After the clock wound down to 0:00 and the confetti showered Qwest Field, it became real to all – after 30 years, the Seattle Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl for the first time. By virtue of their dominating 34-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game, the Seahawks, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, realized a long-held dream that some had to wonder if they’d ever see. The nice part for Hasselbeck was how long he was able to enjoy that prospect on the field. “It was an incredible game to be a part of," he said on Monday. “I think with five or six minutes to go in the game we scored that (final) touchdown and we felt the game was ours, (it) was pretty much over at that point. I said it many times and I continue to say it, it’s just a humbling experience just to know that of all the people that set out to play in this Super Bowl, we’re one of the teams that gets to go play in it. To have the opportunity to be called world champions is an incredible opportunity and we’ve worked so hard for it. It’s amazing.”
Hasselbeck earned that time for contemplation with a superlative two-game postseason stretch that saw him complete 36 of 54 passes for 434 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.65 passer rating. On the heels of his hot December, this was no surprise to those who have been paying attention to Seattle's quarterback.
As he made his way to the locker room after the presentation of the George S. Halas Trophy, Hasselbeck tried to realize what had just happened. Sometimes, as he said, it’s difficult to come to terms with the enormity of the accomplishment. “I don’t know if I really have the words. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real and then other times it seems very real and you’re looking at a really good Pittsburgh Steelers team and that is real,” Hasselbeck said. “Failure in this game is a real option so we’re going to have to work really hard and be as focused as we’ve ever been and the conditions are going to be tough.
Although he’s never played in a Super Bowl, Hasselbeck has the benefit of the experience of his head coach. Mike Holmgren has appeared in two Super Bowls as a position coach/coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, and two as the coach of the Green Pay Packers. “It was really a comforting feeling today having (Holmgren) get up and talk about, ‘Well, when I was in this Super Bowl we did this, when I was in that Super Bowl we did this, this one we did this’. He’s got experience there," Hasselbeck said. "And then even the other stuff. Gary Wright (the team's Vice President/Administration) stepped up - Gary Wright runs the Super Bowl practically for the league every year and he’s (been) there every year for the last 20 years - and he stands up and says 'This is what they do.' I feel like we’re really prepared and (Seahawks CEO) Tod Leiweke spoke to the team and just said, ‘basically we’re going to take care of everything so you guys can take care of football.’ That is a very freeing feeling.”
From that perspective, Hasselbeck seems to understand what he’s in for over the next two weeks, as the hype machine runs wild. “We’re going to be away from home, we’re going to be getting hit all different directions with events and interviews and family and friends and people you haven’t talked to for 10 years, but more than ever we have to be focused,”, he said. “To be honest just the opportunity to be here and to play in Seattle and to bring a Lombardi Trophy possibly to a team that has never had one, it’s just an awesome opportunity that our team has.”
Hasselbeck also has the perspective of his father Don, a tight end who played for 10 years in the NFL with the Patriots, Raiders, Vikings and Giants. On January 22, 1984, the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins by the score of 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. The elder Hasselbeck, playing a reserve role, blocked an extra point attempt following Washington’s only touchdown. Matt remembers it well. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “I remember when he blocked the kick in that game. It’s probably one of my favorite memories of all time. My mom even has the pendant version of (the Super Bowl ring). It’s an incredible thing. She has never worn it; she always said that we could use it for our wives’ engagement ring. That didn’t happen.”
Just how big was his father’s ring? “It was big then, I’m sure it’s a lot bigger now. I don’t’ know. The ring he got was pretty nice. I know the ring that we would get would be pretty nice, too.”
In the here and now, the Seahawks’ current success can be credited, in large part, to the team mentality than has taken over since the firing of former team president Bob Whitsitt, and the February hire of Tim Ruskell. Ruskell brought that mentality to bear from the start, and redefined the team in less than a year. According to Hasselbeck, the difference is easy to see. “I think it really starts from the top,” he said. “That is just the message that we’ve been given right from the top. The guys who are the veteran guys on our team we have just sort of repeated the message that we’re getting from above and then just try to live it out. Mike Holmgren Saturday night, what do you say to a team before the play the championship game? His speech was about the practice squad guys on our team and what they’ve meant to our team and these guys don’t’ get to go out there and play and yet they have busted their butt for a chance for us to be successful. And he said it again today with them in the room this morning. Some of our wide receivers on our practice squad had an incredible week of practice. Seneca Wallace had an incredible week of practice.
“The coaches were tough on the defensive backs and tough on the defense. Then our defense goes out and plays possibly the best game that they’ve played all year, in part, to the preparation and to the looks that our scout team gave that our practice squad gave them. I don’t know…there are certain people that get a lot of credit and I think I’m one of them and you don’t always deserve all that credit. There are a lot of people that deserve credit that don’t get the credit. I think that the team, everyone is just as important.
