Welcome to the second weekly Flashback Friday feature on Football Meets Football. Each week we look back at a footballer and American footballer from years gone by purely for nostalgic reasons. If you have any suggestions for players you would like to have featured in this article leave a comment on here, on our Facebook page or on our Twitter (@FBmeetsFB). This weeks players will be Efan Ekoku and Shaun Alexander.
You can check out last weeks Flashback Friday featuring Egil Østenstad and Jon Kitna here
Efangwu Goziem “Efan” Ekoku was born on 8th June 1967 in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, England.
As a youth he was playing striker for Sutton United between 1989-90 and his professional football career started when Harry Redknapp signed him for AFC Bournemouth who were in Division 3 at the time (today’s League One). The 1990/91 season was a quiet one for Efan as he only managed 3 goals in 20 appearances, but he fared better in his second season with 11 goals in 28 league games. 1992/93 saw Ekoku tally 7 goals in just 14 games for the Cherries before he was snapped up by Norwich City of the Premier League on 26th March 1993 for a fee of £500,000.
He scored 3 goals in 10 games for Norwich during the remainder of the 92/93 season which helped the Canaries finish 3rd in the league and secured them UEFA Cup football. He became the first Norwich player to score in European competition as he slotted home in the 53rd minute of a 3-0 home win against Vitesse Arnhem of Holland on 15th September 1993. A mere 10 days later back in domestic action he scored 4 in a 5-1 win against Everton at Goodison Park. He finished the 1993/94 season with 12 league goals from 27 games.
On 14th October 1994 Efan was snapped up by Wimbledon for a fee of £900,000 and was immediately partnered with Dean Holdsworth in their strike force. He finished his first season with the Crazy Gang with 9 goals which was good enough to make him the club’s top scorer that season. After a 7 goal season in 1995/96 he went on to play a huge part in Wimbledon’s exciting 1996/97 season, scoring 11 goals in all competitions as they made the semi finals in both the League and FA Cups and finished 8th in the Premier League.
Chances were limited over the next 2 seasons at Wimbledon for Ekoku, and on 27th August 1999 he secured a £500,000 move to Grasshoppers Zurich. His record in Switzerland was exemplary, as he scored 19 goals in 28 games during 1999/00 and the start of the 2000/01 season before securing a return to England with Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer on 20th October 2000. Wednesday had been relegated from the Premier League the previous season and were off to a slow start in Division One, but 7 goals in 31 games helped the Owls finish 17th at the end of the 2000/01 season. Another 7 goal season in 2001/02 helped Wednesday on their way to a League Cup semi final but they narrowly avoided a second relegation in 3 years with a 20th place finish. He did not feature at all in the 2002/03 season in which the Owls were relegated to the third tier of English football, and was granted a free transfer to Division 2 Brentford in March 2003. He didn’t play a first team game for the Bees before moving to Ireland with Dublin City in November 2003 where he played 13 scoreless games before hanging up his boots.
He finished his playing career with 323 games and 109 goals, as well as 20 international appearances for Nigeria with 6 goals.
Since retiring from the game Efan has obtained all of his FA and UEFA coaching badges. He currently works as a commentator for Premier League Productions, which produces the commentary for world feeds of Premier League games. He was part of the ESPN team that worked on the World Cup in 2010, and in 2013 he worked with the BBC for their Confederations Cup coverage. In 2012 he was inducted into the Norwich City Hall of Fame along with fellow players Dean Ashton, Adam Drury, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt and manager Paul Lambert.
Born and raised in Florence, Kentucky, Shaun Edward Alexander attended Boone County High School and was voted class president in every year he attended. As an athlete he performed well in basketball and baseball but it was football where he really excelled, becoming more and more of a dominant running back as his time at the school went on. In his freshman year he rushed for 1,095 yards and 14 TDs and his junior year saw him rush for 2,396 yards and 42 TDs, including 7 TDs in a single game against Campbell County which earned him a spot in Sports Illustrated. His senior season in 1994/95 was more impressive still, as he racked up 3,166 yards and a state record 54 TDs. These monstrous numbers earned him a place on the USA Today 1994 All American team. His number 37 was retired at Boone County before his graduation.
When college beckoned Shaun had narrowed his options down to 3 – Michigan, Alabama and Notre Dame. He ended up choosing Alabama due to the warm weather and student enthusiasm. In his first year with the Crimson Tide in 1996 he rushed for 589 yards and 6 TDs, although a school record 291 of the yards and 4 TDs all came in one game, a 26-0 win over SEC rivals the LSU Tigers. 1997 was a little tougher for Alexander as he only amassed 415 yards and 3 TDs, but 1998 was better as he put up 1,178 yards and 18 TDs and 1999 would prove to be the pinnacle of his college career. Deciding to return for his senior year instead of entering the NFL draft he had 1,383 rushing yards, 323 receiving yards and 23 total TDs as he lead Alabama to the National Championship. He left Alabama with 15 school records including career rushing yards (3,565) and rushing touchdowns (41).
The Seattle Seahawks selected Alexander with the 19th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. In his rookie season he was backup to Ricky Watters and put up 313 yards and 2 TDs. Watters suffered injuries and ultimately retired in the 2001 season, meaning Alexander became the teams featured back. Shaun thrived in the role, especially on 11th November in a Sunday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders where he rushed for a franchise record 266 yards, a record that still stands to this day. He finished his second season with 1,318 yards and 14 TDs, trailing only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in the TDs category. In 2002 he recorded 1,175 yards and 18 TDs, 5 of which came in the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings (4 rush, 1 receiving). In 2003 Shaun was selected to his first Pro Bowl and lead the Seahawks to the playoffs for the first time in 3 years after a 1,435 yard, 16 TD season. 2004 saw the yards rise again as he hit 1,696, finishing second that year to the New York Jets back Curtis Martin by a single yard.
Shaun Alexander’s 2005 season was one of the finest by a running back in league history. He rushed for a league leading 1,880 yards and a phenomenal 27 TDs while adding 78 yards receiving with 1 TD. Those 28 total touchdowns were a stand-alone league record for a single season and 27 rushing TDs tied the single season record, although both records would fall the following year to LaDanian Tomlinson who put up 31 and 28 TDs respectively. Following these monster numbers Alexander was named the NFL MVP and led the league in number of Pro Bowl votes as the Seattle Seahawks marched to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately for the 12s they would fall at the last hurdle suffering a 21-10 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. Shaun had a respectable 95 yards in the big game, although he was unable to find the end zone in the only Super Bowl appearance of his career.
Sadly this was the last time Shaun would break 1,000 yards in a season. During the off season he was announced as the cover star of the Madden 07 video game and signed an unprecedented 8 year contract at $62 million, $15.1 million of which was guaranteed. In week 3 of the 2006 season Alexander broke his left foot and missed 7 weeks of action and he returned in week 11. In week 12 he showed he still had MVP-calibre talent as he rushed for 201 yards and would finish the season with 896 rushing yard and 7 TDs. 2007 would prove to be his last year with the Seahawks as he rushed for 716 yards on 207 attempts which only gave him a 3.5 yard per carry average. He also rushed for 4 TDs that year. He was cut by the team on 22nd April 2008 and signed for the Washington Redskins after the 2008 season had already started but was released during November of the same year after only getting 11 carries in 4 games for 24 yards.
Shaun Alexander finished his NFL career with 9,453 rushing yards, 100 rushing touchdowns, 1,520 receiving yard and 12 receiving touchdowns. Since retiring from the game after that beleaguered Redskins season he has focused on his home life, raising and homeschooling his 8 children along with wife Valerie.