I first heard of Matt Hasselbeck in 2002.
My uncle Todd explained to me that the Seahawks, "They're not so good, but they might have found a quarterback."
Up to this point, Seattle had been searching for one -- for over a decade -- after they had drafted Dan McGwire and traded away Dave Krieg at the conclusion of 1991. Other guys tried to fix the rut after McGwire and Rick Mirer. John Freisz had a run of six games in 1996, Warren Moon would have a placeholder season, and then Jon Kitna would go for three seasons but just never clicked.
A fanbase -- which had had a number retired in its honor, sold out every one of its games, and had a waiting list in 1988 of nearly two years -- had eroded. The team had nearly been moved in 1996 by then-owner Ken Behring, who claimed the team was no longer viable in the city.
I lay all this out so you understand how much this team and city needed Matt Hasselbeck. In 2001 they traded for the former sixth-round pick out of Boston College, and he didn't get off to the hottest start. In fact, his nickname for fans here where I live was Crazy Legs Hasselsack. It looked like a bad trade for a preseason star who had nothing to offer when real games were played.
In 2002 though, that changed after he'd been benched for Trent Dilfer. Dilfer got hurt and Matt, without the benefit of a week of practice and gameplaning, ran the offense the way Mike Holmgren wanted -- not the way he felt they should do things.
"It was like 3rd and 8 I think. I threw a pass to Mack Strong for six yards. I remember the coaches just praising the play. I thought to myself, 'that's all they want?' This is when I just bought in..." Matt Hasselbeck, 2011
There are so many things to appreciate about Matt over his 10 seasons -- from his close relationship with Trent Dilfer to becoming one of the best two minute quarterbacks I ever saw -- my memory of him however, will always be about his ability to set up a big play.
So many people talk about field generals, and guys who can get into better plays, and then everyone engages in Peyton Manning worship. Matt will always be my favorite of this kind of QB, because when he knew the defense, and had the play to counter it, especially in 2003 -- you could see he could barely contain his excitement as he called out the adjustments.
I always imagined his voice in his head like:
"Oh-oh-oh-I know this one. I KNOW THIS ONE!"
Whether it was audibles to pass or run, I always got super excited when I saw that, because I knew a big play was about to happen. It was the nature of Matt though, a guy who was easy to read with his emotions, and at times intense. I loved it because it was in perfect contrast to Shaun Alexander's steady smile and perfect robotic interviews.
Matt wore everything that happened out in the open. He dragged us all in with his reactions. His attempt to lead the Seahawks back against the Rams in 2004 is classic and painful in the same way that his run for a touchdown to help win against the Redskins was such a classic moment for anyone that watched. It was field general Matt, heart on his sleeve Matt, and it was awesome.
He couldn't -- and I didn't -- understand at the time what 18 years without a playoff drought had felt like. By then, the 12th Man had surged back, new and old alike. He didn't just help rebuild the fan base, bringing in new fans, he brought old fans and media attention back. By 2005 the Seahawks were on ESPN, and mentioned in the sports landscape. Matt defined it.
In 2007 when Shaun Alexander proved to be out of gas, Matt took the team on his shoulders and delivered the best season in Seahawks history, and once again notched his belt as one of the five best quarterbacks at the time. In fact, for three seasons he was arguably the best quarterback in the entire NFC.
His next three years would see him injured, his team age, and the stars he'd been in command of leave. A man who once talked about a pass play consisting of dropping back and saying in his head "Bobby, Darrell," or "Darrell, Bobby" (referring to Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram) and having that give way to the likes of Logan Payne, Billy McMullen and T.J. Whosignedthisguy.
Never one with a strong arm, as the injuries mounted and the velocity slipped, fans were asking about the quarterback of the future. Seneca Wallace and Charlie Whitehurst were candidates at one time, but despite a really chaotic 2010, Matt would have one last show, one last moment to be a field general after a season where 4th and 1 fade became the new 3rd and 13 fullback draw. Matt Hasselbeck had one last thing to do.
Rarely in sports do stars get to go out with one last amazing performance, one last showing of what made them a star. Especially in the same city they became a star in. The Seahawks' 2010 Wildcard matchup with the defending champion New Orleans Saints started out badly, and Hasselbeck was picked when he tried to force it into coverage. We all groaned (you know you did.) But, by the end, before he handed the ball to Marshawn like a torch, he gave everything he had -- including four big touchdown plays and the old Hasselbeck flare. It was so glorious a showing that the picture with him carrying his son Henry out on his shoulders was the perfect cherry on that cake.
I was so content with the win and the way it went down, that the Chicago game was a bonus. I got what I wanted. One last stand from the boy who saved a franchise.
Thank you Matt, for leading our team for all those years. You are the one that made me love Seattle. Your two minute drill versus the Rams in 2003 was the moment I knew I had to watch this team every week. You were the first player I connected with, and though I'll like many others, you'll never be replaced.
Good luck in your future journies. And come raise the 12th Man flag. You gave it back its legacy, it's only fitting that you should hoist it -- after all, your blood, sweat and tears are a part of it.