“More than anything, what makes our team special this year is we’ve got everyone working really hard, everyone saying ‘hey, the goals of this team are more important’. The stuff about hanging out and having a dinner every Thursday night or something like that, I’ve seen people try to force that and it’s not the same. If you really have chemistry and camaraderie and stuff like that, that stuff will just happen. I’d say the biggest thing is that people are just working hard towards a common goal.”
Now, it is time for the team to turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who earned the right to face Seattle in the Super Bowl after upsetting the Denver Broncos, 34-17 at Denver’s Invesco Field. When does Hasselbeck feel that he needs to put all his attention on the season’s final opponent? “I think all of our travel and tickets and all that stuff is going to be done by Wednesday. Once that is done Wednesday, I would imagine that the coaching staff will ask us to just be focused on football from that point on. We’re going to work hard this week. We’re going to approach it like we’re playing a game this Sunday because there are all those distractions once we head to Detroit. I think it will be important to have a really good week of practice for us.”
Although their defense has stepped up beyond most reasonable expectations in this postseason, Seattle’s offense is the known and primary weapon. First in points and second in yards in the NFL in 2005, the Seahawks’ offense is a multi-headed juggernaut that seems to grow two new weapons for every one an opponent shuts down. “The great thing about our system is that we a little bit of everything, so you really can’t put us in a box,” Hasselbeck said. “Some teams believe firmly in hot routes and sight adjusts, and other teams believe firmly in audibling and that kind of thing. We do a little bit of all that stuff.”
After leading Mike Holmgren’s offense for the last five years, Hasselbeck knows every intricacy, and is able to adjust on the fly – his ability to read at the line and adjust based on what he sees has been exceptional this season. Are there ‘set patterns’ for the offense? “It kind of depends on who you’re playing, I would say. We have a big play book. There is a lot to choose from.”
“Coach Holmgren made that very clear; we are going to approach this week like we’re playing Sunday,” Hasselbeck said when asked how the team would prepare for the biggest game in Seahawks history. “It’s going to be a normal work week that way. Even Saturday, we’re going to work. Its going to be different, it’s definitely going to be different.”
When the team arrives in Detroit, how will the preparation vary? “I think some of it we’re just going to have to do on our own. There are definitely enough resources of people that have been there. Even guys on our team that have been there and played in this game - you just have to listen and try to learn what you can from (them). At the end of the day, you just have to focus on playing a football game. Sixty minutes of the best football you could possibly play. That’s what it’s going to take.”
One person who will be doing everything possible to insure that Hasselbeck’s game is at its peak in Quarterbacks Coach Jim Zorn. Zorn was the Seahawks’ first starting quarterback, a fine player in his own right, who led the team to its first winning seasons in 1978 and 1979, and threw for over 3,000 yards in three straight seasons – a team record broken by Hasselbeck this year. How has Zorn helped Hasselbeck’s development? “Had he not been my coach, who knows, I don’t know if I would have made it through," he said. "He has been great. He is obviously a wonderful guy, a great person. He is a man of integrity and honesty, but he is a very good football coach as well. Very creative, we give him a hard time sometimes because he comes up with these exotic plays and we make fun of him because he is left-handed.
"We are sort of kidding because his plays do work. We have many plays in our offense now that are stables, go-to plays that we use all the time that are tremendously successful. We all at first when he drew up the plays thought, ‘come on, how is that going to work?’ And it works. He is a very bright football mind and I think he is going to be a great coach in this league for years to come.”
Zorn wasn’t the only former Seahawk on hand at Qwest Field to see the NFC Championship victory. “We were excited to play this game, but I would say maybe those guys (were) more excited. Jacob Green, Dave Krieg, Cortez Kennedy, those guys are jacked up. They are ready to go. We were looking for some shoulder pads for Cortez, actually. It gives you a lot of pride to wear that Seahawks uniform when you see how much pride that those guys have in our franchise and our team success. That is a pretty neat thing. You feel like you are almost a part of history when those guys are out there with you. It is neat to see.”
Hasselbeck also said that this team has no problem focusing on the next, most important goal. As with most things in football, this ability lives or does in the trenches. “I really feel like the identity of our team is has a lot to do with our offensive line,” he said. “Our offensive line has played their best football and arguably the best of any unit in the NFL this year.
"Those guys, they don’t get caught up with extra stuff, they are focused on the guy they are going against. There was a game this year where we played the San Francisco 49ers, and people were asking questions – ‘The 49ers are ranked 32nd in the NFL on defense, is there a tendency to look past these guys?’ As far as our offensive line was concerned, there was no tendency to look past them because our interior guys are going up against Bryant Young, one of the greatest pass rushers and defensive linemen in the game. To them it was the biggest game of the year. Just having that focus and just not looking further ahead has been a good thing for our team this year.”
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com.