Hasselbeck Fought His Way to Top

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 14, 2006

SEATTLE, Jan. 13 -- He was always too headstrong for his own good. Like the time at Boston College when Matt Hasselbeck learned he would not be the starting quarterback. This discovery filled him with a rage that sent him storming into the office of the coach, Dan Henning.

"You should wear big red shoes and a big red nose because you are a clown!" he said he shouted.

Perhaps not the kind of thing a college junior should be saying to the man who holds his future in his hands. But this was always the way of Hasselbeck, with his cherubic smile and unfailing politeness. Underneath bubbled a fury and that fury would come bursting out in the most peculiar ways.

The coin twirled in the frigid air of his first playoff game two years ago. The Seahawks were going into overtime in Green Bay, a whole country was watching, Seattle won the toss. What to do? The official looked at Hasselbeck and the quarterback lifted his head, then startled everybody by yelling, "We want the ball and we're going to score!"

They didn't. And when he threw a pass into the hands of a Packers cornerback named Al Harris, who ran 52 yards across the turf for the winning touchdown, there was much laughter at the expense of Hasselbeck. Just who did this guy think he was?

But there was something in the brazenness that made the same men put in charge of him smile. Henning, the clown, absorbed the verbal assault, then said, "I'm proud of you Matthew," and soon gave Hasselbeck his starting job. Mike Holmgren, the Seahawks coach who disdains any public displays of cockiness, instead doubled his faith in his quarterback, quietly believing even more that this was the person who could someday take him back to the Super Bowl.

And so here they are, two wins away from that dream, with the best football season Seattle has ever seen. And it is Hasselbeck who has become the Seahawks' unquestioned leader, the unwavering voice of authority who has turned chaos into what might be the most potent offense in the NFL.

Even if the process tried every bit of patience that coach and quarterback possessed.

This thought made Holmgren smile a bit as he stood in the team's empty practice bubble after a workout this week. There were so many times he screamed at his young passer, stared him down and looked as if he wanted to break him in two. At last, it seems, they had finally gotten past those days.

"One of the things that has always been attractive to me is his competitive spirit," Holmgren said. "If he wants answers to questions and he asks questions, then it is my obligation to give him the answers. The problem with players on occasion is they don't like the answers. Or they think they have the answers until every once in a while they get hit in the mouth and then they come and say, 'Okay, maybe you are right.'

"This is kind of what happens with thoroughbreds. You get high-strung and good players. But this is one of the reasons they are good. Then all of a sudden you go through those bumps and you get to a point where you trust one another. Then all sorts of good stuff happens."

It has come to the point where Hasselbeck, along with Shaun Alexander, is the most vital of all the Seahawks players, the one the team can least afford to lose. If he goes, they will lose their head, the one who makes them move. And this wasn't always the case.

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