The ambiguous feelings drenched John Drana, the business manager and close friend of Matt Hasselbeck, when the reality of being traded to Seattle from Green Bay in March of 2001 hit them hard.
For three years, their friendship and respect had grown since Hasselbeck was drafted in the sixth round and hung on as a backup quarterback with the Packers. But with Mike Holmgren having bolted the Packers two years earlier to not only become head coach but general manager and executive vice president of the Seahawks, it was incredibly flattering that he had elected to deal for Hasselbeck as the quarterback of the future for the Seahawks.
"We became friends … very good friends," Drana said. "We were better friends than client-attorney or manager in our relationship. So when it was announced, my first reaction was, 'Man, are you kidding me? I find a good friend and he's shipped out of town?' But it changed real quickly and I was happy for Matt. He was only 25 at the time and nobody really knew him, so we came up with a plan to take advantage of the opportunity, not just on the field, but off the field."
The new kid on the block
Eternal optimists; neither had a feel for the Seattle market, which is a far cry from today for Hasselbeck, the Pro Bowl quarterback and most marketable athlete in the region. There had been some buzz about Hasselbeck, if only because word had leaked that Holmgren the quarterback guru thought Hasselbeck to be the right fit for his next project and lead the Seahawks into contention.
The problem was the perception, initially. They were frustrated by a 6-10 season in 2000, with two local products – Jon Kitna and Brock Huard – as the quarterbacks. Who was this Hasselbeck guy? And, by the way, we kind of like the other guy we signed – Trent Dilfer – better. It was a rude awakening for Hasselbeck and Drana with the Seahawks playing their second year in Husky Stadium, one year removed from moving into Qwest Field.
Besides, the Mariners were on the brink of winning 116 games and selling out virtually every game at their new stadium, Safeco Field. This was a much tougher nut to crack than they ever imagined.
"The plan was to get out, meet as many people as we could," Drana said. "We wanted to see what we could generate from a marketing/business management standpoint – rolling into what everybody was calling Green Bay-West because of what Mike was building here. It was comfortable to do that, but everything else was a real eye-opener. In Green Bay, if you were a Packer you had an automatic status. I started going into board rooms, and I wasn't prepared for 'Matt who?' One of my memorable moments, I won't repeat the company, but he looked at me and said, 'John, this is a baseball town, the Seahawks have a lot of work to do.
"But Matt never let down, even when the fans were chanting, 'Dilfer, Dilfer, Dilfer,' which is something neither of us will forget. He said it a thousand times, 'I'm going to build it a fan at a time,' and he did. He would call a civic organization and offer to speak to a group. And he did that, and he kept doing that. And the result it has changed 1000 percent if that's possible. Anyone connected with his wife Sarah or his (three) kids, he's the man everybody wants to have around."
The star begins to brighten
Today at the age of 32, Hasselbeck is not only the spokesman for the Seahawks, and in a lot of ways, the region, he's becoming the representative of family values for the National Football League as well. Having grown up in the game with his father Don a nine-year NFL veteran and now the director of sports marketing for Reebok, he had a feel for what needed to be done on and off the field.
What helped immensely is Holmgren had the confidence he could pull it off. He watched the growth unfold in a way that wasn't dissimilar to Brett Favre, his legendary quarterback in Green Bay.
"How this city has embraced him really makes me feel good," Holmgren said. "I had the same conversation with Matt as I had with Brett. The quarterbacks in this league, if they're any good at all, will have a lot of opportunities off the field thrown their way. You're going to be tugged. If you'd say yes to everything, you wouldn't be playing football anymore – you'd be doing other stuff. You'll also see a number of examples of players that have gone the other way losing themselves in all the attention, and pretty soon those 10, 12, 15-year careers ended up being a five-year career and they're done.
"Matt's grown up with three great kids and his wife is so special. I figured, 'OK, she obviously, likes and trusts him, so there's got to be something there.' And Don and his wife did such a great job with him. All the things you look for to be the leader of your football team were in place, but nobody is smart enough to know for sure. I'm so proud of him and how he's handled all of this … he's big now, so it's my job to keep him humble."
Oh, he's humble all right, in an ironic way. His self-deprecating humor tends to stop people in their tracks. Once he won the starting job from Dilfer for good in 2003, the tide turned and his popularity - at least locally - began to grow. But it was as the quarterback of the NFC Champions in 2005 that changed everything. At Super Bowl XL, he was a big hit, before and after the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But it obviously didn't happen all at once.
Keeping a lid on everything
"I don't think anyone can prep you for the amount of attention the Super Bowl brings with two weeks of nothing but media," Hasselbeck recalled. "It changed everything looking back on it. It was a reality check, for sure, because nobody really knew any of us. It was so funny the week of the Super Bowl when they have the first press conference my name was the No. 1 searched for name by one of the (Internet search engines) because no one knew anything about me. They had to do research. They had to find out about me, ask me about my dad. I could tell from the questions people were asking because there were some inaccuracies in my Wikipedia bio – and that's where they were getting their information.
