Seahawks GM John Schneider tells a story about the difficult moment when they decided they were going to “move on” from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and watch him leave as a free agent after 10 seasons in Seattle.
Schneider said he informed his young son that his favorite player was leaving, hoping he wouldn’t hear it from any other source.
His son responded by punching Schneider in the stomach.
I felt like doing the same.
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So did every other member of the regional media who had come to recognize Hasselbeck as a rare gem of cooperation and insight and accessibility.
He was smarter than us, more athletic than us, and more than likely a better human being than us, yet he tolerated everyone without a hint of condescension.
He was a star on the field who understood how important his role was on the team and in the community, yet he never took himself too seriously.
It is a tribute to his dedication to the quarterbacking craft and to being such a reliable backup and contributor in the locker room and film room that Hasselbeck extended his career to 18 seasons in the league.
It is improbable, but fitting, that from the 1998 NFL draft, Peyton Manning was taken with the first pick, and the unheralded Hasselbeck was drafted 186 picks later, yet both retired from the game the same week.
The moment he retired from the Indianapolis Colts, Hasselbeck was snapped up by ESPN to be part of the Sunday Countdown crew, reportedly replacing Mike Ditka.
This notable career would have been hard to predict when Hasselbeck arrived in Seattle in March 2001 — when he still needed shampoo and a comb — and was announced by coach Mike Holmgren as the new starter and expected agent of profound change.
It took time.
Struggling toward the end of his second season here, Hasselbeck was at a tipping point in his career, as the Seahawks had a chance to opt out of his contract. As he’s recounted, he finished strongly that season as a result of an important realization: He might benefit if he started listening to Holmgren’s advice.
What followed was a string of offensive success that took the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl and to five division titles. Hasselbeck piled up three Pro Bowls, 19 games with 300 or more yards passing, and nearly 30,000 total passing yards in his 10 seasons in Seattle.
Sometimes his competitiveness caused him to write checks his athleticism couldn’t cash, and Holmgren would joke about it, but with an air of admiration. “More often than not, he’s made good decisions; it just looks kind of funny sometimes,” Holmgren once said of Hasselbeck’s play.
Nobody could question his toughness. He frequently played hurt and with conspicuous effort and sportsmanship.
In his final season in Seattle in 2010, Hasselbeck was banged up and his numbers suffered. But he was brilliant in his final game as a Seahawk. Most recall the upset win over New Orleans in the wildcard round of the playoffs as the BeastQuake game, when running back Marshawn Lynch shook Seattle to a subterranean level.
Fewer recall that Hasselbeck not only passed for four touchdowns and 272 yards, but also was some 50 yards downfield hustling to get in a block as Lynch wove his path of destruction.
In his 138 games in Seattle, Hasselbeck always was accountable, win or lose. He was an ambassador for the franchise — and more. The league, the game and the profession were honored by his presence.
The best off-field example: Once at the old Kirkland headquarters, he took a shortcut through the press room with somebody from out of town. Rather than nod on his way through, he stopped with his guest and correctly introduced every member of the local media and identified them with their affiliation.
A national media guy was sitting next to me at the time and told me he didn’t think most NFL quarterbacks could name all their teammates, let alone the members of the local media.
It was a stunning, unrehearsed example of a man who paid attention to the world around him, and respected the job of others who sometimes shared his space.
He will be a huge success on television because of his intelligence and obvious humanity.
And I hope the Seahawks quickly reward him with a well-deserved place on the team’s Ring of Honor.