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