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‘I wanted to be like the Michael Jordan of touchdowns’: An oral history of Shaun Alexander’s MVP season

Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, Bobby Engram and more of Alexander’s teammates and coaches tell the story of his MVP season and the 2005 Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers vs Seattle Seahawks - December 11, 2005 Photo by Kevin Casey/NFLPhotoLibrary

It has been 14 years since Shaun Alexander was named the NFL’s MVP after a stunning 1,958-yard, 28-touchdown season. In the 14 years since 2005, the Seattle Seahawks’ fortunes and the fortunes of the running back position have gone opposite directions.

The Seahawks rode the highs of the Mike Holmgren-era into the following decade and continued to operate as a premier NFL franchise under Pete Carroll.

The running back position, meanwhile, has perhaps never been valued so lowly: Since Alexander, only LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson have joined him as tailback MVPs. As of the 2019 season, Alexander remains the last running back to have led the league in rushing in the same season his team made the Super Bowl.

This is the story of Alexander’s MVP season and Seattle’s 2005 campaign, as told by Alexander, his teammates, coaches and media.

Alexander was drafted by the Seahawks in 2000, the 19th overall selection from Alabama. Despite his first-round pedigree, Alexander initially found himself second on the depth chart, behind Ricky Watters. However, his talent was immediately obvious and it was only going to be a matter of time until he got his opportunity.

Mack Strong, fullback: He was a phenomenal player, phenomenal running back, phenomenal teammate, a great guy on and off the field. I think that was the thing other people were drawn to him by.

Stump Mitchell, running backs coach: Shaun was a guy who was a touchdown machine coming out of Alabama, and he also proved to be that way in the NFL.

Walter Jones, left tackle: Me coming from Alabama, he’s coming from Alabama, I saw his college career. When I was coming out of high school I had an opportunity to go to Alabama, but Alabama was a run team first, and my coach said I should go somewhere where I can learn how to pass protect. Alabama at that time aren’t the Alabama they are now where they’re throwing the ball all over the field. When Shaun was there, that’s when they were running the ball well and they had running backs—they always had running backs—but I knew Shaun from college.

Robbie Tobeck, center: He was a great running back. From his rookie year, I remember him and Ricky Watters rotating, pushing each other for playing time and all that. Ricky Watters, in my opinion, is one of the all-time greats and Shaun came out his rookie year and complemented him, did well and took over that spot the next year.

Jones: At that time we were still building our offensive line. There was me, Hutch (former Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson), Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray. So we had guys that had been in the league and knew how to play offensive line, so it was a matter of time before Shaun got his number called, and he would perform well. I kind of knew this guy was going to be somebody special. The NFL is all about taking your opportunities when your number’s called, and when Shaun’s number was called, he went out there and performed.

By the summer of 2005, Alexander had established himself as one of the game’s best running backs. He had rushed for over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons and came one yard shy of the rushing title in 2004. After the ‘04 season, both Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones signed long-term extensions with Seattle, while Alexander had the franchise tag placed on him.

The decision to tag Alexander coincided with Tim Ruskell’s hiring as general manager. The front office change, combined with extensions for Hasselbeck and Jones, led to some uncertainty surrounding Alexander’s status ahead of the 2005 season.

Shaun Alexander, running back: Going into that offseason I really expected to have a new contract, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Yeah, we’re not going to do it, we want to figure out how this year goes and then we’ll decide if we’re going to give you a new contract.” And I was like, “Really? Hold on a second, this is crazy.”

So I was getting people calling, Emmitt Smith calling, “Just hold out dog, let them lose a little bit and they’ll be ashamed of themselves for doing you like that,” and you had the Marshall Faulks of the world, and you had all these amazing running backs being like “Yeah this doesn’t make sense what they’re doing to you.” So I just kept it quiet.

My wife was like, “I feel like you should go back in.” I was praying, and I felt the same thing. She said “I just feel like if you let God take it, it’s going to be something that no one will deny.”

