As the coin hung in the frigid air at Lambeau Field last January, Matt Hasselbeck stood a 50-50 chance of remaining just another faceless Seattle Seahawk. If the coin landed on tails, he would have to watch his former teammate and mentor, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, get first crack at winning in overtime of their NFC wild-card playoff game. Tails, and Hasselbeck might miss the chance to extend his breakthrough 2003 season. Tails, and he might not get what he desperately wanted--the ball, and Seattle's fate, in his hands. � That's why, after the coin came up heads, Hasselbeck was nearly bursting with joy when referee Bernie Kukar looked to him and asked if Seattle wanted to kick off or receive. After a bumpy start in Seattle that included being benched in 2001, here was his chance to show he was playoff-worthy. Hasselbeck leaned toward Kukar, whose field microphone was on, and broke the news to his coaches, his teammates, 71,457 Cheeseheads at Lambeau and millions watching on national television. "We want the ball," Hasselbeck said, "and we're going to score." � As he ran back to the sideline, Hasselbeck heard the agitated murmur coursing through the stands, the Packers faithful asking, Did he just say that? Hasselbeck smiled. Damn right I did.
He had already completed 22 of 38 passes for 285 yards in regulation, leading the Seahawks on a 67-yard touchdown drive to tie the score at 27 with less than a minute to play. But none of that mattered when--after the teams had exchanged punts in overtime-- Green Bay cornerback Al Harris jumped the route of wideout Alex Bannister in the left flat, intercepted Hasselbeck's pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. In the locker room afterward, Hasselbeck was ashen, mortified that his tough talk had backfired. Asked which of his nagging injuries hurt the worst, Hasselbeck didn't miss a beat. "My feelings," he replied, tough as Jell-O.
So what if he'd thrown for a team-record 3,841 yards and 26 touchdowns during the regular season; completed 61% of his passes; guided the Seahawks to a 10--6 record; and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl? Who would remember that, with smarts and a deceptively strong arm and exceptional mobility, he had reversed a career freefall and evolved into the steady pilot of the NFL's sixth-ranked offense, a fearless leader who had a 107.3 rating on third down (third best in the league)? To the vast majority who had heard Hasselbeck's prediction, but knew little about his best season in six as a pro, the bold statement was nothing more than hollow hubris from a mouthy quarterback.
even months later the 28year-old Hasselbeck lazes in a swivel chair in an office at the Seahawks' practice facility in Bellevue, Wash. He doffs his ball cap, runs his fingers over what remains of the hair that has been disappearing since his sophomore year at Boston College. "I got a haircut yesterday; it was getting out of control," he says, taking a shot at his favorite target--himself. The self-deprecation is an attempt to steer the conversation in another direction; he's not fond of revisiting the past. And when he does, his tone is almost indignant. "It kills me to think that the Green Bay organization or the fans or the casual observer took offense," he says of his playoff proclamation. "I never meant to upset anybody or have everybody hear it.
"[The chatter among the teams' co-captains] started before the opening coin toss, when Green Bay sent, like, nine captains out. Lots of those guys are friends of mine, good friends, and so it's only natural to rag," Hasselbeck continued. "Before OT only [running back] Ahman Green and [kicker] Ryan Longwell came out. I was giving it to Ryan, telling him not to miss any game-winners, telling Ahman he better not fumble--that sort of thing. It was good-natured.
"But there was something else this time. I was out there with [defensive tackle] John Randle and [wideout] Darrell Jackson. The place was going crazy, and I found myself thinking of all the times I'd seen the same scenario: close game at Lambeau, the visiting players starting to get tight, and then they beat themselves. I said it for John and Darrell to hear, so they'd tell the guys what a crazy thing I had just said, so they would know that I knew we were going to win.
"We've come too far as a team to let one loss ruin us. I've worked too hard, done too much to let that day define me. Every person on this team has lived with that pain for months now. We have a choice: Do we move ahead, or slip away? Last year was no fluke. Now we have to prove it."
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is ready to move forward with his quarterback, sounding like a gruff-but-proud papa when he talks about Hasselbeck, whom he first coached in Green Bay in 1998. "It's Matt's team now, and I think he showed that last year," he says. "He's in command of the offense and himself. He doesn't try to do too much, which was a problem in the past."
The Hasselbeck era in Seattle began happily enough in March 2001, when he was acquired in a trade with the Packers. He was handed the starting job and featured prominently in the team's marketing campaign--heady stuff for a former sixth-round draft pick who had thrown all of 29 NFL passes as Favre's backup.
Hasselbeck's inexperience quickly surfaced. His swaggering, hyperactive persona irked some teammates, and his excessive on-field freelancing exasperated coaches. "I wouldn't say Matt was making it all up, exactly," quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn says, "but...." You get the picture. By the time the Seahawks had finished 9--7 and missed the playoffs by a game, the cacophony of boos aimed at Hasselbeck had subsided--but only because Holmgren had given the quarterback job to Trent Dilfer.