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Originally published March 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 10, 2008 at 9:36 AM

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Steve Kelley

Don't let Shaun Alexander fade without fanfare

It happens, as quick as a clip. One season you are the best in the business. The most valuable player, tearing through holes and piling...

Seattle Times staff columnist

It happens, as quick as a clip.

One season you are the best in the business. The most valuable player, tearing through holes and piling up yards the way a venture capitalist piles up money.

One season you're on top of your world. You're significant. You're important. You're part of the franchise's foundation.

Two seasons later you're gone.

In the National Football League, it seems, you're important, until you're not.

Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, a player goes from indispensable to expendable. He becomes a liability — unproductive, unreliable, a drain on the salary cap.

He starts to feel the squeeze. His team signs veterans who play his position. If he's lucky, his general manager calls and explains the team's new direction. Most times, that call never comes.

And eventually, he's gone.

Poof!

Rarely is there fanfare. There is no farewell tour. No lovely parting gifts.

He's just gone. Released into uncertainty. Unemployed. Unplugged.

Shaun Alexander, the most productive running back in franchise history, probably has scored his last touchdown as a Seattle Seahawk.

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After a Pro Bowl career, after eight seasons in Seattle, after averaging more than 1,500 yards rushing over a five-year span, Alexander probably will be released.

The replacements, free agent backs T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones, have been signed. The Seahawks wouldn't have signed them if Alexander still were in their plans.

Alexander needs to be The Man, not just one of the men. His game isn't suited for sharing. He never has been a sometimes-runner. He is a prober. He needs carries. He uses a 2-yard run to set up a 20-yard burst.

In his prime, he always got better the more he carried the ball. Like an archaeologist digging for treasures, Alexander probed for daylight.

Eventually he found holes. He got yards. He scored touchdowns — 100 of them on the ground. But after two injury-filled seasons, trying to play with a broken foot one year and a broken wrist the next, Alexander is past his prime.

And, in the necessarily cold calculations of the Seahawks, past his usefulness.

The Hawks haven't made any announcements. Today, Alexander still is a Seahawk. He is planning for another season in Seattle.

But general manager Tim Ruskell spoke to Alexander recently and told him the Seahawks would be signing running backs. All last season the need to upgrade their running game was as obvious as a toothache. At Alexander's expense, they've addressed that need this winter.

Eventually, the official announcement will be made. A news release, which will read like a Dear John letter, will be written. Alexander's name will crawl across the bottom of the screen on all of the ESPN networks.

Poof! He will be gone.

It's nothing personal. It never is. It just happens this way to most of the best in the game.

But when it finally happens, the news shouldn't get buried under the angst over the Sonics' future and the excitement over the possibilities of the Mariners' season.

Alexander was part of the football renaissance in Seattle.

When he got here, the franchise was in disarray. He played in back of Ricky Watters and in front of thousands of empty seats at wet, blustery Husky Stadium. He played through early disappointments.

He never has been beloved in Seattle, where many fans questioned why he didn't ram for that extra yard, or why he stepped out of bounds instead of driving hard for a longer gain.

Maybe he didn't take enough hits, but, until he turned 30, he stayed healthy, he gained yards and he knew, better than any running back, how to get into the end zone.

Alexander had a sense for the dramatic. He seemed to play his best in prime time on national television. His five-touchdown game on a Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings might be the single-most impressive one-game performance in Seattle sports history.

And his MVP season of 2005 — all of it — should be placed in a time capsule inside the new headquarters in Renton.

Sometimes, watching Shaun Alexander run could be frustrating. Much more often, it was thrilling.

He helped built Qwest Field. He helped take Seahawks football to places it never before had gone.

Sometime between now and the beginning of training camp, the Seahawks, barring some dramatic change of plans, will release him.

He will sign with someone else, maybe Detroit — but he always will be a Seahawk.

And when he leaves, he deserves more than just a poof.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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