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A-Train stays on track


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 1998

TAMPA -- The perception is that fullback Mike Alstott is not having a Mike Alstott season.

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Some blame the injured hip, the lottery contract or his off-field interests. But why do so many seem eager to ride the A-Train out of town on a rail?

Alstott has rushed for 579 yards on 148 carries (3.9 average) and four touchdowns. That's roughly a copy of his production through 12 games of the '97 season of 589 yards on 150 carries (3.9 avg.) and six TDs.

So what is different? Quite frankly, just the team's record. Instead of 8-4 it is 5-7.

"It seems like we're not running the ball because about four games this year we've been playing catch-up," Alstott said. "And people say we weren't running the ball earlier in the year and that's when I was coming back. Or "We're not running the ball because Mike's hurt.' People are making up excuses. I'm fine. I feel fine. My stats are better. Our stats are better. But our turnover ratio is not as good, and I think that's what wins games."

Alstott, however, has been responsible for much of the turnover problem.

Alstott has developed a nasty habit of coughing up the football. His four fumbles match Pittsburgh's Richard Huntley for the league lead by a running back. Only quarterbacks Trent Dilfer, Trent Green and Steve Young, all of whom have lost five, have more.

Alstott has 13 fumbles in three pro seasons, or one for every 32.3 carries.

Alstott's reputation has spread like wildfire and he says opponents put as much effort into tackling the football as they do him.

"Guys nowadays, linebackers and defensive backs, are going for the ball more than to try to straight tackle me, especially when I'm breaking tackles," Alstott said. "When I'm trying to get that extra yardage, there's one guy on the pile trying to shift the ball. But I'm not making excuses. I've been playing like that all my life. I've just got to be conscious of it and work harder at it.

"I know defenses are going in the locker room or in their preparation throughout the week saying, "Well, he's fumbled this time, this time, this time. We know he's a hard runner and he's going to fumble.' I know they're after the ball. They don't want to tackle me. They want to strip the ball. We see it on tape all the time."

Not all of Alstott's fumbles were necessarily a result of the way he was carrying the football.

"Two of the four fumbles (this year) were where I got hit and that caused it," Alstott said. "A guy puts his helmet right on the ball. But two of the four I was careless. Sometimes when you make moves and stuff like that, your arms tend to shift. The ball got away from my body a little bit."

But those fans who are quick to discredit Alstott's production should get a grip.

Only the Cardinals' Larry Centers, primarily a receiver with 50 catches for 343 yards and 2 TDs, has a chance to keep Alstott out of his second Pro Bowl.


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