Growing up outside of Boston, Matt Hasselbeck didn't have a strong allegiance to any one NFL team other than whichever one his father, Don, a tight end who spent nine seasons in the league, played for at the time.
But Hasselbeck did have a favorite uniform, and that was that of a young franchise in Seattle, and he eventually developed a fondness for the Seahawks in no small part because of how a future Hall of Famer responded to fan mail.
"They were my favorite uniforms when I was kid," Hasselbeck said on a video conference call last week. "I grew up with NFL helmet wallpaper, and they were my favorite color scheme and uniform. They were always a team that my dad was playing against. I remember my dad won Super Bowl XVII with the L.A. Raiders. Their biggest game of the year was a playoff game where the Raiders beat the Seahawks, so I wasn't necessarily a fan of any one team. I was more of a fan of people I knew and uniforms that I liked. I had collected football cards as a kid and would send them to the players and ask for their autographs. Very rarely did I get a response, but one of the things that always struck me was that I had sent football cards to Steve Largent, and I got those cards back autographed, legibly, right away. It made such an impact on me that he and another guy, a punter Rohn Stark, those were the two guys that responded quickly. I do remember that when I found out that I got traded to the Seahawks, for some reason I remembered that moment of being a third or fourth grader and being like that's my favorite Seahawk, Steve Largent, he's the guy that returned those cards so quickly. I had no idea what I was in for, but it was better and more incredible than I could have imagined."
Hasselbeck's incredible career with the Seahawks that exceeded his expectations is the reason why, during halftime of Monday night's game against the Saints, he will go into the Seahawks Ring of Honor, joining a distinguished list hat happens to include the receiver who sent him an autograph more than three decades ago.
Hasselbeck will become the 13th member of the Ring of Honor, and first addition since the late Paul Allen was inducted in 2019, and next week Mike Holmgren, the coach who brought Hasselbeck to Seattle from Green Bay, will become the 14th member of that exclusive club. Hasselbeck and Holmgren will join in the Ring of Honor Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, Pete Gross, Curt Warner, Jacob Green, Kenny Easley, Dave Krieg, Chuck Knox, Cortez Kennedy, Walter Jones and Allen.
Hasselbeck arrived in Seattle as an unproven player, having been a backup in Green Bay behind Brett Favre, but he was hand-picked by Holmgren to take over Seattle's offense, and while there were some bumps in the road early on—Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer battled for the starting job early in Hasselbeck's tenure—Holmgren's decision to bring Hasselbeck to Seattle proved to be a great one both for Hasselbeck and for the franchise.
With Hasselbeck leading the offense, the Seahawks made the playoffs for five straight seasons from 2003-2007—they had been to the postseason only five times in franchise history up to that point—won four NFC West titles, and went to the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. Hasselbeck, who got back to the playoffs in 2010 in his one year playing under Pete Carroll, also set nearly every franchise passing record, records that have since been broken by Russell Wilson. And now, on Monday night in the stadium in which he played in some of the biggest games in Seahawks history, Hasselbeck will see his name go up in the Ring of Honor alongside other Seahawks greats.
"For anybody that played in Seattle, it's one of the first things you notice when you walk into the stadium," Hasselbeck said. "You see the names in the Ring of Honor and for me in particular, I knew some of the names but didn't know all of the names or enough about all of the names, so I made it a point to learn what I could right away. There was just something special about what each one of those people meant to the Seattle Seahawks and the city at the time. It's a huge honor, you feel so much respect towards those people, and to even be considered is an incredible honor.
"I think that the danger of this would be to think of this as an individual award and I don't know who of my teammates will or won't ever get in, but I do think that me going in is sort of symbolic of all of those great teammates I had. It's not just teammates, there are way more people than just teammates that contributed to our success. Some of the teammates deserve more credit than they got and I probably deserve less credit than I got at times. It's a long way to say that it's an incredible honor to be included with the names that I looked up at for so many years."
And to Hasselbeck's point about this being a shared honor, it's fitting that he and Holmgren will go into the Ring of Honor in consecutive weeks, with Holmgren joining during next week's game against the Jaguars.
"It is a huge, huge honor for me just even that Mike Holmgren is being inducted," he said. "I take so much pride in that because I know what he meant to my career. When he was in Green Bay coaching Brett Favre, it never felt like he was coaching me, I felt like he was coaching Brett, and I was allowed to be there. But the valuable lessons that I learned while getting to watch Mike coach Brett Favre right after he had just got done coaching Joe Montana and Steve Young, they were different people and very different types of players, which was incredibly valuable to me. When I came to Seattle, it was two years away that I got to come to Seattle and be coached by Mike"
While Hasselbeck felt like he was watching Holmgren coach Favre in Green Bay, he got the full Holmgren experience in Seattle, a demanding style that helped Hall of Famers like Steve Young, Joe Montana and Favre all elevate their games under Holmgren's tutelage.
"I learned firsthand of what I saw (in Green Bay); how hard it is to be coached by him," he said. "The standard that he set was so high and such a challenge that when you get to gameday, the opponent isn't really the toughest part of your week. The toughest part of your week is the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practice with Mike Holmgren when the football is literally not allowed to touch the ground. I'm just incredibly grateful that number one, Mike Holmgren drafted me and I went to such an incredible quarterback coach as a head coach, and number two, that he then chose to trade for me when I hadn't really done anything in the NFL. I wasn't invited to the combine, I was a sixth-round pick, I had a Pro Day where only one coach showed up, so to not only draft me but then to trade for me a few years later after I had thrown maybe 29 passes in my career. It meant a lot and to go through that journey with him where it wasn't always easy, but we weathered the storms, stayed the course, and bought into his message, and we were able to do some special things and set a foundation for future success. The fact that he's going in and I'm going in the same year where I know that could have easily been some other combination of some players and coaches. I'm very grateful."
And while Hasselbecks' best years, including three Pro-Bowl seasons, came under Holmgren, he also has a special fondness for his one season under Pete Carroll in which the Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, then pulled off a shocking upset over the Saints in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, a game that ended up being Hasselbeck's last home game as a Seahawk, and one that saw him leave the field with his three kids, daughters, Annabelle and Mallory at his side, and son, Henry on his shoulders.
"That was a great year," Hasselbeck said. "People ask me, 'What year are you most proud of in your career?' I usually tell them that 2010 season. That was such a challenge, and to finish strong the way that we did, to host that playoff game, to win it was just an incredible feeling. Our crowd was so huge in that game. If you were to ask my kids and my family of all their memories of our time in the NFL, I think that game would be the game that we would all mention. It was my last home game in Seattle. I didn't know it was going to be my last home game in Seattle, but it ended up being that. My kids had never been on the field right after a game like that. That was just never something we did, and it was actually one of my teammate's wife probably listened to talk radio and was like, 'Oh this is probably going to be his last time here in Seattle.' She took my kids down to the railing, found a police officer who put the kids out on the field, and the end result ended up being, in my last home game in Seattle, I got to walk off with my kids, with my son on my shoulders, holding my girls' hands, taking in the amazing atmosphere and waving to the crowd, waving to my wife in the stands. You just really couldn't dream it up any better. That was incredibly special, and I didn't even know it at the time."
On March 2, 2001, the Seattle Seahawks acquired quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from the Green Bay Packers, beginning a 10-season span in Seattle, including the team's first Super Bowl appearance.