Hasselbeck isn't Favre; that could be good

From Mr. August to Mr. January. Not a bad transformation for Matt Hasselbeck. The only thing that could be better would be a Mr. February moniker.

Hasselbeck took the indirect route to the Super Bowl. Mainstream thinking would have you believe a franchise quarterback must be taken in the first round. Hasselbeck, like three-time champion Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, was merely a sixth-round selection.

And an afterthought, at that.

When Ryan Leaf decided to skip his senior season at Washington State, one quarterback had to be dropped from the NFL Scouting Combine. That would be Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck was drafted by Green Bay, because former GM Ron Wolf believed in drafting a quarterback every year. If nothing else, those unheralded rookies provided a "camp arm" to keep Brett Favre's golden arm fresh. Not even Wolf, no doubt, believed Hasselbeck would become this good.

Sure, there were those Mr. August performances by Hasselbeck, who would shine in garbage time in preseason game after preseason game. And there was bravado, such as the time he filled Favre's tin of tobacco with worms. And there was the football lineage, with Hasselbeck's father, Don, being part of Washington's Super Bowl XVIII-winning team.

To think all of that would evolve into the Hasselbeck we'll see on Sunday is, well, hard to believe. One person who saw the potential was Mike Holmgren. When Holmgren left Green Bay for the greener (green with money and power) pastures of Seattle, he kept tabs on his former pupil. Going into his third season (2001) in Seattle, Holmgren, the miracle worker in Green Bay, was anything but in Seattle. He needed a quarterback, and he went after Hasselbeck.

It sure seemed like a great trade at the time for the Packers. The Packers sent a clipboard-toting Hasselbeck and the 17th pick of the first round to Seattle in exchange for Seattle's first-round pick, No. 10 overall, and a third-rounder.

With that 10th pick, the Packers finally got the pass rusher they had been seeking since Reggie White retired, nabbing lightning-fast Jamal Reynolds. He would be the player to propel the Packers back to the Super Bowl.

Reynolds, of course, was an all-time bust, and the Packers didn't make it back to the Super Bowl. Hasselbeck, however, will be piloting Holmgren's Seahawks in the world championship game on Sunday against Pittsburgh.

But first, there were plenty of rocky moments. When Hasselbeck got to Seattle, he tried to be Brett Favre, not Matt Hasselbeck. It failed miserably. In 2001, he was 5-7 as the starter while Trent Dilfer was 4-0. Dilfer won the job in 2002, but an injury made Hasselbeck the opening-day starter. Again, he couldn't hold onto the job.

Hasselbeck wanted to be Favre. Problem was, Favre didn't become Favre until he learned the Holmgren Way. The road to stardom is littered with checkpoints, but Hasselbeck wanted to go from Point A to Point F, without stopping at all the points in between. He was a wild man, throwing off his back foot, just like Favre. Like Favre, he tried to gun the ball into impossibly tight holes. Like Favre, he often ignored his first read because he thought he could make a play by throwing the ball elsewhere.

It made Holmgren cringe, and the fans boo.

"You can't imagine what it was like," said Jim Zorn, Hasselbeck's quarterbacks coach and the only other quarterback to lead Seattle to a conference title game. "He used to tell me, ‘We should do this differently, we should do that differently.' He would tell me, ‘What you want to do makes me feel so confined.' I would tell him, ‘Good.'"

Said Hasselbeck: "Brett is one of the greatest players of all time, and the coaches gave him a lot of slack, and for some reason I thought I deserved to be treated the same way. I went against Mike's plan, so we had 10 guys doing it his way and me doing it my way, and it hurt the team."

After the 2002 season, Hasselbeck admitted he "knew nothing," and allowed himself to be immersed in the Holmgren Way. Now, Hasselbeck's decision-making skills are impeccable. He has enough athleticism to avoid trouble and enough arm strength to make a play. But most of all, Hasselbeck has become Matt Hasselbeck, not a wannabe Brett Favre.

While Hasselbeck and Favre forever will be linked, it's Hasselbeck who's in position to become a championship icon. It's dangerous looking ahead — as Hasselbeck no doubt learned by saying, "We want the ball, and we're going to score," in that fateful overtime playoff game at Lambeau Field — but Hasselbeck is in the same position as Favre was a decade ago.

If Seattle wins Sunday, the Seahawks have a shot to be a dynasty. Hasselbeck is 30 and still improving. They have an MVP running back in Shaun Alexander. The offensive line is dominant. The defense is young. The coach is in place. They have no salary-cap troubles.

Hasselbeck failed in his attempt to be Brett Favre. But will he succeed where Favre failed, in terms of playoff success? Maybe, but only if he's as good in Januarys and Februarys as he was in those Augusts back in Green Bay.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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