"I mean, really, one of the questions I would get was, 'What's it like being a bald quarterback?' So I'd answer, 'I've been bald for a long time guys, so I haven't thought about it.' But the reason they used was because they'd never seen me without my helmet off. There was so much of that kind of stuff I couldn't believe it because nobody knew me. But I had to handle it and most of the time I handled it with humor."
Hasselbeck was born in Boulder, Colo., where his dad played college football for the University of Colorado as a tight end and was drafted by the New England Patriots. He grew up in the Boston area where his parents still live today. Don couldn't be more proud of the way Matt has handled all the attention as a shooting star. They had no conception of whether Matt would be drafted out of Boston College or not. He graduated six months early with a degree in marketing and was already enrolled in the MBA program there to take advantage of the final 18 months of his scholarship.
But the Packers snapped him up in the 1998 draft and that ended the MBA aspirations about half way through. It's just that nobody was quite sure what the bright, glib and talented Matthew would make of the opportunity. Sometimes, he was too smart for his own good, which is why he and Holmgren locked horns early on. And he had to deal with the booing. He had grown up with it sitting in the stands at Patriots game when their quarterback Steve Grogan, a good friend of the family, was so often jeered.
"I think he got a really good dose of it when he first got to Seattle because things just weren't going as smoothly as initially anticipated," Don Hasselbeck said. "I thought he would weather it because he was pretty much thick-skinned, and we talked about it - typically the guy making the most noise knows the least about football. All those things that don't kill you make you a little bit stronger. It helped him. Some of the (newspaper) beat guys were pretty rough on him in the beginning. They probably looked at him as the guy to save the franchise and it didn't look like he was the guy.
"Once they got to the Super Bowl, it changed everything. Obviously, that's the big stage for the for any NFL player. Obviously if you're the quarterback – or the running back at times – those are the most recognizable people. At the same time, you have to have the personality, and Matthew's personality is contagious because he's real and he's likeable. That's why you're seeing so much of him today."
And yet Hasselbeck was prodded by numerous people in the organization, from Holmgren, to director of community relations Sandy Gregory to president Tim Ruskell to be careful and not get carried away. Holmgren had already experienced every player wanting to do a book or a television appearance when the twice coached the Packers to the Super Bowl. He had also seen in as an assistant coach in San Francisco. He had to learn to just say no.
Ruskell saw it plenty too when he was in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers won a Super Bowl.
"Matt is fantastic about it," Ruskell said. "He's such a good guy and so ingrained in our community. he makes it easy because of the way he handles everything. His priority is being a leader for our football team and I don't see him falling victim to that. But I have seen it happen to other players. it's something you have to think about it. 'OK, we went to the Super Bowl, maybe won the Super Bowl and everybody is going to want to cash in however they can. More and more teams are talking about how to deal with it from an organizational standpoint.
"It helps the brand name, but not if you're a one-hit wonder. That's the whole point. If you sustain success over a long period of time, it all happens for everybody involved. That's the focus I'm talking about."
Meanwhile, Hasselbeck moves along and has learned so much about what to get involved with and what to stay away from. He gets bombarded with e-mails, and even from members of the media. In the beginning of his growth process, he was convinced he could handle it all. Taking pride in being nimble of foot and tongue, it was inevitable they would meet on occasion if he wasn't careful. A dream of a quote and unfailingly accessible, not everybody in the media was appreciative or fair when given the opportunity to make him look bad if so inclined.
It was the job of Seahawks vice president of communications Dave Pearson to run interference for Hasselbeck on occasion; or at least prompt him from time to time.
"He is so gifted and smart, he was hesitant to allow control in certain areas to other people," Pearson said. "He believed, 'I can manage this. I can do it all. I know what's best for me without involving other people.' What he learned over time was trusting people that have his best interest at heart. You've got to believe those people are talented, smart and care about you enough to handle things for you. Once you establish that trust, it empowers him even more because it clears him of one less thing he has to think about. He just has to show up and do whatever has been set up because it has already gone through the filter. It makes everybody's life a lot easier."
They're all part of the team
So now, between Drana and his agent David Dunn in business, Pearson and Sandy Gregory's community outreach department with the Seahawks, and his family, things are as balanced as he could ever hope. Hasselbeck is inundated with requests for appearances locally for any number of things. Because his children Annabelle, Mallory and Henry are still lingering around the toddler age, and Sarah is such an advocate for children, it plays a large role in his decision-making. He and his brother Tim, a journeyman quarterback, did a "Father's Day" ad for the NFL regarding Don. This past Father's Day, with all three children on his lap, Matt did a public service announcement.
Aside from those, he was thrilled to do a "Campbell's Chunky Soup" ad with his mother after witnessing the first one when he was a rookie with the Packers Reggie White. He is obviously very involved with Reebok, and has been a strong spokesman for EAS supplements. After some early faltering with other products, it's come down to those he not only supports, but uses, and EAS fit for a number of reasons.
