- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) — Matt Hasselbeck doesn’t have a pop-star girlfriend who shows off a pink-and-white game jersey from a luxury suite during games.

No, he’s married to his college sweetheart.

The births of his three children didn’t make entertainment news because the mom is not a glamorous actress accustomed to national buzz. Hasselbeck’s normal, quiet night ends with wife Sarah quizzing Seattle’s quarterback on the plays coach Mike Holmgren will be calling in an upcoming game.

“Just sort of during commercials at night when we’re watching television, or after that in bed. It’s very romantic,” Hasselbeck deadpanned.

He jokes he can’t escape the shadow of former mentor Brett Favre, even at the Pro Bowl, where he’s going for the third time.

Hasselbeck’s simply become the perfect quarterback for Holmgren’s intricate, demanding system, one run by Favre, Steve Young and Joe Montana before him. Two years removed from the Super Bowl, Hasselbeck is having his best season. Yet the sexier Tony Romo, Tom Brady and Favre get the spotlight.

Absent a running game or consistent blocking to aid him, the bald guy with the barely recognized game has led the Seahawks (10-6) to their fourth consecutive NFC West title — two more than Seattle had in the 27 previous years.

“I mean, he’s going to the Pro Bowl. He’s having a great year. We’re in the playoffs,” Holmgren said. “I don’t know what more we can ask for.”

How about some credit?

Nationally, Hasselbeck remains largely unknown. He’s hidden behind Brady’s record-setting excellence and obscured by Romo’s star power, great play and girlfriend Jessica Simpson.

Then there’s Favre’s Hall of Fame longevity and his 2007 revival for the Packers (13-3).

Hasselbeck said the attention elsewhere is deserved. He marvels over Brady’s 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the undefeated Patriots.

“That’s one of the all-time great years — ever,” he said. “Favre doing what he did, with a young team and … getting a first-round bye. Obviously, Dallas has been rolling all year, and Romo’s playing great with T.O. and those guys.

“It’s all deserved.”

Hasselbeck has 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, a differential second to Romo’s plus-19 in the NFC. He’s ranks in the top eight in the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and passer rating (91.4). He’s set Seattle records with 352 completions in 562 attempts this season. He also bested his franchise record for passing yards in a season with 3,966.

He has the stats. Does the 32-year-old, sixth-round draft choice by Green Bay out of Boston College in 1998 wish he had the attention?

“No. I mean, I wish we had the first-round bye. I wish we were breaking NFL records,” he said. “It’s part of our growing process as a team. We’re getting there.”

He’s getting Seattle there with one of the best seasons in Seahawks history after he lost leading receiver Darrell Jackson, with whom he had an unspoken connection, in a trade. And tight end Jerramy Stevens, a favorite target on third downs, left in free agency last spring.

“That was a challenge for me,” Hasselbeck said.

He’s lost three of his Pro Bowl blockers since that 2005 Super Bowl year: Steve Hutchinson is in Minnesota, Robbie Tobeck and Mack Strong retired. He keeps dodging blitzing defenses that have known Seattle was going to pass first for two months, or since Holmgren said so after weeks of trying in vain to run the ball.

Hasselbeck’s carried the team using a hodgepodge of receivers — blocking specialist Will Heller at tight end here, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace at wide receiver there — during the many times starters Marcus Pollard and Deion Branch have been hurt.

Most important, Hasselbeck has finally grasped every nuance of Holmgren, his fiery taskmaster who hand-picked him away from being Favre’s dead-end backup to become Seattle’s starter in 2001. He has learned to find the many coaching points obscured during games by Holmgren’s intensity.

One of those lessons came in Week 2. The Seahawks were moving to a winning field goal late at Arizona when Hasselbeck tried to trick the Cardinals by motioning with his hands for an audible that he intended to be fake. Running back Shaun Alexander and half the offense took it as real. Hasselbeck and Alexander botched a simple handoff. Arizona recovered the fumble and kicked its own winning field goal a few plays later.

Holmgren took responsibility for not explicitly reminding Hasselbeck to keep it simple in that situation. Hasselbeck took responsibility for not knowing what his coach really wanted but didn’t say: No playing around with a key division game on the line, in a loud stadium on the road.

He knows now.

“[Matt] really understands the game now,” Holmgren said. “It’s just a matter of if I can put him in the right spots and help him a little bit. He knows what he’s doing. It’s all working.”

Holmgren’s only critique of the man who has passed Jim Zorn, his quarterbacks coach, this season and will soon pass Dave Krieg to claim all of Seattle’s major passing records: “Every once in a while he gets fired up about something.”

During last weekend’s rout of Baltimore, Hasselbeck threw two more touchdowns, but also had two interceptions. He took responsibility for being “greedy” on one of the picks, a relapse into the carelessness from earlier in his career.

The other interception was a short pass that soared over Branch’s head. After the play, Hasselbeck angrily gestured at the former Super Bowl MVP for stopping his route.

“And that might never change, because his fiery play is kind of what makes him good, too,” Holmgren said.

“His decision-making this year is very, very good. You take two plays out of the last ball game and he’s almost doing exactly what I want him to do. Almost.”

Branch specifically won’t compare Hasselbeck to Brady. He cuts off the comparison with a curt, “two different quarterbacks, two different systems.”

Holmgren won’t compare Hasselbeck to his famously risk-taking mentor Favre, or any of those other, far more famous quarterbacks.

“Oh, compared to the other guys? That’s hard,” Holmgren said. “Can we just talk about him?”

Now, finally, will everyone?

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