DETROIT -- Seattle running back Shaun Alexander was able to sum up his Super Bowl performance in two simple letters Sunday night.
But it was two other letters that may be more important to Seahawks fans.
As in, "if I'm back in Seattle next year."
That was the door that the NFL's Most Valuable Player left gapingly open after Sunday's disappointing 21-10 Super Bowl loss to the Steelers. Now that the 2005 season has officially come to an end, Alexander is a man without a team. He can officially become a free agent on March 3.
But after Sunday night's loss, one has to wonder. Those reading between the lines couldn't help but notice Alexander's nonstop use of the word, "if" when talking about his place in Seattle's plans next season.
"I definitely think that if I come back to Seattle we'll be back," Alexander said. "Where's the Super Bowl next year? Miami? Yeah. Miami's good. I'll be back in Miami with the Seahawks if I'm back with the Seahawks next year."
Sunday against the Steelers, Alexander was looking for one more jaw-dropping performance to cap off his record-setting season and help him further cash in on his imminent free-agent status. Instead, he carried the ball a forgettable 20 times for 95 yards and zero touchdowns. Hardly the impact worthy of the league's Most Valuable Player -- in the biggest game of his career.
"I don't know how anybody can say they played great when they lose," Alexander said. "I played OK. It's as simple as that. I don't care how many yards you have. If you don't score, you didn't win."
After the game, Alexander couldn't help but wonder if it was his last game in a Seattle uniform. The Seahawks drafted Alexander in the first round of the 2000 draft -- it's the only organization he's ever known -- but the man wants to get paid.
Last offseason, the Seahawks placed a franchise tag on Alexander and avoided a potential holdout with their star running back by promising they would not do the same thing this year. So Alexander agreed to the one-year deal worth roughly $6.5 million and showed up to camp on time.
Once the season started, he played for pay, rushing for an NFL-record 28 touchdowns and a league-high 1,880 yards.
"I definitely want to be back," Alexander said. "We were 6-10 when I got here. We turned this entire thing around. We're close to becoming a team with a dominant tradition. But fair is fair."
It's been widely speculated that the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings -- teams in need of a running back with ample cap space -- could give Alexander the money he is looking for.
Seattle, on the other hand, paid $16 million in signing bonuses to Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones last year and face the hurdle of signing Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson this offseason. There may not be money left for Alexander, who will be 29 years old in August and is approaching the downside of an NFL running back's career.
"I believe Shaun wants to stay in Seattle," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said earlier this week. "I know the club's position is we would like him to stay. It has been my experience if you get that type of situation, you can usually work it out if there is some reasonableness to everybody."
If Sunday was indeed the MVP's final game in a Seahawks uniform, it wasn't exactly a memorable one. Alexander didn't carry the Seattle offense like quarterback Matt Hasselbeck did for three quarters. But he didn't drop four passes like tight end Jerramy Stevens did, either. He was somewhere in the middle. Somewhere forgettable.
He carried the ball three times or fewer on all but one of Seattle's 12 drives. And he caught the ball two times out of the backfield for 2 yards.
"I'm a running back," said Alexander, who added that he would gladly trade his MVP trophy to have won Sunday's game. "And any good running back is going to tell you he wishes he got the ball on every play. But we have a great team. I'm not going to second guess anything."
Alexander said he felt the Steelers' defense was keying in on him, but that it was "nothing new." He pointed out how far the team had come, giving Seattle its first playoff victory since '84, its first trip to the Super Bowl and its first-ever league MVP. It left him with conflicting emotions after the game.
"I don't ever want to get comfortable losing," he said. "It doesn't matter if I'm playing cards with the guys in the hotel or if we're on the biggest stage in the world. But I'm proud of all the things that my line did, my fullback, I'm proud of Matt [Hasselbeck] and the things he did. But at the same time, you still have that gut-wrenching feeling that one more catch, one more run, one more tackle and we'd be known as world champions."
After his brief press conference, Alexander visited with former University of Alabama teammate Deshea Townsend, congratulating the Steelers' cornerback on the victory with a hug, a handshake and an "I love you."
But the offseason question will be how much he loves Seattle. And how hard he wants to make these negotiations on the Seahawks. If Sunday night was any clue, there likely won't be any hometown discounts.
"My gut? My gut tells me Seattle is going to be fair," Alexander said.
Seahawks fans can only hope.
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.