RENTON, Wash. — By this point, the pleading with coaches was done. Matt Hasselbeck knew he wasn’t going to start what could potentially be the last game he ever played for the Seattle Seahawks.
Instead of sulking, outwardly showing any bitterness or anger while Charlie Whitehurst took the snaps in Seattle’s biggest game in nearly three years, the only quarterback to ever lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl stepped to the middle of Seattle’s spacious locker room at Qwest Field last Sunday evening.
“I think it was important that I offer something,” Hasselbeck said Thursday.
There, in the minutes before the NFC West title was to be determined with Hasselbeck on the sideline — in uniform but essentially just a spectator — Hasselbeck gave an impassioned speech about the opportunity that awaited his teammates. That Seattle could retake control of a division it dominated for four straight seasons, only to collapse into a mess of just nine wins and a pair of coaching changes in consecutive seasons.
“It meant a lot for him to come out and be as vocal as he was, and take charge and still be a leader. Some guys have a tendency to sit back when they’re not playing. They tend not to take their leadership role and some guys look for them not to be leaders because they’re not playing,” Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu said. “He stepped up to the plate and let Charlie know he supported him and let all of us know he would be there to support us.”
Hasselbeck will be back out there on Saturday when the unlikely Seahawks host New Orleans in the NFC playoffs. After watching impatiently a week ago as Whitehurst led Seattle to a division-clinching 16-6 win over St. Louis, Seattle coach Pete Carroll is turning to his experienced playoff veteran.
Hasselbeck was the starter the last nine times Seattle played a postseason game. He’s won the last four they’ve played at Qwest Field.
And Saturday could be the last time he ever takes snaps for the Seahawks.
“As we saw this year with the amount of turnover we had, you never know when your last day could be and that goes for everybody,” Hasselbeck said. “I’m excited. Anybody who has played here when the crowd is really into it, it’s always a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep that rolling.”
Hasselbeck’s contract with the Seahawks expires at the end of the season. He repeated on Thursday a desire to retire in Seattle. After 10 seasons, 147 regular and postseason games appeared in and the only NFC championship the club has ever claimed, Hasselbeck could be on his way out.
Hasselbeck’s future was placed in doubt the moment Seattle traded a second-round pick to San Diego and signed Whitehurst to an $8 million, two-year contract. The move was part of Carroll’s constant refrain of competition being at the center of everything the Seahawks do, and while Whitehurst failed to win the job during training camp and has only seen spot duty this year, the move was a signal that Hasselbeck’s future beyond 2010 in Seattle wasn’t guaranteed.
If anyone understands that feeling, the situation Hasselbeck is facing, it’s his opposing quarterback this Saturday, Drew Brees. In 2004, with Brees the centerpiece of San Diego’s offense, the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers as his eventual replacement. For two seasons, Brees played with Rivers waiting for his opportunity.
“At the end of the 2005 season, it was on my mind just as to, ‘Are they going to extend me to a long-term offer or do they feel like they’ve got their quarterback in the building already? Are they just going to let me walk, or whatever?'” Brees said. “That’s part of the sport. Every team has a few of those guys that, each year, you’re not sure what’s going to happen the next year, where you’re going to be.”
Brees eventually landed in New Orleans, where his career has flourished, reaching its pinnacle last season with his first Super Bowl title. But when Brees landed in the Big Easy, he was 27 years old.
Hasselbeck will turn 36 in the first month of next season.
“I think he’s still got a lot of good years left in him but I guess only time will tell,” Brees said.
Brees saw that first hand earlier this season when Hasselbeck solved Gregg Williams’ complicated defensive schemes and threw for 366 yards against the Saints. It was the most yards passing allowed this season by the Saints and the fourth-highest total in Hasselbeck’s career.
But even that was bested by Brees on that day as he threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints’ 34-19 victory.
“He’s a guy I look up to in a lot of ways,” Hasselbeck said of Brees. “He’s just done a great job of on- and off-the-field leading his team, leading the people around him.”
By playing on Saturday, Hasselbeck can at least ensure the potential final image of his career in Seattle isn’t watching him score on a 1-yard touchdown run in Tampa Bay the day after Christmas, then going to a knee in the end zone after aggravating his hip injury. Hasselbeck wasn’t touched, wasn’t even threatened by a defender on the play — his third rushing TD of the season, a new career high.
But this hasn’t been a banner season. He’s thrown 17 interceptions versus just 12 touchdowns and was booed off the field at home against Atlanta just a few weeks ago.
Saturday is his opportunity to right his season and perhaps make a statement about next year.
“For me the most special thing was coming here, we really weren’t a very good team. It was hard to get this thing turned back around and get something special built here,” Hasselbeck said. “So I take so much pride in that and for the opportunity I was given.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.