And so I called my agent and was like, “Hey, I’m coming back in, go tell them to get ready,” and literally they said, “Are you sure?” And I said “Yeah, but put in the contract that I’ll sign it but they can never franchise me again. We’re going all or nothing.” I just felt like it was going to be one of those awesome years. I felt like I was in the best shape of my life and our offense was really grooving. It was really like, it was just the perfect time for it. I thought all right, let’s go.

Training camp was going to start July 27th or 28th, and my wife and I had our second child on July 28th. So I called them back and said “Hey, I really am not holding out. I’m going to come in but we just had a baby.” So we had the baby and I just thought even more—we still call Trinity, our second child, the Super Bowl baby and the MVP baby.

Chris Cluff, author The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: I think he made it clear, he never said anything negative like, “No I’m not going to be there.” I always felt like he was going to be there. I always felt like he was going to show up and play.

Alexander: So I come back in and I just remember feeling like, I don’t want this to be about me holding out. We had just paid Walt, we had paid I think Matt, and franchised me, and some guys thought “Man, come on, what’s going on here?” So I came in and said “Hey y’all, I just want to set this straight, I believe in getting here to training camp on time, I apologize for all of that, we’re about to be an awesome team.”

Some of the guys said “Man, naw, that’s cool, let’s go do it.” I remember Hutch saying “We’re about to kick their wobbity wop wops.” Mack Strong said “Let’s go.”

So you have your battering rams ready to go, so I’m like, alright.

A slow start to the 2005 season saw Alexander rush for just 73 yards in a loss to the Jaguars. Worse, Matt Hasselbeck injured his shoulder on an end-of-half Hail Mary.

In Week 2, Alexander opened his ‘05 account with a touchdown and 144 yards on the ground. The Seahawks went run-heavy with Alexander because of the injury to Hasselbeck—though it didn’t cause him to miss the game—and Atlanta’s use of A-gap blitzes the week prior, which led Robbie Tobeck and Steve Hutchinson to implore the team to run against those looks.

Alexander: We were losing by five or six (against the Jaguars) and we were about the fifty or back forty, and we tried to throw a Hail Mary. I only had 14 carries in the game, but as they threw the ball the defensive end clipped Matt’s arm and it hurt his shoulder a little bit.

Tobeck: That Atlanta game in particular you would see these teams have these exotic blitzes, and we would study them and study them, and I know (Jim) Zorn and Hasselbeck would study study study, by the end of the day on Thursday, Friday rolls around, we got it. We got the tell, we know what they’re gonna do, and then Matt would meet with us an offensive line and go through blitzes, and talk about what we can and can’t do and watch film together.

Mitchell: I just know coach Holmgren was very comfortable with Matt honing the offense together and I think when we had to go with someone else, he (Holmgren) didn’t want to put the ball in the air, too much, because he knew we were comfortable with the running game and we didn’t get into any trouble with the running game.

Alexander: So the next week Mike said, “Yeah, we’re going to have to ride you a little bit, so we don’t have to hurt Matt’s shoulder.” So I went off in that game with two or three or four touchdowns I can’t remember.

Seattle followed up their first win of the season with a resounding 37-12 win over the Cardinals in Week 3, a game that saw Alexander find the end zone four times.

The following week, a last-minute interception by Kelly Herndon set up a Josh Brown game-winning field goal attempt against Washington as time expired. Brown missed and the Seahawks would lose a disappointing 20-17 overtime game. Though it dropped them to 2-2 on the season, it kick-started an 11-game winning streak.

Strong: It was a couple things, number one we had a run, and we came up short of just getting the first down. So we ended up having to kick a field goal, and we missed the field goal. That’s what caused us to lose the game—not the missed field goal but the fact that we didn’t get the first down running the football, and then we missed the field goal.

