Matt Hasselbeck is returning to the scene of his prime.
From 2002-2010, Hasselbeck was 45-19 as the Seahawks' starting quarterback in games played in the new stadium that has had three names – now CenturyLink Field, but Qwest Field (2004-10) and Seahawks Stadium (2002-03) before that.
During the most-successful five-season run in franchise history (2003-07), when the Seahawks won four NFC West titles and advanced to the playoffs five times, Hasselbeck’s record as the starter in Seattle was 33-8.
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The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
On a personal basis, the passer that was acquired in a 2001 trade with the Green Bay Packers, set franchise career records for passing yards (29,434), completions (2,559), attempts (4,250) and completions percentage (.602), as well as single-season marks for passer rating (98.2 in 2005), attempts (562 in 2007), completions (352 in 2007) and yards (3,966 in 2007); and single-game records for attempts (55 in 2002), completions (39 in 2009) and yards (449 in 2002).
Connect the dots between those numbing numbers and it creates a picture of the quarterback the readers of Seahawks.com voted to the 35th Anniversary team, as Hasselbeck received almost twice as many votes (2,313) as Dave Krieg (1,253) – who held most of the marks Hasselbeck broke, and still holds the few that he didn’t.
But Saturday night, Hasselbeck returns as the quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, the team he signed with last year after the Seahawks decided not to re-sign him.
“I’m excited, I’m definitely excited, about the chance to come back,” Hasselbeck said during a recent telephone interview from Nashville, where the Titans are holding their training camp and he and his family now call home – at least during the season.
In typical Hasselbeck fashion, he is sharing his homecoming moment with guard Steve Hutchinson, also a member of the 35th Anniversary team who signed with the Titans this offseason; and safety Jordan Babineaux, who earned the nickname “Big Play Babs” during his seven-season stay with the Seahawks.
But wait, there’s more. The Titans’ front office includes senior executive vice president Mike Reinfeldt, general manager Ruston Webster, VP of player personnel Lake Dawson and scout Tim Ruskell. And Jerry Gray is the defensive coordinator. All were with the Seahawks before joining the Titans. Then there’s Jake Locker, the former University of Washington QB who is from Ferndale.
“Truly, I don’t feel like it’s me coming back,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s me. It’s Jake. It’s Babineaux. It’s Hutch. It’s Jerry. It’s Reinfeldt and Ruston and Lake and Tim Ruskell. So it’s more us.”
Hasselbeck likens his departure from the Seahawks as the organization “breaking up with me,” as he put it.
“Was I surprised at how it ended – with the phone call I got from Pete (Carroll, the coach) and John (Schneider, the general manager) basically saying they’re breaking up with me? I was surprised,” he said. “But I also sort of felt it, because there was zero contact with me during the offseason.
“But they were super-professional and cool about it when they called me. Pete said, ‘We’re making a switch. We’ve got to do it someday, and this is the right window to do it.’ As much as it hurt, it was done – and I didn’t have to hear it from someone else or read it someplace. So in that sense, I appreciated their honesty.”
But the ties that bind Hasselbeck to franchise history cannot be severed, because of what he did for the Seahawks and how he did it.
“My time in Seattle means a great deal, because of how hard it was to really turn the program back around,” he said, referring to the 9-7 and 7-9 records in his first two seasons with the Seahawks before they went 10-6, 9-7, 13-3, 9-7 and 10-6 the next five seasons.
“Then, offensively were started clicking, and settling in on stuff we really, really loved and owned. We had confidence in what we were doing and in each other. It was a pivotal time. After that, even the bad stuff that happened to us, we learned from it.”
Some things never change, like the self-mocking edge to Hasselbeck’s personality.
Asked how he felt about his career at this point, he offered, “I’m sure my college teammates were like, ‘That guy got drafted?’ And I even felt that way a little bit. When (then Packers QB coach) Andy Reid called me and told me they were drafting me in the sixth round, my initial reaction was, ‘You fool. Like no one was going to draft me. You could have had me as a free agent. What do you see that I don’t see?’ ”
Asked about that first season with the Seahawks, after three seasons as Brett Favre’s backup and 29 regular-season passes, he said, “I’m sure there were some guys on the team who were like, ‘What? We can’t get a real quarterback? Or at least someone who has played in the league?”
But those who played with Hasselbeck during their glory years under coach Mike Holmgren remember him more fondly than that.
“He’s a leader in every sense of the word,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team. “He’s tough, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. He’ll let you know about some of the injuries, but he definitely goes out there with things that should prevent him going out there and playing as well as he does.
“I think the thing we appreciated most about Matt is when we’d go out to practice and when things were getting monotonous, he’d break it up with one of his jokes or his humor. He understands as a leader that when times are getting tough, he’s got to push people through it.”
Bobby Engram, the slot receiver on the 35th Anniversary team, also shared a glimpse of the man behind the passer.
“People just don’t realize how competitive Matt is,” said Engram, now the receivers coach at the University of Pittsburgh. “He kind of has a certain demeanor, he kind of jokes around a lot. But I think he’s seriously a competitive guy. Just a smart guy.
“Really, when he matured, that’s when our team took off. His first year or two, we were all trying to figure it out. Then he got it. It clicked and we just rode his arm for a lot of years.”
That would be that aforementioned stretch from 2003-07, which included the Seahawks going 8-0 at home during the regular season in ’03; 10-0 at home, including playoffs, during the 2005 run to the Super Bowl; and 8-1 overall at home in ’07.
Like that historic run, Hasselbeck is now a part of Seahawks history.
“It’s very, very cool being voted to the 35th Anniversary team,” he said. “I remember in the Game Day program, they would run the list of the franchise’s all-time records. I was always so far away, but my goal was always to pass ‘this guy’ and then pass ‘that guy.’ ”
Before he was done, Hasselbeck had passed almost all of them in almost every category.