OK, let's start with a confession.
I'm not big on sports books. It wasn't always that way, because I can still remember poring over "The Babe and I" when I was 10. It was mostly a love story, by "Mrs. Babe Ruth," and as a young girl, that appealed to me. And the fact that my father, the coach, brought it home.
The sports books I have read since have been few and far between, most always predictable and usually a bit sappy. I suppose that is partly due to sports being my job, where I am satiated from the stories in the newspaper, magazines, on the Web, on television. I want to save my book time for fiction.
And then comes along "Touchdown Alexander," the soon-to-be-released book by Seahawks star Shaun Alexander, which, of course, was really written by someone else, in this case by the prolific Cecil Murphey, a Presbyterian minister from Georgia who just completed his 104th book. That's the way these as-told-to deals work, and in fact, Mrs. Babe Ruth didn't actually write my childhood favorite, either.
In its essence, "Touchdown Alexander" is a religious tract and a love story with some football and family thrown in between. It's not what I'd call a page turner. But there are moments when it knocks your socks off, in only that it reveals something about one of Seattle's most famous athletes that had never been written.
And that is this:
My Story of Faith, Football,
and Pursuing the Dream"
By Shaun Alexander
with Cecil Murphey
Publishers, $22.99, or $19.99 for
To be released Aug. 15.
For more information: www.harvesthousepublishers.com/books_buy.cfm
Shaun Alexander was a virgin until he married Valerie Boyd in May of 2002 after a two-year courtship. He was 24. But even more unusual, he says:
"The first time I kissed her was at the altar after Pastor Treat said, 'You may now kiss the bride.' It was worth the wait."
Alexander's story of their first meeting is charmingly related in a chapter called "The Girl in the Little Green Neon." He lets us in on what he secretly thought when she arrived at a party on the first day he came to Seattle after being drafted by the Seahawks.
"I met a lot of girls who acted pure and good at first, especially in public," Alexander recalls, having told us earlier about one who tempted him with a condom. "Then as soon as we'd get alone, they'd change. Was she like the others? I hoped not."
Later that evening, Valerie offers to take him in her green Neon for a tour of his new city, starting with where he would play football. She drove straight to, uh, Safeco Field. They decide to sneak in, but a security guard stops them. Alexander explains he had been drafted by the Seahawks and wants to take a look around. The guard enthusiastically grants them a tour.
"I'm sorry, Shaun," Valerie confides when she learns that it's a baseball park, "... I really don't know too much about football."
In just three days, Alexander is hopelessly in love. "I was thinking, 'Now I know why I was sent to Seattle. I had met my wife.' "
As their relationship grows, he fights off physical desire, and sees in a series of sexual dreams a warning not to drift from his vow of abstinence. Because of it, he and Valerie decide that they will not even kiss until they wed.
Murphey, the ghostwriter and a former missionary, says he hears more and more of promises of sexual purity being made by young people, and it was something else about Alexander that surprised him.
"He is probably the most open person I have ever worked with," Murphey said in a recent telephone interview. "It was amazing to me to find someone that well known be so vulnerable. You just don't find that quality in celebrities. By the time they have fame, they have been hurt so many times that they are guarded. But not Shaun. He embraced me from the very beginning."
Murphey didn't immediately jump on the MVP's bandwagon, however.
"Frankly, when he first contacted me about the book, I wasn't much interested. I said, 'Shaun, you're not a big name,' and he wasn't then [in 2004]. He was a nice guy, a good football player, but hadn't done anything outstanding in pro ball. In college at Alabama, yes, but I really thought he'd be better off self-publishing."
Alexander realizes that his life story doesn't have many plot turns, saying as much on the very first page, feeling a little guilty about it.
"My story is not in any way a tragic one. I don't have a traumatic incident in my past that caused me to turn to God. To tell you the truth, my life has been blessed with a great deal of happiness and success.
"At times, I've felt a little bad about that. Most of the time, though, I just end up reminding myself that I am who I am because I had a wise mother, who not only took me to church and taught me about Jesus' love but who has lived the life she taught me to live."
There is much religion throughout the book, including Alexander's "10 principles to a blessed life," and his philosophy that everyone needs three roles filled in their lives: a Paul, the teacher; a Barnabas, the encourager; and a Timothy, the student. Alexander clearly believes his purpose is to be both a Paul and a Barnabas to the Timothys he encounters.
It is what made Murphey finally decide to write the book.
"I found out that he started a foundation to help black kids while he was still a student at Alabama," Murphey says. "That impressed me. He hadn't been drafted yet by the NFL, there was no guarantee he would be, and I thought, 'Here is a guy who has already made a commitment to young people. This guy has got to be something special.' "
Murphey flew to Seattle, listened to Alexander's story, then turned the 224-page book around in six weeks. It's a fast job, and Murphey says he lost a bit of creative control with the publisher, but not with Alexander, who made few changes in the manuscript and then only for accuracy.
One chapter leads the reader through a bit of revisionist history, however. It concerns the infamous "backstabbing" comments Alexander made on Jan. 2, 2005, when he fell 1 yard short of the NFL rushing title, and spoke out angrily about his coach, Mike Holmgren, for betraying him, for not letting him rush that extra yard for the title.
In Alexander's recollection, a single reporter hounds him on the field and in the dressing room, twisting what Alexander describes as "inconsequential" comments made with a smile on his face.
Sorry, but that's not what reporters who were there remember. Alexander repeatedly said it to at least three of them, visibly upset. So much so, that two days later, the record shows he felt a need to publicly recant.
"The biggest thing in the world is how apologetic I am to this whole situation," Alexander said that day, addressing his teammates and his coach. "How ... my feelings about a record could even take any excitement, any of the light away from us winning a championship.
"I'm human. The thing is: Anybody can, at one time, pop off. And I've done it several times. I'm not worried about my image."
When he speaks of Holmgren in the book, he does so with admiration, calling him "the best coach in the NFL. He's not only a man of enormous confidence but he instills that same confidence in the rest of us. Coach Holmgren is my kind of guy."
But Murphey says that Alexander admitted to him how upset he had been at his coach on that "backstabbing" day.
"They cut that chapter down, took a lot of the anger out," Murphey said of the publisher. "They thought it was just a footnote. But it is true with all of us, that revisionism of the past is very common. I will say that I believe Shaun is convinced that the way he told it to me is the way it was. We all tend to remember some things wrongly, but he would never intentionally lie."
After reading Alexander's tale, you would say so, too. He is, as he says, human. We can easily forgive this straying because he opens himself up so deeply everywhere else.
In the end, the book will not be considered a classic. But it is a rare, mostly unvarnished look into the inside of a football star who doesn't put up many fences. As Murphey tells it, Alexander's story became much sought after when he was named the league's MVP. Other authors with bigger publishing houses and bigger paydays approached Alexander wanting to buy it.
"Shaun told them all no," Murphey says. "He said he had given his word to me. And I do not know many people with that kind of integrity."
Cathy Henkel: 206-464-8278 or email@example.com