Alexander: We lost that game to the Redskins and we were 2-2, and Mike (head coach Mike Holmgren) came in and we had to decide what we were going to do. Were we going to burn the ship or not? And we went for it from that point on, and 11 weeks later I’m leading the charge for the MVP and we’re 13-2, and we have a first round bye. And I’m like “Okay, here we go, it’s what we want.”

Strong: I remember we came in, and instead of we lost another game, we were like, “Wow, we were really close,” and we were talking as if we had won the game almost. If we could have just gotten the first down right here, it would have changed the whole complexion of the game.

Bobby Engram, wide receiver: I do remember the feeling of we let one get away. I think we all had a concerted effort to make sure, we’re too good of a team to lose these types of games, where we control it. Now if a team comes in here and they’re better than us, that’s one thing. But that’s the feeling I remember leaving there with, everybody go back with a critical eye after this game, watch the film and be honest with yourself. What could you have done more to help us win this game?

Strong: It really made us zero in on those situations, when we got into those situations later in the season whether it was a short yardage run to get the first down, or we were in the red zone and needed a touchdown to put the game away, we did it. We absolutely did, I think everybody went back to that Washington game and remember how we came up short, and we didn’t want to come up short anymore.

Tobeck: I think you lose that game and it brings a new focus about of, you know what, there’s nothing that can be taken for granted. So I think good teams have the ability to focus in on a week-to-week basis, what’s the challenge this week? So I think if we learned anything from that Washington loss it was that. That the focus level has to be sky high every week, week-in, every detail, and I think that’s when, we always kinda detailed our work, but that’s when we detailed our work and then some. I think that’s kinda what we took away from that (loss to Washington), I thought going into that year we had a chance to be a pretty darn good football team.

Engram: We were determined to make sure we won those close games, because quite frankly, whenever we lost those two prior years, we lost games like that—close, down to the wire, where we had a chance to make a play and just didn’t do it. So we wanted to make sure the ‘05 season was different.

Strong: That idea of putting it on us, we need to get it done, if we’re going to reach our goals that we all have, we gotta do better, and we have opportunities to get first downs or touchdowns, we gotta do it and leave it up to us.

Alexander: I was just thinking we got to go smash teams. There was no other choice, we’d already been to the playoffs, we know what that’s like. We won the division before so we know what that’s like. So it was, when are we going to force our will on people? There was no playing around, it was we gotta be that team. That team nobody wants to play in Seattle, we wanted that. We knew we were good enough to do that so it was like “What’s going on?”

KRT SPORTS STORY SLUGGED: FBN-SEAHAWKS-REDSKINS KRT PHOTOGRA Photo by Steve Deslich/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Alexander had another four-touchdown day against the Texans in Week 6, and in Week 7 he became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, passing Curt Warner.

Alexander: Mike (Holmgren) said, “2000 (yards) is good, if we’re not in the hunt. But we’re in the hunt.” And I said, “You’re flippin’ right, let’s go for the Super Bowl.” It was an easy decision, they were not going to hear me complaining about that.

Cluff: Once he did that (broke Warner’s record), I actually wrote a story where I talked to Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, about running for 2000 yards. He was on pace for it, or really close at that point and so it was really about, what would it take to get to that point? What do you think about him, do you think he should be MVP? Davis said “Yeah, I mean if he hits 2000 for sure I would vote for him for MVP.”

It was just a question of, can you sustain it and also, they were winning so many games getting on this hot streak, were they going to need him to run for that many yards at the end? That was part of the question too.

Alexander: But God, I’m not playing in the fourth quarters, let’s really crank it up. But this is why football is so awesome. When you throw it on someone it feels good, but when you run it you take the will out of teams. We were just smashing cats. No one quits in the NFL, it’s everybody’s dream to get in there, but you know when you feel like “Man we’re not going to win this,” and we feel like we would take that opening drive of the third quarter and, boom boom boom boom touchdown! And they (the opponent) would be like, “Welp. I guess they got us. I hope that clock moves fast in the second half.”

That’s how it was for us, it was really awesome.

