Truth be told, Chiefs wideout Derrick Alexander wasn't the least
bit upset when he discovered that most prognosticators had
picked Kansas City to finish at or near the bottom of the AFC
West this season. First, Alexander, a sixth-year wideout, has
spent his career exceeding low expectations. Second, many of
those same prognosticators had picked the Chiefs to go to the
playoffs last year. "Look what happened to us: We ended up going
7-9," says Alexander, now in his second season with K.C. "Maybe
this year we can sneak up on some people."
Alexander can relate to that, having spent a productive if
anonymous career as a sidekick to the pass-catching stars, first
with Michael Jackson in Cleveland and Baltimore, and then with
Andre Rison last year. This season, however, Alexander is
emerging as the Chiefs' go-to receiver; on Sunday he caught
three passes for 69 yards in Kansas City's 31-21 win over the
Lions, giving him a team-leading 15 receptions for 340 yards and
one touchdown in three games.
After making 120 catches in five seasons at Michigan, Alexander
was selected by the Browns in the first round of the 1994 draft.
His 48 receptions and 828 receiving yards ranked second among NFL
rookies, and much was made of his potential. But an injury to his
left leg early in the '95 season limited him to just 15 catches
that year. Despite averaging 60 catches and 1,033 yards over the
next three seasons, Alexander, who is most dangerous after he
catches the ball, was regarded as the "other wideout."
"It bothers me, with all that I've done," Alexander says.
"Though I would love to hear it, I just never get the feeling
that someone will come out and say, 'Derrick Alexander is our
Number 1 receiver.'"
But don't expect Alexander to rant and rave at any perceived
lack of respect. He has suffered worse. When Alexander was a
high school senior, his brother Steven, who was in the Army at
the time, was killed in an automobile accident while stationed
in Germany. Derrick will never forget the ringing of the phone
at 3 a.m. and the screams of his mother, Marion. "When I heard
my mom, I just started crying because I knew it was bad," he
recalls. "Then I heard her say he had died, and my heart sank."
Steven's death still weighed heavily on the Alexanders when, in
1996 during Ravens training camp, Derrick's brother Garrett died
of lung failure.
"I kept a lot of things bottled up, which was tough," Alexander
says. "I had to work really hard to keep my focus when I was on
the field." Yet he's been most productive in the ensuing seasons.
Without leading rusher Kimble Anders, lost for the year with a
torn Achilles, there is more pressure than usual on the Chiefs'
passing game. How fortunate for Kansas City, then, that
Alexander is enjoying the finest start of his NFL career.