Matt Hasselbeck's release by the Tennessee Titans earlier this week unleashed a new round of discussion about his place in Seahawks history (and seemed to confirm what I wrote two years ago when he left Seattle). Beck's quick move to back up Andrew Luck in Indianapolis tabled that subject for at least another year, but the fact remains that I have held on to my old Hasselbeck replica jersey for one very practical reason: I intend to wear it at Seahawks Stadium the day he's inducted into the Ring of Honor.
In terms of honoring exceptional figures in Seahawks history, there's a clear caste system at work. Are you in the Hall of Fame (or just waiting to go in on the first ballot like Walter Jones)? You get your number retired. Were you a fairly memorable player that the fans have fond recollections of? You get to raise the 12th Man Flag. In between First Class and Coach is the Ring of Honor- A higher honor than simply raising the flag for great players who weren't quite great enough to remove a number from the active roster.
Right now there are ten men in the Seahawks Ring of Honor (Soon to be eleven- Hard to see this weird "Walter Jones has his number retired but he's not in the Ring of Honor" situation dragging on much longer). They are:
Dave Brown, cornerback (1976-1986), inducted 1992
Kenny Easley, safety (1981-1987), inducted 2002
Jacob Green, defensive end (1980-1991), inducted 1995
Pete Gross, (1976-1992), play-by-play radio announcer, inducted 1992
Cortez Kennedy, defensive tackle (1990-2000), inducted 2006
Chuck Knox, head coach (1983-1991), inducted 2005
Dave Krieg, quarterback (1980-1991), inducted 2004
Steve Largent, wide receiver (1976-1989), inducted 1989
Curt Warner, running back (1983-1989), inducted 1994
Jim Zorn, quarterback (1976-1984), inducted 2001
A few things jump out about that list. First, it's almost entirely players from the 70s and 80s. There's only one player from "The Forgotten Years" (Tez), and no one yet from the Holmgren Era. Also, there hasn't been a player inducted since Tez in 2006. Yes, Big Walt will be next, and soon... But it's been a while. It's time to put some more names on the facade of Seahawks Stadium's upper deck.
But not TOO many more names. Being inducted into the Ring of Honor still needs to be something special, so let's say we add Walter Jones and nine more guys. That gets us to 20 total, and assuming you want to leave space for four current Hawks, that gives us five slots to fill. Here's who I think they should be, in the order they should see their names added to the Ring of Honor.
1. Matt Hasselbeck
Jones should get in the Ring of Honor this year or next, and Matthew should follow Big Walt the year after he retires from the NFL. I'm an unabashed Beck fanboy, and I've written many paeans to his greatness. Here's a good snippet:
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 worshipper like me has to give Beck the nod here). He played through injuries, and while he always had that tendency to make rookie mistakes, he also played 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."
2. Shaun Alexander
This is where I expect to get some blowback from other Twelves. I'm continually stunned by the number of Seahawks fans who couldn't stand the most dangerous offensive weapon in franchise history (yes, even more than Largent). Let's look at the man's resume one more time:
-2005 NFL MVP (including 28 touchdowns and 1880 rushing yards)
-112 career touchdowns (#1 in Seahawks history; #14 in NFL history)
-9,429 career rushing yards (#1 in Seahawks history)
-Without him, we would still be part of the pathetic fraternity of teams who have never been to a Super Bowl. It's nice to hold something over the Lions, Browns, Texans, and Jaguars.
If that's not Ring of Honor-worthy, what the fuck IS? Yeah, you might not have loved his running style- But if he's not in the Ring of Honor eventually, the whole damn thing is a joke.
3. Mike Holmgren
If Holmgren was already OOF (out of football), he'd be in line right after Walter Jones. He'll have to wait to get in the RoH for the same reason Bill Parcells waited so long to get into Canton: No one is sure when he'll actually retire. But Holmgren's Ring of Honor case is very strong.
In ten years under Holmgren, the Seahawks went 90-80 (including the playoffs). In addition to the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, on Holmgren's watch the Hawks accumulated 5 of their 7 divisional titles, 6 of their 12 playoff appearances, and 4 of their 9 playoff victories. At the moment, he is CLEARLY the greatest coach in team history, and a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame- If not for the incompetence of Bill Leavy and Company, he'd probably be the only head coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to Super Bowl victories.
Outside of the Pacific Northwest, Holmgren is remembered for his time with the Packers, but he actually coached (and won) more games with Seattle. In addition, while he's unquestionably the #1 coach in Seahawks history, he's at best #2 behind Lombardi in Packers lore (and might fall to 3rd by the time Mike McCarthy retires). Without his successful run in Seattle, Holmgren wouldn't be the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer he is today.
4. John L. Williams
How is JLW not in the Ring of Honor ALREADY? He was a punishing runner, a nimble receiver, and an excellent blocker. In short, he was one of the best football players, regardless of position, to ever suit up for Seattle. Look at his resume:
-2-time Pro Bowler (1990, 1991)
-In 8 years in Seattle, he racked up 8730 yards from scrimmage. That's more than Curt Warner, Chris Warren, or Brian Blades. Only Steve Largent and Shaun Alexander have more YFS in franchise history.
-He has the 3rd most receptions in team history, behind only Largent and Blades.
-He scored two of the most important touchdowns in Seahawks history; both were long catch and runs off the "middle screen." One was at Chicago in 1987, in a crucial win that got Seattle into the playoffs. The other was at L.A. in '88, to put the Seahawks ahead of the Raiders for good and clinch the NFC West crown (both are chronicled in the video below).
-He was also a highly effective blocker, allowing Curt Warner, Derrick Fenner and Chris Warren to all rack up big numbers on the ground from 86-93.
I would argue strongly that among pre-Holmgren-era Seahawks, he is the most deserving of a spot in the Ring of Honor, and I would get his throwback jersey custom-made if I had the means.
5. Mack Strong
Mack Strong's career started in those dark days of the '90s, but he got to taste the glory of the Homlgren years as well. In 2005, he was named all-pro (and got one of his two Pro Bowl selections) and turned in the defining play of his career: a huge 3rd down conversion to seal a victory over the Redskins in the divisional playoffs. The Seahawks hadn't won a playoff game in 21 seasons, and DC put up enough of a fight to make things tense for all 60 minutes. The Hawks faced a 3rd down in the 4th quarter nursing a 17-10 lead, and Mack Strong tore off 38 yards on a draw play to set up Josh Brown's game-icing FG.
The most impressive thing about his career? He led the way for 10 different individual 1000-yard rushing efforts, and was crucial to sustaining Seattle's ground attack whether he was blocking for Chris Warren, Ricky Watters or Shaun Alexander.
What do you think, sirs? Am I missing anyone really obvious?