Against Arizona in Week 9, Alexander would set another club record, for the longest carry in franchise history. It came on a long cutback run that resulted in an 88-yard score, a touchdown which displayed all of the traits his teammates came to anticipate.

Alexander: I was feeling sick that game, so I go in before half-time, I’m just a mess in the locker room. And at that point we’re still in the hunt, we got to win. But I go in right before half-time, and I hear the guys talking like “Man, we got stopped on the goal line.” And I was like “Oh no!” So now I’m feeling like it’s my fault if the game doesn’t go the way we wanted. Because we never get stopped on the goal line.

I eat some oranges or lemons, I don’t see the team at all, so I’m still in the back (of the locker room), and I go straight from the locker room to the huddle. I come out of the tunnel, I see Mo (backup running back Maurice Morris) and I wave him off. I go in the huddle, we passed the ball, then we call a little run play. I run, cutback, out run everyone 88 yards.

Tobeck: He’s one of those guys who was probably one of, if not the most dangerous back once you got to the second level in the league while he was playing. He was a bigger guy but he could run, and I think that was deceptive for a lot of people.

Jones: When Shaun had those long runs, the receivers definitely understood they had to make their blocks too. Everyone understood what was going on.

Engram: He was a slasher guy, he was smooth, and again once he got an angle, there was no catching him because he had tremendous game speed and he understood how to score the football.

Arizona Cardinals vs Seattle Seahawks - September 25, 2005 Photo by Kevin Casey/NFLPhotoLibrary

Jones: He makes it so easy because as an offensive lineman you understand that if you can keep your guy in front of you, all running backs see are colors. So if you are a running back and you make that cut and you see everybody is trying to get their guy, that makes it easy for him to make that cut, and he was pretty good at it.

Strong: He knew how I liked to engage in my blocks in terms of having his relationship with me, and I would just know to expect anything.

Engram: We know where the ball is supposed to go, we know what we’re trying to get done, but Shaun had vision and he played off the feel of the game. So if a guy got out of position backside, he was going to take advantage of it. We challenged ourselves to be complete players, to block the play because we knew, if we stayed on our blocks and Shaun got into the secondary it could be a big play.

Strong: If the guy who was going to block the linebacker or the DB or whoever it is, all of a sudden did something that I didn’t expect him to do, that meant that Shaun had made a cut that he saw. I think we all knew on the offensive side of the football, “Hey everybody, all you gotta do is just get in front of the guy who you’re supposed to block, and Shaun will use you. He’ll find a way to use you.”

Jones: I think a lot of that was he would lull people to sleep with his speed, and once he made that cut and realized okay, everything is set up right, he had deceptive speed so that a lot of guys didn’t realize until they were trying to chase him down.

I always felt there was a different speed for guys in shorts out there running, but there’s a different speed when you’re in football pads, and I think Jerry Rice is football fast, and I think Shaun Alexander was totally that kind of player. Once you put the pads on him he had a different speed, you couldn’t determine his speed by putting on shorts, but once you put him in pads, he was pretty fast and he made guys miss and he had a lot of plays where you’d see guys who you thought would catch him and they never would catch him. He had great football speed.

Alexander: Everyone goes “We didn’t even know you were on the field!” It was just comedy, but those kind of moments it was just special. We were just moving in a way that was bigger than any of us. It’s what happens when everyone is just in there groove, and that’s just kinda how it was, there was no play that didn’t feel special. It was cool.

The following week, Alexander would score three touchdowns against the Rams, moving him into 15th on the all-time rushing touchdown list and giving him his fifth straight season with 15 or more touchdowns. Alexander made getting into the end zone an art form, because it was what he loved to do most.

Alexander: I had really good vision, I could see holes. I had this above view way of playing the game and studying film so I knew kinda like, if I take two steps to the left where everybody should move, and what my guys are good at blocking, that if I come through the hole then cut back, I’m fast enough to get around.

