October 9, 2015

Matt Hasselbeck: An Appreciation


Last night I cried after watching a fairly meaningless game between two teams I have no emotional connection to- Let me explain why.

For almost half of my life as a Twelve, I've also been a Matt Hasselbeck fan. After the failure of the Jon Kitna experiment, I remember erupting in a spasm of fist-pumpy "Fuck yeah!"s when I saw the news that the Seahawks had traded for Brett Favre's heralded understudy (horrifying the confused patrons of Steve's Dakota Grill in Findlay, Ohio).

I ran out and bought a Hasselbeck jersey immediately (pictured above dorking up the Ballard Locks in September 2001), and I wore it proudly as I endured taunts of "Asselbeck" and "Hasseldick" during a 9-6 win at Cleveland in his first Seattle start. Matthew struggled through that first season, and when Trent Dilfer almost led the Hawks to the playoffs after getting handed the job, it looked like Hasselbeck would join the sad litany of failed experiments under center for the Emerald City (including luminaries such as Dan McGwire, Rick Mirer, Stan Gelbaugh, etc).

But then in 2002 Seattle got off to a 1-5 start and Dilfer popped his Achilles during a game at Texas Stadium. Hasselbeck came in off the bench, and after Darrell Jackson was felled by a vicious, dirty hit Hass reportedly growled in the huddle afterwards:

"NOBODY FUCKING DOES THAT TO US!"

Beck led the Hawks to the winning FG, and from then on he was probably the NFL's best QB in 2002- Seattle went 6-4 the rest of the way, and Hasselbeck threw for 3000 yards in just 10 games.

The next season began Seattle's 5-year dominance of the NFC West, and my crazy-intense adoration of Hasselbeck. I loved him because he was a great quarterback and because he led the Seahawks into a golden age (Duh), but I would have run through a brick wall for him because he brazenly displayed his emotions to the world, and I could relate to that.

He celebrated touchdowns. He yelled at the officials. He got in the faces of defenders who fucked with him. He wasn't packaged and polished. He did crazy shit like declaring that we wanted the ball (and we were gonna score) after winning overtime coin tosses in playoff games. In a league where most quarterbacks come off as carefully managed and programmed RoboJocks, he was unguarded and more than a little bit of a goofy dork. I couldn't help but think of him as bald football-playing version of Jim Halpert from The Office.

He'd make the Pro Bowl in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Despite uneven play (mainly due to injuries) in 2004 and 2006, he was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks over a 6-year stretch of the last decade- And he delivered a string of unforgettable performances in the name of all us Twelves. The best performance of the "peak Hasselbeck" era came in the 2005 NFC Divisional Playoff. Things looked bleak after NFL MVP Shaun Alexander left the game with a concussion in the first quarter. It felt like Seattle's run of playoff futility might reach 21 seasons, but Hasselbeck stepped up with an efficient performance, including a spectacular TD strike to Jackson and a rushing touchdown where he beat Ex-Hawk Shawn Springs to the pylon, giving us the most indelible image of his Seattle career:


After the brazen incompetence and cowardice of the Super Bowl XL officiating crew robbed Hasselbeck of his rightful championship legacy, he would battle nagging injuries for the remainder of his career. Despite that, he had a career-best performance in 2007, carrying Seattle to the postseason with his arm after the Seahawks' rushing attack disintegrated. After that, his play became increasingly inconsistent and maddening, and after Pete Carroll took over in 2010, Hasselbeck had to battle Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job. After Whitehurst was given the start in an elimination game against St. Louis, it was mildly surprising that Hasselbeck was placed back under center for the Wild Card Game against the World Champion Saints.

In what would turn out to be his final start at Seahawks Stadium, he'd turn in the best game of his career. He had never thrown more than 2 TDs in a playoff game- That day, he threw FOUR. He led Seattle back from a 10-point deficit against the Super Bowl Champs, avoided the big turnovers that had plagued him in 2008-2010, and led Seattle to one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. If you were going to put ONE game from Beck's career in a time capsule for the Seahawks fans of 2060, this would be it.

At this rate, he might keep playing until 2060. Last night in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, he led Indianapolis to their second straight win in relief of injured Anointed One Andrew Luck (and looked sharp and spry doing it). Hasselbeck was interviewed by CBS after the game, and it was clear that he realized he might have played in his final NFL game. Overcome with emotion and fighting through illness, he was obviously near tears. My feels couldn't even tap the brakes, and the waterworks came for me. 

I once referenced the famous Lincoln quote about U.S, Grant in reference to Hasselbeck: "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Beck is no longer the best quarterback in Seahawks history. Russell Wilson has already staked a claim to that turf. But any Twelve who watched him play knows what he meant for this franchise, and how much he bled for his teammates, and for us. It was magical to see a glimpse of that man's talent and passion again, even if he was wearing a different uniform. 

We love you, Matthew. When you finally retire, I hope it'll be as a Seahawk, and I hope you'll IMMEDIATELY get a spot in the Ring of Honor. When that happens, I'll be there rocking my #8 jersey. 

What are your favorite Hasselbeck moments, Twelves? 



3 comments:

Verum Terrae said...

I remember some grueling 12 hour(maybe it was 4 hours but it felt like 12) game against the Ravens. I have lost track of the specifics and if we won or lost but Hass impressed me with his fight and refusal to back down even as they were trying to step on him and kick while he was under the pile.

Terry Sinclair said...

crap. you did it again (sniff sniff)

Richard Lester said...

I know I am talking to a real well informed Seahawks fan when they have love for Hasselbeck he absolutely gave us a legit top tier QB for several seasons which anyone who endured being ecstatic about John Friez being the starter after Rick Mirer or a 42 year old Warren Moon being the salvation in 97 and 98 understands. I loved watching Matt again it brought back great memories and you are correct he should have a ring. If there isn't a ground swell of support for him when he retires I don't want to be associated with the 12's.