By ART THIEL
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST

Some people are Pips. Others are Gladys Knight.

Shaun Alexander is a Gladys, the lead singer equal parts talent and diva.

But the consumer must ask: Would I buy a CD by a Pip, or even multiple Pips?

Not likely.

Thus it would be useful for Seahawks fans to accept the star running back for what he is, a benign prima donna who scores many touchdowns.

If a fan withdraws support because a modern pro athlete is self-absorbed, he or she should be prepared to cheer only for the Salvation Army.

Having said that, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is neither smart enough nor mean enough to deny Alexander the NFL rushing title, certainly not at the moment in question last Sunday.

Alexander was not stabbed in the back. He was booted in the mouth, by his own foot.

Is there any knowledgable sports follower who truly believes that Holmgren, in a pivotal, intense moment to determine home-field advantage for a playoff game, had the wits and cruelty to interrupt his play calling and think, "Ah-ha! Here's my chance to screw Shaun!"?



That this notion had any credence is a measure of the eagerness with which some fans want to believe in the worst of Holmgren. As well, it is a measure of how eager some fans are to believe the worst of Alexander.

At his weekly news conference yesterday, Holmgren, without emotion, explained that he asked offensive coordinator Gil Haskell in the press box how close the ball was to the goal line. Told it was inches, Holmgren called for a quarterback sneak by Matt Hasselbeck.

"If it had been a yard, it would have been different," he said. "That's the total conversation that took place ... it wasn't that complicated. No one was intentionally doing anything.

"Inches. Quarterback sneak. Boom. That's it."

The idea that Holmgren wouldn't want a little reflected credit for altering his pass-heavy offensive system to accept an NFL rushing champion is preposterous. Equally absurd is the notion that pro football players, with an average career length of about three years, should easily sacrifice individual glory for the greater team good.

Let me share a dirty little secret about pro sports: Athletes in the time of free agency know that their contracts are with the league, which grants teams the right to move those contracts to other teams at their whim. The players are handsomely compensated for this and other difficulties, but the money does not buy more than token loyalty to the current location of their employer.

Athletes will pay lip service to enjoying a team and a city, but it's generally window dressing, because they will go most often to the most lucrative market.

Fans and media in a given city take more seriously remarks like Alexander's, because they are invested long-term in the franchise's fate. Athletes are more heavily invested in their own fate, strictly out of self-preservation, as well as the fates of teammates around them for the immediate six-month season.

That's why this little tempest will have exactly zero impact on the Seahawks-Rams playoff game Saturday.

Not only do players have no time to dwell on Alexander's foolishness, they know his words are not troubling.

What bothers them is his unwillingness to pass block, which means every time he's pulled from the game, defenses know what's coming -- Mack Strong or Mo Morris are no threat after catching a ball in the open field. Teammates are bothered when Alexander misses mini-camps. They are bothered when he doesn't drive hard for extra yards at midfield. His coaches are bothered by something Holmgren mentioned, albeit inadvertently, when praising Rams running back Marshall Faulk.

"I always felt that, as good as those other guys were when (when the Rams were atop the NFL), it was because of Marshall Faulk," he said. "He's a great pass blocker, and he's really a tough guy."

That's what coaches and teammates want Alexander to be -- a really tough guy. His occasional reluctance to give all of his considerable talents jeopardizes the team success that will help his teammates not only to glory, but to improve paychecks and lengthen careers. They know that the roster of every NFL champion is raided for talents who are proven winners.

But none of those issues is on players' minds this week. They have a professional obligation to care nothing about the past, which is done easily. Nor do they care about Alexander's apology, which, while well-intended, was mostly a crock. My guess is he still thinks he was stabbed in the back, and doesn't truly understand the fuss, or why he should apologize.

While that isn't too good, it's not relevant to winning a game. Alexander always has been a sporting golden child and knows no other way. He knows, too, how to give his time and money to worthwhile deeds in the community and hasn't been a civic troublemaker. I've heard no one describe him as a bad guy.

It's just that, in the battle between team vs. self that is a large part of pro football, Alexander has made a decision that will bother those who hold a romantic notion about sacrifice, presumably left over from kids' sports and college.

But in the pros, Alexander is upon the biggest financial opportunity of his life. He dearly wanted to take with him into free agency the title of rushing champ, because there is only one per year. Uniqueness sells.

He just picked a bad time to make a big deal of a little thing.

He lost more than a single yard.

Fortunately for him, his teammates have already forgotten, and if the Seahawks win Saturday, so will everyone else.

P-I columnist Art Thiel can be reached at 206-448-8135 or artthiel@seattlepi.com