Tiki Barber has been making the rounds in recent months. All of his personals are once again tasty morsels for the media. The divorce from his pregnant wife, and the fact that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl the season after Barber’s retirement, are just two of the bulletpoints.
Tiki is enduring that scrutiny, because he sees a few more days as an NFL player on the horizon. He knows that running this gauntlet is better done now, not later. It’s as if he wants to wipe the last few years of his life clean by scoring a few TDs. I’m not a psychologist, but like all children, I like to pretend.
All of the Tiki talk made a question bubble up in my thoughts: Could former Seattle RB Shaun Alexander make a comeback, too?
…Speaking tongue-in-cheek, of course. Because sure, it sounds absurd. Seattle remembers his injury-riddled 2007 campaign, and his subsequent release. NFL fans’ last view of Alexander was with the Redskins in ’08. He was released after an anemic 11 carries and less than thirty yards. Statistics aside, the eyeball test said that his legs were heavy.
Alexander is responsible for a few spectacular moments in the past decade: Five touchdowns in an 2002 game, all in the first half. Nine straight 100-yard rushing games against divisional opponents, breaking Walter Payton’s record. A 2006 season that he played almost entirely on a broken foot, including a 40-carry, 201-yard Monday Night Football performance in November. We are only touching on Alexander’s success here.
He was ’05 MVP, recording 28 touchdowns to set a new league mark. He led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, overcoming a concussion in the divisional game, to rush for 132 yards and two scores in the following game against Carolina.
He signed a contract shortly after Seattle’s loss to Pittsburgh, becoming the highest-paid running back in history at that time. He even got selected for the cover of Madden 07. Alexander was at an all-time high, and the fact that the Madden Curse bit him soon thereafter was just the beginning of the decline.
Most football people acknowledge that running backs, no matter how good, decline quickly. When that happens is obviously different every time, but the hammer drops hard. One minute you’re Marshall Faulk, and the next, you’re… well, Marshall Faulk.
As far back as Jim Brown, and all the way through standouts like Robert Smith and Barry Sanders, a select few decided to hang it up in their prime, for whatever reason. Tiki thought he was doing the same. Now the itch is upon him.
As recently as 2009, Alexander was fielding calls from several teams, but none of them offered a contract. With Edgerrin James and Warrick Dunn sitting idle, there didn’t and doesn’t seem to be a need for aged tailbacks.
“I feel as explosive as I’ve ever been,” Alexander said a few years ago. As the 2011 NFL lockout winds dangerously toward autumn, he might be better well-conditioned than last year’s players.
He probably could still platoon with several teams, including ones with ordered locker rooms, like New England. His experience might be an asset.
But no one is likely to test all of this speculation with actual cash. Because young running backs keep pouring out of the universities every spring. They are fresher. And they cost less.