Arguably the easiest way to make the usual soft-spoken Curtis Alexander smile is to ask him about his Super Bowl experience.
“Man, you know what? It was unbelievable, really,” Alexander, a former Memphis Whitehaven High star running back, told MemphiSport Friday morning. “It’s something you dream about. But when it happens, it’s like you don’t even know you’re there.”
A former University of Alabama standout, Alexander was a member of the Denver Broncos practice squad during the 1998 season. That year, the Broncos advanced to Super Bowl 33, where they defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19, to capture their second consecutive NFL championship.
On Sunday, the Broncos will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance when they square off against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. at 5:25 p.m. CST.
Although Alexander — who still holds the Shelby County high school record for most rushing yards in a season (2,379) — dressed out for the Super Bowl, but did not see any action while appearing on football’s grandest stage, he said nothing overshadowed the splendor and hoopla surrounding arguably the biggest event in all of professional sports.
“Just being around all the great players, like Terrell Davis, John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Bill Romanowski, Steve Atwater…I mean, it was great, man,” Alexander said. “You know, you go to a team and you think a lot of guys are stuck up. But those guys were like a true family. Everybody loved each other. We didn’t have anybody getting in trouble (the week leading to the Super Bowl).”
While watching the Super Bowl unfold from the sideline, Alexander said what he described as mostly intriguing was witnessing Elway, the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who was enshrined in August 2004, end his career with consecutive world championships.
Currently the executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos, Elway was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 33 after passing for 336 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for another. He announced his retirement three months later after having played 16 seasons in Denver.
“I mean, seeing him and the kind of work he put in was great,” Alexander said of Elway, who went 2-3 in Super Bowls. “You know, Elway studied the game and just being around him on the field said something. He was intelligent. If he saw something on the field, he’d come back and let (former Broncos coach) Mike Shanahan know. And Mike was the same way, an offensive-minded coach.”
Drafted by Denver in the fourth round (122nd overall pick) in 1998, Alexander, 39, played two seasons in the NFL before a rash of injuries reduced his effectiveness, thus resulting in him calling it a career from professional football following a one-year stint with the NFL Europe’s Frankford Galaxy in 2002. Arguably his most memorable highlight as a pro was when he set an NFL Europe single-game record with 279 rushing yards against Barcelona.
Besides Denver, Alexander’s other NFL stint took place when he signed a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins in February 2000.
Among the reasons he didn’t play in Super Bowl 33 was due in large part to his inability to stay healthy. Weeks into the Broncos’ training camp in 1998, Alexander aggravated his right quadriceps, an injury that never fully healed throughout the season.
“Yeah, it really was,” said Alexander, when asked if there was a sense of disappointment in having not played in his lone Super Bowl appearance. “But when I look back on it, it was all on myself. You know, I’m a picky eater. I didn’t eat vegetable and stuff. All I ate was chicken and fries. You know, those strength coaches said, ‘You need to do this and that.’ But my mind was made up. And a lot of times when you do that, you need to drink a lot of water and Gatorade. But I would drink a lot of drinks and sweet tea. And plus, I wasn’t a flexible guy. I didn’t like stretching. Even though I had to do it, I didn’t like it.”
Still, although he never set foot on the field during the game at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium, he said being a member of a Super Bowl winning team is something he will cherish for the rest of his life.
Not to mention an awe-inspiring experience that brings him to smiles 15 years later.
“I gave some of my souvenirs away, but I’m never going to get rid of (my Super Bowl ring),” Alexander said. “My two boys fight about it, fight about who’s going to get my ring. But little Curtis (14-year-old oldest son) says he’s going to get his own ring.”