I knew my burst was really solid, I had good vision, but my will to score touchdowns was really, really strong. Really high. People play for different reasons—“I play for the money,” or “I play to make my parents proud,” “I love to roar up the crowd,” “I love to hit”—mine was really simple: I love scoring touchdowns.

Strong: I think one of his greatest strengths was, he liked to score touchdowns. Anything he could do to get into the end zone, he was going to do. He wasn’t known for being a physical runner necessarily, running over people, but he would run over three or four guys to get in the end zone. Whatever it would take to score touchdowns, I think that was his forte.

Alexander: The burst was good, the vision was good, I had my idea of how to play the game, but the will and idea that every play can be a touchdown? And sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s not but on the goal line? It always should be. It made it fun.

Sometimes I’d be in the pile and think I’m going to burst to the sideline and I’d take off. But there would be sometimes where I’m like, I just got to run this guy over and get in the end zone, and you would just duck your head and truck the guy. All of that was a part of, I’m getting this thing done.

Engram: His ability to sniff out the end zone, one that stuck in my mind especially once you got inside the red zone.

Cluff: He was a touchdown machine.

Jones: We got inside the 10, he knew how to get into the endzone. Coach knew what plays he loved and what plays he wanted to run, and once you gave him the ball, we knew he was going to get into the endzone.

Strong: You look at his track record, I think he had five straight years of 15 or more touchdowns. He just had this unbelievable, uncanny ability to get in the end zone. I think that’s what made him special to me, his desire to want to score points. I just knew that as a blocker, sometimes he would use my blocks and sometimes he wouldn’t but he would always make something exciting happen.

Alexander: I remember doing an ESPN high school thing with Randy Moss and Charles Woodson, I said I wanted to be like the Michael Jordan of touchdowns. Every time I get the ball, I wanted people to be like “Man watch this guy.” That was my favorite part, and that goes back to like, fourth grade. I ran a kickoff back and was like “What was that!? That was amazing! I just moved the whole crowd!” So there was a little bit of, this is the best part of the game, when you cross the end zone and pass the ball to the ref and the whole crowd, the whole stadium, is like “Whoa!”

By the time the Seahawks reached their penultimate regular season game—their last at home before the playoffs—Alexander had 24 touchdowns—three away from tying the previous mark, set by Priest Holmes. Seattle’s fans had reason to believe they would at least see Alexander tie it that day: In seven games already that season Alexander had scored multiple touchdowns. Alexander would tie it, with Holmgren putting him back in the game for one play late to score a one-yard TD.

Alexander: They took me out (after two touchdowns) and put him (Morris) in. They thought “Let’s get Shaun one more touchdown,” and the crowd’s screaming “Shaun Shaun Shaun!” And they put me back in, I score a touchdown, everybody screams.

Indianapolis Colts v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Alexander entered Week 17 needing just one touchdown to set the all-time single-season record. The Seahawks, at 13-2, had home field locked up throughout the NFC playoffs, but would try to get Alexander the record. Walter Jones rested, but Matt Hasselbeck and other key starters played the first-half, with one goal in mind.

Jones: In the locker room, coach (Holmgren) came down and said we want the record, Shaun wants the record, and we kind of played to that. Once he got the record he sat down after that, it was all about him getting that record that game, and once he got it we pulled him. So I think you want that, because nobody can take that away from you, so as a unit we wanted to do that because that was a special season for us.

Strong: I think we all to a man on the whole team, not just on offense but the whole team, we all wanted to get Shaun that record so we were going to stay in as long as we needed to in order for him to get it. It was a total team effort, and I think even on that run, if I remember correctly, Shaun had to break a couple tackles to get in the end zone and I think that was indicative of his ability, him wanting to score touchdowns, and he had to do it on the play that actually gave him the record at that time. So I thought that was very appropriate.

Cluff: Steve Hutchinson was counting down every yard they needed, everything they needed for them to get the records because it was a badge of honor for those guys on the o-line.

