THE SLOGAN "Always compete" is visible throughout the Seahawks' training facility. You see it on everything from banners and T-shirts to the practice-field scoreboard. But nowhere is it more prominent than on the face of new coach Pete Carroll, who is seeking to turn around a franchise that won just nine games in the past two seasons.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck learned as much on the eve of training camp, when he and Carroll had a meeting on a basketball court adjacent to the training complex.
They had not had a real clear-the-air session since Carroll and general manager John Schneider surrendered a third-round pick to San Diego for third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in March, then signed him to an $8 million, two-year contract. One of Carroll's team rules is "no complaining or whining," so Hasselbeck, who was entering the final year of his contract after nine years as the starter, walked lightly when broaching the subject.
"I was like, I'll be honest. I know I'm totally biased here, but, hey, come on, why?" Hasselbeck recalled of the meeting. "It was like the Steve Young situation. When he was with the 49ers and they used their first-round pick to draft Jim Druckenmiller, he wasn't like, Oh, crap. Jim Druckenmiller is going to beat me out. It was just like, Hey, man. I'm older, our team is pretty good, we just need a few more pieces to get back to the Super Bowl. What are we doing?"
Carroll responded to Hasselbeck's question by reiterating his belief that competition is the lifeblood of a program. If Hasselbeck didn't already get that, he found out when Carroll crouched into a defensive stance while wearing flip-flops. Game on.
Hasselbeck, who turns 35 this year, wondered how best to proceed. He thought back to 2000, when he asked permission to marry his girlfriend, Sarah, while playing a game of two-on-two hoops with his future father-in-law and brother-in-law. Hasselbeck's teammate was a 6' 7" buddy who clearly didn't understand the art of buttering up future in-laws, because at one point he attempted a dunk. Hasselbeck quickly reminded his friend that they needed to lose the game.
A decade later he was back on the court with another man who could control his future. He wondered just how seriously he should take the game; after all Carroll, who had kicked off his footwear, is 24 years older and is ultimately in charge of Hasselbeck's playing time.
Hasselbeck didn't have to wonder long, if at all. "Remember that story about your father-in-law," Carroll said, then warned his QB not to lose on purpose. Always compete isn't just a slogan for the coach; it's a mind-set.
So they battled to seven, with Hasselbeck winning by two. Now his goal is to claim the starting job. That seemed all but certain early in training camp, but Hasselbeck struggled in the exhibition opener against the Titans while Whitehurst, who had been pedestrian in practice, wowed everyone with a 14-of-22, 214-yard, two-score performance.
Seattle needs strong play at quarterback because other than at tight end, where John Carlson is solid, the Seahawks have question marks at every offensive position. The line struggled last season and was thrown into greater flux in the second exhibition game when top rookie Russell Okung, a massive left tackle, sustained a serious ankle sprain. He's out for several weeks. The receiving corps lacks a proven No. 1, and the running backs are quick but undersized. Carroll will look to add a sledgehammer back when other teams begin making cuts.