A long road to Detroit for Hasselbeck

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck has paid his dues. He spent several seasons as the understudy to Brett Favre in Green Bay before a pre-Draft trade sent him to Seattle, ostensibly to be the driver for head coach Mike Holmgren's offense. But several bumps in the road, including a benching and boos from the Seattle faithful, made it look as if he would never realize the potential some saw in him when he graduated from Boston College.

All that changed when the Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers 34-14 in the NFC Championship game almost two weeks ago. Now that he's on the cusp of a Super Bowl championship, Hasselbeck reflected on his long journey to redemption and respect.

"I feel real fortunate to have some great people around me," Hasselbeck said recently when asked about how he made it through the dark times with the Hawks. "Ironically, the guy they were usually cheering for was probably my biggest supporter."

That "guy" was Trent Dilfer, now the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns and he was Hasselbeck's backup for three seasons. At times Dilfer acted as a buffer between Holmgren and Hasselbeck when the two had their famously heated conversations during games.

Now Holmgren and Hasselbeck appear to always be on the same page and because of Holmgren's coaching experience in the Super Bowl, Hasselbeck sees him as a steadying force for the franchise.

"You have heard the same talks and speeches that he has given for the past five years and now," Hasselbeck said. "Since we are moving deeper into the playoffs and the postseason, his wisdom and his experience are really coming out.

"It is really fresh for us because we have never been in that situation. There is a lot of wisdom and experience there, not only from him, but from the coaching staff where there are a lot of Super Bowl rings."

The coaching staff is responsible for preparing the team and Hasselbeck sees no problem in that respect either.

"I feel like we are really prepared for this game," he said confidently. "We prepared last week for it. We have a great game plan for it and have changed a lot of stuff. I am sure they feel like they have a great game plan also. All those things are part of what is going to make this an exciting game.

"Decision making at the quarterback position is probably more important than how you throw the ball. Turnovers are a big key in all football games, but especially in a game like this. Whoever has the ball and wins that field position battle will have the best chance to win the game. That is part of my job and I don't take it lightly."

Another thing Hasselbeck isn't taking lightly is the Hawks' opponents on Sunday – the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"They are very good," Hasselbeck said with raised eyebrows. "They are one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best and they are playing really well right now and have played really great throughout the playoffs. To see how they have played throughout the playoffs has been really impressive.

"What they did to the Broncos and Colts with those teams having quarterbacks who had really great years--Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer--they played really well, probably their best football. We know it is going to be a challenge and we are up for it."

Some Hawk fans have bristled that the national media and odds-makers have instilled the sixth seeded Steelers as the favorites heading into Sunday's game, but Hasselbeck said he pays no attention to anything out of his control.

"I personally don't get caught up in that," Hasselbeck said. "I have enough to worry about. Some people would rather be the favorite and walk in and play like the best. That hasn't been our thing this year.

"We have played to earn respect and the way you earn respect is by going out and winning the next game you play. That approach has helped us get here. I don't know too much about Pittsburgh and what their year has been like. Lets just go out and take care of business and it sounds like that is the sort of formula that has helped them get here too."

One area of the team that has been the "Seahawks' thing" this year is an improved defense, one that has really hit its stride the past two games.

"(The improved defense) has been big for us," Hasselbeck said. "Look at how many games we didn't even play in the second half. We were just running the ball to run the ball with our backups in there. Our defense has been big in terms of creating turnovers and giving us a short field.

"We definitely upgraded team speed and with the young guys especially with (Leroy) Hill and (Lofa) Tatupu flying around. When we go up against our defense in the two-minute on Thursdays, they are flying around. You think you have something and then it closes really quick."

On Sunday things will go quickly for Hasselbeck and his teammates, but he will never forget the long journey he set out on to get to this point…and neither will his friends.

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.

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