Tobeck: We wanted the record. There was discussion about it, but it wasn’t like, the rallying call. It was we want this record, let’s go do it. And it was very business like, let’s go out, let’s get this thing done, let’s get this touchdown and then get ready for the playoffs. But it’s certainly one of those things you know you want to accomplish, because we had a great year, that’s a feather in your cap. But it wasn’t the “Rah rah, let’s get one for Shaun” or whatever. Obviously I wanted Shaun to have it, and we wanted it as an offensive line, but my recollection was it was just business. Let’s go out and do this. That’s what we do.

Strong: I just remember that we all weren’t coming out of the game until we got him that record. That’s the way we felt about it. Obviously, coach Holmgren was thinking we don’t need to get anybody hurt, we need to keep everybody healthy, but we felt like we were in this situation where we can have this great accomplishment for one of our teammates, who knows when we’ll be in this situation again.

That’s the thing about playing professional sports, when you have the opportunity to do something special, something significant, you want to capitalize on that.

Engram: It was something that was important to him, it’s a significant milestone in our game and our league, and quite frankly I thought if we had the opportunity within the flow of the game Mike and those guys would get him that chance.

Jones: We knew we had something special, we definitely wanted him to get that record for the NFL.

Engram: I just knew he was determined, and if he got the opportunity he was going to get it.

Alexander: We ran it until I got it. Then it was “Cool, you’re done.” I know we lost the game, we lost to Green Bay. But it was really a formality, just give us enough to get the award, get the record, win the rushing title and get out of there.

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Alexander scored the record-setting touchdown early in the second quarter, on a one-yard run. Though it would stand as Alexander’s record, it meant something to all involved.

Mitchell: It was great. It was a record that the offensive linemen, those guys, they really wanted it as well. It was just great.

Strong: I had been on the team up until this point for 12 or 13 years, so it was real validation for me. I had been on teams that were really bad, we had really good players we just could never put it together, and it just seemed like something was different about that team. And that to me is what made it really special, it made it worth the while to me to continue playing into my mid 30s, because I thought now it’s starting to pay off.

Engram: That was kinda our team’s identity that year, it was truly a team. One for all, all for one, it’s a beautiful thing when guys are putting it into practice. Especially in pro football.

Mitchell: He (Alexander) was excited, everybody was excited for him, he had worked tremendously hard to get to that point. Coach Holmgren was excited with it being in Green Bay, for him being able to go back there and see it, it was fantastic.

Engram: He worked for it, he did deserve it, he earned it, and I just remember everybody being happy for Shaun and being a part of it.

Strong: We’re seeing success as a team, we’re seeing success as individuals, and it really gave me a lot of confidence to be honest with you, and just a lot of satisfaction just being a part of that whole thing.

Tobeck: Just that sense of accomplishment, relief as well. But obviously excited for Shaun and the fact, knowing, you’re a part of that.

Cluff: You knew that he wanted it, but you knew that the offensive line wanted it just as much. It was really just the whole team wanted it. They sensed it was coming, they knew that Shaun winning MVP was really going to be more about the team, a reflection about how the team had done, every accolade really reflects on the team.

Strong: I think if he had a little bit longer career he would be one of those guys you’d consider a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he had that type of talent. Obviously, being an MVP puts you in a different category than most other people in the National Football League. I think he showed in that 2005 season what he was capable of.

Jones: That ‘05 season, that’s when everything clicked and he understood that hey, “I’m the man, and I’m going to show everybody that I’m the man” and he ran with it. He definitely was worthy of the MVP because of the numbers he put up and the way that we went on an 11-game winning streak, he was totally a part of helping us get to that point.

It’s impossible to discuss Alexander’s record-breaking, MVP-winning 2005 without mentioning the blocking from his offensive line and fullback. The appreciation went both ways.

Jones: We felt like there was nobody who could stop us. They knew what play we were running but they couldn’t stop us. We were running, but they couldn’t stop it. When you go out there, no matter what kind of defense they line up, you knew how to block it, and how to be successful.

Tobeck: We just tried to finish our blocks, our goal was to finish guys.

