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Backing the Pack
One guess who Matt Hasselbeck is pulling for in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV game?
“It’s an easy pick,” the Seahawks quarterback said with a smile.
“I’m obviously rooting for the Packers. The Steelers are a really good football team, though, and they’ve done a nice job this year.”
That they have. The Steelers went 12-4 during the regular season, with the losses coming against teams that also advanced to the playoffs – the Baltimore Ravens (by three points), New Orleans Saints (by 10 points), New England Patriots (by 13 points) and New York Jets (by five points). In the postseason, the Steelers avenged two of those losses, beating the Ravens and Jets.
But Hasselbeck can’t sever his historical – and hysterical – ties.
The Packers selected him in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL draft. He was with the Packers for three seasons before being traded to the Seahawks. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was Hasselbeck’s position coach in 1999.
“I love Mike McCarthy as a coach,” Hasselbeck said. “I really, really liked him as a position coach. I liked how quarterback friendly he was and he saw the big picture. He did a great job with the offensive line and understanding the relationship between the run and the pass.
“So there are a lot of people that I know there that I’m rooting for.”
Hasselbeck’s Green Bay roots also are evident in the way he rips through the names of suburban areas like Ashwaubenon and Kewaunee in the weeks leading up to games against the Packers – which has happened seven times in his 10-year stay with the Seahawks.
Then there are the painful memories of that Feb. 5, 2006, game against the Steelers at Ford Field in Detroit. Many Seahawks fans still blame the loss on some questionable calls by the officials.
“Like probably all of Seattle, I’m rooting against the Steelers,” Hasselbeck said, referencing Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory in Super Bowl XL.
“But the Steelers,” he quickly added, “they always seem to find a way. They play great defense.”
Sunday’s game matches the No. 2 (Steelers) and No. 5 (Packers) defenses in the league during the regular season.
“That’s why the Packers have done well in the playoffs, because they’ve played great defense,” Hasselbeck said of Green Bay, the NFC’s No. 6 seed in the playoffs, holding the Philadelphia Eagles to 16 points, the Atlanta Falcons to 21 points and the Chicago Bears to 14 points in the playoffs – all on the road.
“But the Steelers defense is just really special. They’ve got a Super Bowl-style of defense. Troy Polamalu was defensive player of the year for a reason. He’s an X-factor. Then you throw in the fact the Steelers have been there, and done it, there’s something to that, too.”
The Steelers not only won Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks, they also captured Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers have not been to the Super Bowl since after the 1997 season – when Mike Holmgren was the coach and Brett Favre was the quarterback.
Still, Hasselbeck backs the Pack. “Got to,” he said.
He’s not alone in that sentiment:
Wide receiver Deon Butler – “I think the Packers are going to win. They have a fellow Penn Stater (rookie tight end Andrew Quarless). He’s getting an opportunity to start in the Super Bowl. So I’m going to go with the Packers. I don’t think there will be a whole bunch of points, because the two defenses are just crazy. But the Packers will find a way to get a couple of big plays, like they always do. Aaron Rodgers is just crazy like that. These are two good teams, but I think the Packers are going to pull it out. I’ll say, Packers, 24-17.”
Tight end John Carlson – “I think the Packers are going to win, because I really don’t want to see Pittsburgh win. Because I’m a Seahawk now, and the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl in ’05, that’s kind of where my pick comes from. And I do like Green Bay. I like the way they play. I like their offense. Defensively, they’re tough. Clay Matthews is a beast. So I’ve got to go with the Packers.”
And now, equal time – if not space – for the Steelers:
Running backs coach Sherman Smith – “I like Pittsburgh, just because I think they play great defense and they’ve got a quarterback that makes plays.”
As with Hasselbeck and the Packers, Smith and that Steelers quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger – share a common bond. Each played QB at Miami of Ohio.
“I tease him all the time when I see him,” Smith offered. “I say, ‘Well, how’s the second-best quarterback in Miami history?’ ”
Like Terry Bradshaw, who quarterbacked the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories, Roethlisberger doesn’t have the greatest statistics and isn’t the prettiest passer around.
“But he’s got the championships,” Smith said of Big Ben’s wins in Super Bowl XL and XLIII. “He’s a heckuva quarterback. I just like him. I think Ben makes a difference, and that’s defense makes a big difference.
“So I’m a Steeler guy.” Read