"First of all, it's what we all drink," Hasselbeck said. "But more than that, steroids are a problem in baseball and not football for a reason. I had to get myself educated because the No. 1 question from parents during my quarterback/receiver camp is always about supplements. What do you take? What's in it? What are the effects?
"Well, it just so happened that EAS has always been sort of the leader in the industry, so they stepped up to educate me and had all their products analyzed by a third party. So it's been real easy for me to feel good about representing them and their message. Besides, I like the way their stuff tastes."
His open and ingratiating personality about all of this hasn't changed from Day 1. It's amazed Pearson, who has spent years with three different franchises and countless self-serving personalities how Hasselbeck has dealt with it. He'll give and take with pranks just as he did as a practice squad quarterback in Green Bay, which may very well be a big reason why he appreciates what he has today so much.
Then again, the playfulness works on so many different levels. He was invited to the NFL business sponsor summit two years in a row with Disney and Universal Studios hosting. The second year they had a stuntman come in and go through a scene on the Indiana Jones ride, with fire, spikes coming at him and the boulder rolling at him full speed.
"So they have this dude come for the sponsor showing to handle the stunt," Hasselbeck said. "Well, I was also dressed up as Indiana Jones' body double too. I'm in full gear, the hat, the rope, the boots – it was awesome. This guy comes out, the boulder starts to roll on him and he dives into this cave. The director yells cut, 'Stop filming - that was not right. Bring him out here, is he OK?' But I was the one who comes out, dusting himself off and throwing a few lines at them with questions. 'What's the toughest part?' And I answer, 'The toughest part is keeping the hat on.'
"So I take the hat off, and the guys say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Hasselbeck from the Seattle Seahawks!' Everybody just sort of gasped and he handed me the mike. So I said, 'I just want to say, everyone has been talking about Jason Taylor, he's been on 'Dancing with the Stars' for two weeks and his training. Well, I've been training for this stunt for 2½ weeks and it's the hardest thing I've ever done.' I did it for a ha-ha, but for the next couple of days there I'd see people and they were like, 'I was so impressed with you. I had no idea you were such a great athlete.' And then I'd tell them it was a joke, 'That wasn't really me. I just came out in the end.' And they were totally fooled. The people had this image of me that I could jump flames, handle snakes and climb mountains. I'm just a believable guy."
Or as Mel Brooks often said in his movies, "It's good to be king."
The problem is expectations never cease on and off the field. Somehow, from his experiences hearing Grogan get drilled at Patriots home games provided Hasselbeck with plenty of perspective. That's not to say he doesn't hear the whispers or the screams for that matter. Even if he doesn't there's always a teammate, friend or family member to remind him.
Nonetheless, the stable of products grows, whether it is Infinity cars, EAS, Campbell's Soup, dancing for Reebok, or the new national product that is locally based and has everyone excited that hasn't been announced yet. It's all about keeping it together and not losing sight of the task at hand - leading the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIII and making Holmgren the first coach ever to win Super Bowls with two different teams – but staying grounded enough to keep everything moving in the right direction.
"It's all about my job right now," Hasselbeck said. "I have no idea what I will do after that, but it doesn't matter right now. I know in this business, you never know. Everything is good now. I've got a former teammate who was on top of the world a couple of years ago and now it's not so good. So this is a temporary thing and I'm fully aware of that.
"So while I'm at this point, I'll beat people to the punch making fun of myself. Why am I at this point in sports? It happens and then it stops. Whether it's you or not you, somebody takes the blame. Somebody falls on the sword. This is how I've chosen to deal with it … when people say really good things, I really pay no attention. When people say really bad things, I try to pay no attention. The only opinions I really, really care about are the opinions of the people that aren't going to flip-flop on you. I'm talking about your head coach, your position coach, your wife, your dad your brother – people that are going to shoot straight with you and have an accurate assessment. They're with you all the time. They see it clearly.
"And when it's over, they'll still be there for me."
As far as John Drana – friend, attorney, business manager - is concerned, however, when football is over, the real impact Matt Hasselbeck will make on this world will be just getting started. There is no master plan for Hasselbeck at this point of his NFL career.
Rest assured there will be one in the not too distance future.
"I'm not anointing the guy yet," Drana said. "No one's perfect, but he's pretty darn close. I'm proud to call him a friend; not a client, a friend. I'd rather be known as Matt's friend than anything else, and it's not because he's an NFL quarterback. I've got other clients. Everybody wants autograph signings but he doesn't want to do that when he's speaking to a group of kids. I can teach a monkey to do that. He'll talk to them, and then he'll sit down at an arts and crafts table with them and do a project with them. Do you think any of those kids will ever forget Matt doing an art project with them?
"He works at it because he cares what he's doing. This is the guy you want your daughter to marry, to be your best man or your advocate. You want him on your rope team because he's not letting go. And that's why his football talents just pale compared to who he is as a person. To Matt, whoever he touches, it is imperative they succeed. Football is just a temporary thing. He's just a superstar in life who is going to help people. I can't wait. The sky is the limit."