Jones: So we made it very easy for Shaun because he knew, everyone’s getting locked up. Some people don’t understand Shaun had an All-Pro fullback too. Shaun knew, all I gotta do is make the safety miss and now I’m off to the races. That season, Shaun had a lot of plays where they were amazing runs but you can see everyone’s getting their blocks in, and everyone is on the same page, and Shaun played it perfectly, understood it, and made the plays.

Strong: Honestly, any type of success the offense had, any type of success that Shaun had, I took pride in that because I felt like I had a hand in it. Every offensive lineman, everyone on our offensive unit should feel the same way, because they had a hand in it even though they don’t necessarily directly get any credit for it, they had a hand in it.

Alexander: I had a fullback who loved to knock people out, I had (an) offensive line who loved forcing their will on people. So we’d look at the sideline and say, “Let’s play some ball!” That was a big, fun way of playing the game.

Jones: It’s amazing how that season, everything just clicked, it was so easy. I think it was easy for coach Holmgren to call plays because we could go out there and run block, pass protect, all that stuff and it was pretty easy for us to do that year.

Tobeck: We spent time during the week, every week in practice, we spent years together as the core of our offensive line along with Shaun talking about “Okay on this play, this defense, this is what I’m thinking.” So I knew when the play was called in the huddle, walking up to the line and seeing the defense, I knew where Shaun wanted to go on that play. It didn’t always work out that way, and that’s why you gotta have a running back with great eyes right, sometimes the hole would hit front side and he wouldn’t cut back. He’d hit that hole or whatever. You kinda knew where he wanted to go beforehand, and that’s what made it good, was us being on the same page with him.

Jones: He made it easy for us, and we tried our best to make it easy for him too.

Tobeck: It just built into that season and then of course, the next year it was a different group.

It was a different group because of the infamous “poison pill,” the contract Steve Hutchinson signed with the Vikings after he had the transition tag placed on him by the Seahawks. Hutchinson become public enemy No. 1 in Seattle following the move, and the core group never recovered.

Mitchell: The season was special, we were primed to go back and we thought we were going to have that opportunity, and then we lose Hutch.

Tobeck: He was a Pro Bowl guy, one of the top one or two guards in the league at the time. You got Larry Allen down in Dallas, and I think him and Hutch were one and two you know? I think Hutch would tell you the same thing. You don’t just replace that with a guy right? And nothing against the guys that rotated through that spot the next year, but you just don’t replace that with anybody.

Mitchell: We were told “We are going to get the deal done with Hutch, and if we didn’t we were going to franchise him,” and we felt good about that as well, and lo and behold we didn’t franchise him. We put the transition tag on him. Hutch really thought that coach Holmgren had lied to him, which he did not. Coach Holmgren didn’t lie to him, because coach Holmgren was told “We’re gonna get a deal done, and if we didn’t, we were gonna franchise him.” That was the last thing we as coaches heard, that was the last thing Hutch heard, then it happened totally different.

Coach Holmgren was blindsided by it, we were blindsided by it, and Hutch thought we knew something that we didn’t, and he decided to go to Minnesota.

Tobeck: I think if you look on a one-season basis, people still say that’s one of the best offensive lines to ever play the game. I wish we could’ve kept that group together.

Mitchell: He was the spokesman, he got those guys to do what they needed to do, to be serious in meetings and to want to go out and kick folks’ butt. And when we lost him we lost the opportunity to repeat.

Tobeck: And then gone for good. It just made it tough.

The magic of 2005 wouldn’t be replicated by that roster. Alexander never reached 1000 yards again and played just 27 games after the ‘05 season. Jones would limp across the finish line in 2008, before entering Canton on his first time of asking. Holmgren would follow him out of Seattle in 2009. Though they never got the ring to top it all off, the 2005 team remains a positive memory for those around the team.

Strong: People ask me what my favorite game was, what my favorite memory was of my playing career and I played a long time, and it’s the NFC Championship game, 2006, when we beat Carolina that propelled us into playing Super Bowl XL. Because at that time, that had never been done.

