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Long, Tough Route for Raider Receiver : Pro football: Alexander goes to Tokyo via New Jersey after his father suffers a heart attack.

August 10, 1991|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — The Raider coaches tell Mike Alexander it takes concentration to become a great receiver. Shut out the world when you are on the field. Forget your problems. Make a pact between you and the ball.

Alexander may have passed the biggest test of his career in Tokyo last weekend when football was the least of his concerns.

On Sunday night, July 28, Alexander received a call at training camp from his aunt informing him that Mike's father, Mervyn, had suffered a heart attack back home in New Jersey.

Alexander's aunt tried not to alarm him. His father, 54, was alive. But Mike has doubts when it comes to heart attacks.

"Anytime someone calls and says a relative had a heart attack, what else do they follow up with?" Alexander said. "He's OK? You really don't know. What's mild? I don't know the terminology of heart attacks."

The Raiders were scheduled to leave that Tuesday for Tokyo, where they would play a weekend exhibition game against the Miami Dolphins.

Alexander met with Coach Art Shell, who told the receiver to take care of his business.

So, Alexander boarded a Monday afternoon flight, bound for Piscataway, N.J., and rushed to his father's bedside.

Alexander spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the East, tending to his father and taking care of business around the family's house. By Thursday, though, Mervyn encouraged Mike to fly to Tokyo.

He arrived in Tokyo Friday afternoon and was able to participate only in a light workout before the Sunday morning game. He hadn't slept much at all that week, while his body clock had been sufficiently rearranged.

"I didn't have time to think about all that," Alexander said. "I didn't sleep that much, but I knew what I had to do. I knew once I got over there, I had to try and focus on the job; that's the only way my father would see it."

Alexander didn't know whether he would play until his name was called on the field. He responded with five catches for 69 yards, leading all receivers in the game.

Shell called Alexander's performance "inspiring."

Alexander's father didn't get to see the game as it was played because his hospital room wasn't equipped with ESPN. But family members taped the game and delivered it to Mervyn's room.

It was something to see Mike Alexander on television again. He had become one of those forgotten Raiders. Alexander, an eighth-round draft choice from Penn State in 1988, spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a hyper-extended knee.

He surfaced briefly in 1989, catching 15 passes for 295 yards, including a four-reception, 98-yard performance against the New York Giants.

But last season, he found himself back on the shelf again with a hamstring injury. After it healed, there was no room on the roster, so he helped the best he could as a scout team receiver.

At 6-feet-3 and 185 pounds, Alexander is an inviting target with soft, dependable hands. The problem has been cracking a lineup of trackmen and other stars, a team on which a former Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown, can't yet call himself a starter.

The competition at wide receiver this summer has been fierce, Alexander competing against Sam Graddy, Jamie Holland, Stefon Adams and Darrel Hopper for a choice roster spot. "It's a tough group," Alexander said. "We're all competing with each other. There's no need for me to worry. I do what I can do."

Alexander helped his cause in Japan, but he won't take all the credit.

"I really have to say thanks to the team; they've been really supportive," he said. "A lot of people have been behind me--the coaching staff, everybody--asking me how things are going. It seems like everyone really cares. And I appreciated that."

Alexander's father was released from the hospital Thursday and is making steady progress.

"He's doing a lot better now, though they're still monitoring the things he does," Alexander said. "It was a tough week."

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