- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The bottles sit unopened, enough champagne to fuel a half-dozen New Year’s Eve toasts. Don’t get Tim and Elisabeth Hasselbeck wrong: They appreciate the gesture. It’s just that they barely have time to read the labels, let alone sample the contents.

When you’ve gone from unemployed to holding down the second-most important job in Washington — or you’re the unexpected new co-host of a national talk show — well, cork-popping tends to get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s funny,” said Tim, the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback of the moment. “We have people sending us — really, sending Elisabeth — bottles of Cristal, saying, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ And it’s like, we haven’t celebrated. We don’t want this stuff.”

Hasselbeck laughed.

“I say that now, and I’ll have a locker room full of guys asking for it.”

Such is life for the Hasselbecks, the best-known couple with local sports ties since Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra. Over the last two months, they’ve gone from minor to major fame, from killing time to collecting bubbly.

Tim, an undrafted NFL journeyman, is filling in for the injured Patrick Ramsey as the Redskins’ quarterback. Elisabeth, a former “Survivor” contestant, recently beat out 20 other candidates to land a spot on ABC’s estrogen-sodden daytime gabfest “The View.”

Needless to say, the holidays have been a little hectic for the couple that began dating when they were students at Boston College.

“What’s happening in our daily lives is almost a blur,” said Elisabeth. “Even good things can be hard to handle sometimes. We’ve both kind of stepped into roles that in some ways we were ready for, but in a lot of ways we’re still adjusting.”

The biggest adjustment? Forget the pressure of live television or hot-routing in the face of a Dallas blitz; try residing in separate cities, New York (where “The View” is taped) and Ashburn (where the Redskins practice).

Married in July of last year, the couple previously lived in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where Elisabeth worked as the host of the Style Network’s “The Look for Less.” Life, the Hasselbecks recall, was simple. Almost quiet.

Work out in the morning. Ride bicycles on the beach. Play basketball. Go to the grocery store.

So long as Elisabeth wasn’t traveling for location shoots — or Tim wasn’t tossing passes with friends to keep his arm sharp — the newlyweds had plenty of time to spend together. That wasn’t always the case: Elisabeth spent nearly two months in Australia for “Survivor,” while Tim played for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe for a few months of the couple’s engagement.

“Being in Manhattan Beach, we could not have picked a better place to spend our first year of marriage,” Elisabeth said. “When I was in Australia, we didn’t even speak for six weeks. That’s heavy on your heart.”

In late October, the Redskins flew Tim in for a bye week workout. After brief stints with Buffalo, Baltimore, Carolina and Philadelphia, Hasselbeck didn’t expect much; in fact, he had a return ticket in his travel bag.

The Redskins had other ideas, cutting sack-prone second-stringer Rob Johnson and offering Hasselbeck a roster spot. A few weeks later, Elisabeth officially joined “The View” the morning after Tim saw his first significant NFL playing time in a close loss at Miami.

During her introductory broadcast, Elisabeth was treated to a recorded congratulatory message from her husband. Since then, the couple has gotten used to electronic communication, mostly during nightly phone conversations.

“The other day, I had a terrible time on the show, felt I was awful,” Elisabeth said. “I told Tim I completely dropped the ball. This morning when I woke up, he had left me a voice mail. My days are much better when I talk to him in the morning.”

Of course, phone calls only go so far: In the wake of Washington’s ugly home loss to Dallas — a weather-wracked game that saw Tim post a 0.0 quarterback rating — Elisabeth was tempted to hop on the first shuttle to Reagan National, the better to console her dejected husband.

“I just wanted to fly in an give him a hug,” she said. “It was brutal to be separated then. It’s easy when times are good. It’s hard when you know the other person needs you.”

Still, the Hasselbecks are quick to point out that life could be a whole lot worse. For one, they both have terrific jobs; for two, New York is a lot closer to D.C. than Manhattan Beach.

While neither Tim nor Elisabeth has managed to make it back to their California home since coming to the East Coast, they’ve already seen each other a handful of times. During a recent visit to Tim’s temporary apartment in Ashburn, Elisabeth brought a familiar comforter — and left a familiar mess.

“Tim is so neat,” she said with a laugh. “If I’m making scrambled eggs and I leave the pan for a moment, he already has the spatula washed and dried and put away. So I just kind of went and messed his apartment up.

“I think for the first time he’s actually missing my messes. I even asked him that. He said, ‘In a sick way, yeah.’ I don’t think that will last long.”

Tim repaid the favor following the Redskins’ recent road win against the New York Giants, appearing on “The View” the next morning. His cameo didn’t go unnoticed at Redskin Park.

“The funny thing was that people would say, ‘Oh, hey, I was just flipping through the channels and saw you,’ or, ‘My wife was watching TV and I saw you,’”

Tim added with a laugh. “No guys in the locker room wanted to admit that they were watching ‘The View.’ So I think everyone else was hiding something more than I was.”

The Hasselbecks hope to return to semi-normalcy after the Redskins season ends Saturday night. First, they have to find a new place in Manhattan; second, Elisabeth is taking four days off around New Year’s Day, which will give the couple a chance to move out of their California digs.

“Tim’s like a drill sergeant,” Elisabeth said with a laugh. “If it’s up to him, we’ll get up at 4 in the morning, start packing and not stop. I just want to go to the beach and ride our bikes.”

With any luck, she added, they may even raise a long-deferred toast — courtesy of their burgeoning champagne collection.

“The bottles are just sitting there,” Elisabeth said. “I look at them every day. Maybe that’s why things don’t feel real yet. People ask me every day, ‘Isn’t this exciting?’ And it is. But it’s not real until you have someone to share it with.”

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