To do that, to accomplish that in front of our home crowd, which is now considered one of the most devastating, feared stadiums to play in because of the crowd noise, because of how involved the fans are, I take a lot of pride in that.

Engram: (The 2005 season) was establishing the Seahawks organization as perennial team to be dealt with. That was our mindset.

Strong: It’s a history making team.

Tobeck: People still to this day come up to me and they talk about that season, our o-line, Shaun, all those types of things. It’s nice.

Mitchell: That was just a special season.

Engram: I just remember there was an intentional effort to be great. We had the goal of winning a Super Bowl, we wanted to do all those things, so just being a part of—the Seahawks had been to the playoffs, they had never been to the Super Bowl, so we were able to help take that next step. Obviously we didn’t go win it, or accomplish it, but you feel good that you were a part of not only laying the foundation of a tradition.

The Seahawks were a good team, but also taking it to another level. Saying we want to be a perennial playoff team, we want to be a Super Bowl contender on a regular basis, so you feel good about being a part of that.

Jones: For me, to be a part of that and understand how special, now that I think about other teams when they were the number one seed and play the two games at home and get to the Super Bowl, I remember man, this is pretty amazing. So you have to keep teams together so you get an opportunity to have those special moments where, whenever you have a break during the season, you get those games at home and that makes it so easy to go out there and win two games when you have those games at home and got a crowd like the 12s that get behind you and cheer you on, it’s something pretty special.

For me, the only bad thing from that is that we didn’t finish it, we played two great playoff games, but we got to the Super Bowl and we didn’t finish it off. I think that’s the only thing that stays in your mind.

Alexander: It’s a very proud moment to watch the Seahawks today, but that’s not what it was before we got there. When we got there people would come up, “Oh I love playing in Seattle, y’alls seafood’s great, your fans are kind of exciting.” And we’re like, “Yup, y’all are really on vacation when you play us.”

By the time we left it was “Oh man, it’s so hard to win here, those guys are going to run down your throats, the defense is going to hit you in the mouth.” That’s how we changed the culture. No one ever complained about travelling until we started whooping everybody, now everyone’s all “It’s so hard to travel to Seattle!” Nobody complained for the first 25 years before we got there. After we got there now it’s “They got that tough flying schedule.” Yeah, alright, that’s what that is.

2005 NFC Championship Game - Carolina Panthers vs Seattle Seahawks - January 22, 2006 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Tobeck: I think that was the team that kinda established the Seahawks as an elite franchise, a place where the owner is going to take care of you, and the fans are going to love you, and you’re going to play in front of a great crowd every game, and it’s just continued since then.

Strong: It gave us a lot of hope that one day we would get back there and would finish the deal, and close the circle on that. That 2013 team did it.

Tobeck: There was a little rebuild in there and then Pete’s done a great job, and carried that on. But yeah, I think all of those guys on that team feel like we did start the winning tradition for the Seahawks, and then these guys have taken it up to even to another level.

Jones: I’m happy for the Seahawks to bring a Super Bowl here to Seattle, but for me, I feel that we should have been the first team and that’s what I take from it.

Alexander: Just being a part of changing the culture, and coach Holmgren, he did a good job of, he almost drafted all of us in there. After we traded for Matt and Bobby, everyone else it seemed like we were all brought in together. Watching us grow over those years until we get to the ‘05 season, that’s what was awesome. None of us were married when we got there, all of us got married, all of us had kids. In those seven years all of us went from 22-25, I was 22 when I got drafted, 22-25. Now that age group is 27-32. That’s a big difference.

It was just cool to go through that whole process together.

Jones: We were able to get an MVP out of that season in Shaun, who was well deserving, and I feel great to be a part of that, that I was able to go out there and put everything I had on the line to make things happen for him, and that was everybody. Everybody had a great season that year, when everything started clicking, we were pretty good.

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