July 8, 2011

The Legacy of Matthew Hasselbeck

Until the lockout finally gets settled (hopefully in the next few days), speculation will fly about where Matt Hasselbeck will play this fall- If you've followed my twitter feed at all, you've also seen robust debate about whether Hasselbeck's return to Seattle is a great idea, a horrible idea, or perhaps simply the best of bad options (My official position? I'd like to see the Seahawks acquire Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton or even Kevin Kolb via trade- But if they can't swing any of those deals, I VASTLY prefer they retain Hasselbeck than roll the dice on the remote prospect of Charlie Whitehurst leading Seattle to another NFC West title in 2011).

What happens next, however, is unlikely to fundamentally change Matt Hasselbeck's place in Seahawks' franchise history- There are really only two scenarios that would:

A) He goes to division rival Arizona, plays extremely well there for a number of years, beats the Seahawks regularly, and complicates his Seattle legacy.

B) He stays with the Seahawks, and enjoys a shocking resurgence, leading Seattle to a deep playoff run or even a Super Bowl title- If this happens, he goes from "top 5 player" in team history to perhaps the very top.

Everything else in between- from him going somewhere like Tennessee for a couple of years, or staying with Seattle and declining further- doesn't really alter the basic narrative of Hasselbeck's career. What is that narrative? Let's take a step back and look at Hasselbeck's body of work.

Hasselbeck came to the Seahawks via trade in 2001, and didn't immediately justify the cost of acquiring him. He was mediocre at best in 2001 before getting injured and replaced by Trent Dilfer, who led Seattle to the precipice of a playoff appearance. Dilfer returned in 2002, but along with the rest of the team, he got off to a terrible start. The team was 1-5 going into a game at Dallas (The "Emmitt Smith breaks the record" game), and that day Dilfer's popped Achilles' tendon gave Hasselbeck an opportunity to win back the starting QB job- He lead Seattle to an upset win that day, and went on to have a BLISTERING performance over the last 10 games of the 2002 season- The team went 6-4, and he threw for over 3000 yards (including a career-high 475 427 yards in a furious near-comeback down in San Francisco).

Since then, with a few injury interruptions aside, Matt Hasselbeck has been the unquestioned on-field leader of the Seahawks franchise. There is no real debate about his status as the best QB in team history- No QB has won more games for the Seahawks, led the team to more playoff wins and divisional titles, completed more passes or thrown for more yards than Hasselbeck (Yes, Dave Krieg's rating is a tenth of a point higher than Hasselbeck's, and he threw for more TDs, but on balance even a Krieg fanboy like me has to give Beck the nod here). He has played through injuries, and while he has always had that tendency to make rookie mistakes, he also plays with an amount of passion I wish all 53 guys on the roster also possessed.

Beyond his status in Seahawks history, he has a legitimate claim to being one of the NFL's best QBs over the past decade- Is he a Hall of Famer? No. Is he on the same level as Brady-Manning-Rodgers-Brees? No. But his body of work is that of a very good, near-elite quarterback. If you look at some of the players Hasselbeck is "similar" to on Pro Football Reference, you'll see names like Archie Manning, Neil Lomax, Danny White, etc- and that's about right- All these guys, like Hasselbeck, were very good QBs who at times looked elite, but could never QUITE get their team all the way to a championship.

Hasselbeck isn't a (mostly) beloved figure among Twelves simply because of his on-field accomplishments, though. He has always been entertaining, engaging, and relatable off the field (I truly think he can be a great broadcaster if he wanted to do that after he retires); I also think part of the reason I like him so much is that unlike a lot of NFL QBs, he comes off not as an alpha-male jock but as, frankly, a bit of a dork. To me at least, that's a very endearing quality. He also put down deep roots in the Seattle area, and has been extremely active in the community. That all adds up to make him one of the most popular Seahawks ever, in addition to one of the best.

Where does he rank? I'd put him down as the 5th greatest Seahawk, behind Walter Jones, Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, and Kenny Easley. No matter what happens between today and his eventual retirement, he should SWIFTLY join the Seahawks Ring of Honor once leaves the game. One of the hundreds of reasons I am still so embittered about XL is the impact it had on Hasselbeck's legacy. If the officials had not incompetently tipped the scales in Pittsburgh's favor, Matt Hasselbeck would probably have a Super Bowl title and a Super Bowl MVP award on his resume- Those things rocket him from "very good quarterback" to "borderline Hall of Famer."

That's my take on Hasselbeck's legacy. What's yours?


Neil said...

I'd have to agree, ESPECIALLY with the part about XL. I always thought that his reputation took an undeserved beating because of that game.

James said...

I'm going home after work and putting on my Hasselbeck jersey to show my support.

Jonathan Dalar said...

Spot on. And without dredging up old grievances, I truly think XL* completely altered his legacy for the worse.

He is easily one of the best Seahawks ever to play the game and easily deserves a place in the Ring of Honor.