By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
DETROIT, Jan. 31 -- The Super Bowl's infamously silly media day wasn't burdensome to Matt Hasselbeck. Quite the opposite, actually. As reporters crowded around his booth Tuesday at Ford Field, the quarterback lifted his cap to reveal his shiny dome and said all men with balding issues should root for him and his Seattle Seahawks teammates Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He eagerly traded on-camera quips with comedian Gilbert Gottfried and actor Tom Arnold when they showed up among the media members asking him questions, and he scolded an "Entertainment Tonight" correspondent because he'd seen the show identify Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the hosts of "The View" on ABC, as being married to him instead of brother Tim.
"There's a lot about us people don't know," Matt Hasselbeck said of the Seahawks. "Like, I'll start with our names."
Hasselbeck is not the golden boy quarterback this week. That distinction clearly belongs to his Steelers counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger. But Hasselbeck has emerged from a series of hard knocks to become a Pro Bowl quarterback on a Super Bowl team in his eighth season, and he is providing refreshing candor and genuine exuberance that have become rare at football's most visible position.
His teammates have come to adore him. "He's had his ups and downs," Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck said. "It's like a shirt. It's all wrinkled up, and then you put an iron on it, and it looks better. He's responded to it. He's fought through it all, getting booed all the time, and he's done a great job with the team this year."
Even this week, Hasselbeck is living down some of the times when his lack of diplomacy has gotten him into trouble. He still is being asked about the embarrassing moment in Green Bay during the NFC playoffs at the end of the 2003 season, when the referee's microphone picked up his pronouncement after the overtime coin flip that the Seahawks wanted the ball and would go down and score. They got the ball but didn't score, and Hasselbeck ended up throwing an interception later in the overtime that was returned for a touchdown by the Packers, ending the Seahawks' season.
Hasselbeck began his NFL career in Green Bay, and he said Tuesday he was doing some trash-talking to his friends on the Packers during that game, "just like when you're in your driveway playing basketball."
"Do I regret it? No," Hasselbeck said. "Do I wish we would have scored? Yeah."
Has he learned his lesson? Maybe not. When the Seahawks stopped by Qwest Field for a pep rally before traveling to Detroit on Sunday, Hasselbeck made what sounded to some like a Super Bowl guarantee, telling the crowd all the city lacked was a Super Bowl trophy.
"It's a pep rally, right?" Hasselbeck said. "You're trying to pep up the crowd. Those people were there since 4 in the morning. I felt I owed them something."
If Hasselbeck is trying to squeeze all he can out of this moment, who can blame him? His road to this point has been twisting. He grew up in a football family as the son of Don Hasselbeck, a tight end who played in the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Raiders 22 years ago. Matt, 30, is about 2 1/2 years older than Tim, who is the backup quarterback for the New York Giants after a stint with the Washington Redskins. The brothers pushed and bloodied one another as kids.
"Whenever we were alone together, we competed to the point that usually someone would end up crying," Matt said. "Usually Tim."
Matt preceded his brother at Boston College and had a sometimes stormy college career in which he suggested at one point that coach Dan Henning -- now the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, whom the Seahawks beat in the NFC title game -- was a clown for deciding against making Hasselbeck his starter. Hasselbeck, who later patched up his relationship with Henning, ended up being a two-year starter in college but wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine and wasn't selected by the Packers -- then coached by current Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren -- until the sixth round of the 1998 draft. That might have been even later if Andy Reid, then Holmgren's quarterbacks coach and now the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach, hadn't lobbied for Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck spent his rookie season on the Packers' practice squad as their fourth-string quarterback, yet Reid found time to work with him. He told Hasselbeck to emulate Favre's leadership, enthusiasm for the game and ability to intimidate an opponent without saying a word, but to forget about copying Favre's mechanics or decision making because the youngster didn't have the physical ability to get away with the same things. Hasselbeck spent the next two seasons as Favre's primary backup before Holmgren, who had jumped to Seattle, traded for Hasselbeck to be his starter even though the youngster had thrown only 29 regular season passes.
That made Hasselbeck the anointed starter for a coach who had worked with Joe Montana as an assistant in San Francisco and with Favre in Green Bay, but it wasn't a happily-ever-after story from there. Hasselbeck acknowledges he arrived in Seattle with a bit of a know-it-all attitude and was difficult at times to coach, and his early struggles with the Seahawks made him a target of booing fans and caused him to lose the starting job temporarily to Trent Dilfer.
But Hasselbeck found a mentor in Dilfer, who had won a Super Bowl title in Baltimore before being discarded by the Ravens. He watched Dilfer step into the heat from coaches for mistakes made by other players. He watched Dilfer say a prayer in the tunnel before games.
The two quarterbacks became close. "He didn't have to be that guy for me," Hasselbeck said. "But he was."
He got the starting job back for good in 2003 and this season, with Dilfer in Cleveland, directed the NFL's highest-scoring offense. He finally has gotten to the point, he said, where he usually knows what Holmgren is going to say to him before the coach says it.
"He certainly had a great season, and I think he is the perfect fit for what we ask the quarterback to do," Holmgren said. "It takes just a little time to feel comfortable in the offense, and now he is at the point where I think he feels really comfortable."
So, Hasselbeck figures, there's plenty for him to savor this week.
"It's been a long road," he said, "and to be here is very, very special. . . . I wasn't supposed to make it in the NFL. It just wasn't supposed to happen. I'm just trying to keep the dream going."