- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Check out the first two names on the NFL’s leading-rushers list:

1. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks — 1,144 yards.

2. Edgerrin James, Colts — 1,027 yards.

(That’s 1,000 yards in nine games, folks.)

Both these gentlemen, I’ll just point out, have a lot more to complain about than Terrell Eldorado Owens. Through a cruel twist of fate, they were designated franchise players by their teams, which denied them free agency and capped their salaries. James is pulling down $8.1million this season on a one-year deal; Alexander is on the books for $6.3million. If either of them gets hurt, well, good luck negotiating your next contract, pal.

Owens may feel he’s underpaid — and he may not be alone in that opinion — but at least his salary wasn’t determined by some subparagraph in the collective bargaining agreement. His agent got to haggle with the Eagles, and when he signed on the dotted line, it was an act of free will.

Yet Alexander and James have handled their situations with considerably more class (to use a favored Owens word) than T.O. While No.81 has made himself a pariah in Philadelphia with his churlish behavior — and is currently suspended, pending Friday’s date with the arbitrator — the other two are in the midst of career years. And while the Eagles were a disjointed 4-4 going into last night’s game against the Cowboys, the Seahawks (7-2) and Colts (9-0) were humming along with the best records in their conferences.

Wonder whether Owens, the Sultan of Self-Absorption, has even noticed this. There are all kinds of ways to try to get what you want in life. On one end of the spectrum, you have T.O.’s scorched-earth tactics — disruptive, disrespectful, disgusting — and on the other you have Alexander’s and James’ stoic professionalism. Which looks like the better course of action now?

OK, maybe “stoic” is overdoing it a bit. After all, Alexander and James were none too happy when their clubs slapped franchise tags on them. Edgerrin expressed his displeasure by skipping voluntary offseason workouts; Shaun agreed to suit up this season only if management promised he would become an unrestricted free agent in March (that is, if a new deal weren’t struck by then).

But both reported to training camp on time, determined to make the best of things.

And neither has (a) trashed his organization, (b) ripped his quarterback or (c) alienated his coaches. From day one, they’ve channeled whatever negative feelings they might have into furious football.

James has made 73 first downs rushing and receiving, 10 more than anybody else in the league. Alexander, meanwhile, has had an extraordinary half-season (or so). Not only has he scored 17 touchdowns, putting him on pace for a record-breaking 30, he also has had five games with 140 or more yards rushing. No back has ever had more than seven in one season, not even Eric Dickerson when he was piling up 2,105 yards in ‘84.

Naturally, people have noticed. “Show him the money” signs are being waved in the stands in Seattle. There’s a sizable ground swell in Indianapolis, too, to Bring Edgerrin Back. And the two owners might just oblige their fans — despite the prevailing sentiment in the NFL that good running backs are as plentiful as rolls of tape (and, therefore, not worth the huge dollars some demand).

“We’ve been talking to them for a while,” Seahawks owner Paul Allen said after Alexander’s 165-yard, three-TD effort Sunday. “It would be nice to get something done.” As for James, the Indianapolis Star quoted owner Jim Irsay as saying, “It’s my instinct he will be back. … Our philosophy … is to try and keep our best players.”

How cool would it be if the two stories played out the way Rod Tidwell’s did in “Jerry Maguire”? How cool would it be if Alexander and James finished as strongly as they’ve started and got — earned — the long-term, megabuck contracts they’re looking for?

And then, in the final scene, they meet in the Super Bowl — while Owens is home in Moorestown, N.J., doing crunches in his driveway for a film crew from the local high school. That would be too good, wouldn’t it? Let’s put that on our Christmas wish list — right after peace on earth, goodwill toward men and an owner for the Nationals.

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