IS SHAUN ALEXANDER the greatest running back to ever play for the Crimson Tide? Statistically, it's no contest. Alexander left Alabama in 1999 holding 15 school records and three Southeastern Conference marks. He is the school's alltime rushing leader, with 3,565 yards (4.9 average), and scored 50 touchdowns during his four seasons (1996-99). Below, the Seattle Seahawks star and 2005 NFL MVP reflects on his time in Tuscaloosa.
On why he went to Alabama
I was looking at USC, Alabama, Michigan and Notre Dame. I wanted to go to a school with great tradition that had a shot at winning a national championship and took pride in itself. Alabama fit me the best, from football to faith to great leadership on the team. Also, my defensive coordinator in high school [in Florence, Ky.] went to Alabama, so that probably didn't hurt.
On what makes the Alabama program different
I believe they have an attitude that they are the best, but at the same time they don't have to tell everybody they're the best. They just walk like they know they're the best. The 12 national championships and the 21 SEC championships. It just kind of gets into your system. It all comes together into this great experience where you're a part of something that's bigger than just you and bigger than just your team.
On his first Iron Bowl
We were down by seven points against Auburn in Birmingham during my redshirt freshman year and came back to beat the Tigers 24-23 when Dennis Riddle ran a wide route and caught a seven-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. That was my first Iron Bowl. I remember looking around the crowd and seeing a former offensive lineman, Kareem McNeal. He had gotten hurt, I guess while I was in high school, and was in a wheelchair. I think it was that Thursday--we played on Saturday--and I remember Kareem was like, "I just want you to know, this is what the real 'Bama man looks like." And then he got up out of the wheelchair and walked across the stage. He said, "I would play another game of football right now if I could." You're like, Oh, my goodness. I was ready to run through a wall. He was paralyzed, couldn't walk, and he got up and walked across the stage. It was amazing. And then [at the game] he was up there in the first row of the stands, and when [Riddle] caught the ball, [McNeal was] the first guy I saw. I was like, Wow, this game is way bigger than anything.
On his favorite interaction with fans
During my senior year we beat the Tigers at their place, which was the first time we ever beat them in Auburn. I remember we came back out of the locker room after we'd won, and the coaches were saying, "Go take a bow. Go take a bow." Outside the locker room there was this big sign that this lady had that read: THEIR TRADITION ENDS. And I took the poster and walked around their football field with it. All the Alabama fans were like, Thank you, it's finally broken. There are just memories like that, where [the tradition] is bigger than you. That's why Alabama is so sweet.
On his best game
Beating Florida in The Swamp [Oct. 2, 1999], when I had 200 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. I got hit in the game; they busted my nose and knocked my helmet off. We were 3-1, and I think the Gators were 4-0 and Number 3 in the country. There was talk that if we lost our coach was going to be fired. We just all came together and said, "We're going to shock the world today." And we all took it up another notch. After the game I was tired, and I knew that we had put Alabama back to where we were supposed to be.
On the 35-34 loss to Michigan in the Orange Bowl, Alexander's final game
I remember, after the game was over, walking up to Tom Brady. I said, "Dude, you're way better than anybody knows." No one had ever thrown on our defense like that. He had 369 yards passing. I remember saying, "You just threw for, like, 300 yards, and we're known to knock quarterbacks out." I said, "Keep your head up. You're going to make it someday." I also remember after the game was over, a former Alabama player came up to me and said, "We probably still don't know what we had in you." I thought that was the greatest compliment an ex-player could ever give me. "You had a great career, and we probably still don't know how good you are." I was like, "Wow, that's really cool."