As Trent Dilfer walked the sideline at CenturyLink Field, in a long-sleeve white shirt and tie not a Seahawks uniform, he looked very much at ease and very much like he belonged there.
Dilfer’s stay with the Seahawks wasn’t that long – just four seasons (2001-04) – but his impact on the franchise, its fans and his teammates has had a long-lasting effect. So it seemed fitting that Dilfer would raise the 12th Man Flag above the south end zone just before kickoff of the Seahawks’ “Monday Night Football” matchup with the Green Bay Packers. He now works as an analyst for ESPN and was in town as part of the network’s legion of personalities brought in to handle the pre- and postgame coverage as well as the game itself.
“When they asked me to do this thing, I was like, ‘Gosh, I couldn’t be more undeserving for what I did on the field,’ ” Dilfer said with a laugh. “But it was a transition time for the Seahawks’ organization and I think people really embraced the dynamic between Matthew (Hasselbeck) and myself, coach (Mike) Holmgren, that team and how I was a central figure in it.
“This isn’t going to sound right, but I think partly I was viewed as somewhat the team spokesperson for a couple of years.”
Actually, that sounds just about right. Dilfer became a go-to guy for reporters because of the experiences he had in the league – first-round draft choice by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994; quarterback of the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens in 2000, who then was not re-signed; shoulder for Hasselbeck to lean on during his trying times as a first-year starter – and, basically, because he’s just a nice guy.
“I learned far more from my time here in Seattle than I ever thought,” Dilfer said. “But I think it was a really nice synergistic relation between the community and myself.”
The venue was called Seahawks Stadium when Dilfer played for the team, and he started the first game played there in the preseason as well as the first regular-season game in 2002.
It’s all part of Dilfer’s Seattle story, which transcended anything he was able to accomplish on the field.
Dilfer arrived in 2001, the veteran backup that Holmgren was seeking to help Hasselbeck in his transition from being Brett Favre’s backup in Green Bay to the Seahawks’ starter. And he wasn’t signed until August, despite coming off a season where he had quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship.
Injuries to Hasselbeck forced Dilfer to start four games that season, and he won them all. In order to re-sign him, Holmgren had to commit to Dilfer as the starter for 2002. He did, begrudgingly. But Dilfer sprained a knee in the preseason opener – that first came at the team’s new stadium; returned too early for the regular-season opener at the new place – a loss to the Arizona Cardinals; and then ruptured an Achilles in a Week 8 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas.
Hasselbeck stepped back in and, after a sluggish start, re-established himself as the starter.
In April of 2003, Dilfer’s 5-year-old son, Trevin, died from a heart disease. The loss of his son hit Dilfer hard. He was, as he put it recently, “a mess.” Football no longer was important, and Dilfer was fighting an internal battle to discover what was.
That’s when Hasselbeck and his wife, Sarah, stepped in.
“Matt was walking me through the most difficult time of my life,” Dilfer said during a recent telecast of a Titans game, the team Hasselbeck now plays for. “I mean I was a mess. I’ll be very transparent. I mean I was 265 pounds and drinking myself to sleep. I’m depressed; my wife’s going, ‘What’s going on?’
“And it’s that guy, Matthew Hasselbeck, that says, ‘This is over. I love you too much to let you do this to yourself. You need to get back up to Seattle.’ And I credit Matthew Hasselbeck for the type of father I am, the type of husband I am, because he really saved my life in 2003.”
Dilfer did return to Seattle, and started two more games for the Seahawks in 2004 – including a 24-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins at the stadium, with his daughters Madeleine, Victoria and Delany jumping up and down and waving pompons in a suite.
“Anytime you go through tragedy, like obviously we went through as a family while we were playing here, people resonate with that journey,” Dilfer said on Monday night. “And so many people in this community helped us walk through the journey.
“The Seahawks (chartered) a plane down to Trevin’s memorial service. The outpouring of affection and support during that time from the Seattle community was amazing.”
Then he was gone. Holmgren had promised Dilfer that if he could find a situation where he could be a starter again, he would do everything to facilitate a trade. It happened with the Cleveland Browns in 2005, and Dilfer also played two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before calling it a career.
Gone, but obviously not forgotten. And Dilfer and his wife, Cas, have not forgotten Seattle, either.
“We’ve talked many times about moving back up here,” he said. “And I think at some point we will come back up here once our kids have gone their separate ways.”
And Dilfer will be welcomed with open arms, just as he was Monday night.