There was something different about you last season. You seemed so confident, composed and in charge of the offense. From changing plays at the line of scrimmage to threading passes into tight coverage in “must-have” situations, it just appeared that you were a few seconds ahead of real time. Mike Holmgren’s complex playbook has become your sixth sense.
I myself was one of the many who cast a wary eye at you when you first arrived on scene. I expected to see Brett Favre incarnate trot out onto the field every Sunday. In hindsight, too much was expected of you – and far too soon. I fully expected that you would become Holmgren’s sorcerer’s apprentice overnight, not really comprehending that you needed time to learn how to massage the nuances of the playbook and learn the dynamics of the West Coast Offense. Nor was I capable of the patience required to let you develop. After all of the tough seasons Seahawks fans have endured, patience was the last thing on our minds.
Perhaps I suffered from Mireritis, or Gelbaugh Syndrome. I just knew that once again the quarterback situation would be an unsettled mess, and that the team and its fan base would continue to wallow in mediocrity.
But then you started doing things to win me over, like when you broke Jim Zorn’s club record for passing yards in a season in 2003 (3841). That was also the year we watched you shred the NFL’s “big bad” defense (Baltimore) for 333 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. And I sat in the ‘Hawks Nest’ at Qwest Field on that chilly Monday night in December 2004 as you zipped perfect passes all over the field in a devastating loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Your 414 yards passing and 3 touchdowns were certainly not the reason the Seahawks found a way to lose that game. In an amusing twist of irony, your primary target that night was the immortal Jerry Rice.
And I wondered that night if you were on your way to becoming a modern-day Joe Montana…probably not, but we’ll settle for the Matt Hasselbeck you have become.
You have come a long way. You looked so lost out there on the field when you first started playing at Husky Stadium. And the supporting cast didn’t exactly help you at first. How many dropped passes did you absorb like flaming arrows into your psyche? But you kept learning and developing, butting heads with Holmgren until you finally realized the path of least resistance was to nod your head in silent agreement and execute his game plan in your head as well as on the field.
Maybe Holmgren and Jim Zorn, your quarterbacks coach, rocked the cradle enough to convince you that they could get you to the top of the mountain, a tranquil and peaceful place where passes are caught, playoff victories are won, huge contracts earned - and soup commercials offered.
How ironic that it was Zorn who helped you along towards breaking his own record? Maybe you finally realized that your best shot at becoming an elite quarterback in this league was to become a blank canvas for the broad brush strokes that quarterback maestro Holmgren wanted to paint you with.
But look at you now - the NFC’s highest rated passer in 2005 (98.2). The starting quarterback for the NFC Champion Seahawks in the Super Bowl. No other Seahawks signal caller in franchise history can lay claim to that.
You threw 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions last season, and you did not commit a turnover on the road after the opening debacle in Jacksonville. And you know what else? You did all of that with a guy named Shaun Alexander taking up space in the backfield with you. The same Shaun Alexander that just so happened to enjoy one of the best seasons ever for a running back (1800+ yards rushing, NFL record 28 TD’s).
Most impressively, you play hurt. I thought for sure we would have seen the “Seneca Wallace Experiment” leave the launch pad after the beating you took in the season opener in the humid Florida sun last September. But there you were the next week, lacing up the cleats to lead the Seahawks to a win against Atlanta. In the last four seasons, you have played in 62 out of 64 regular season games. How many NFL quarterbacks can say that?
Of course, you sure don’t look the part. If I didn’t know any better I would think you were the person I talk to on the other end of the phone when I call my insurance company. The receding hairline (being generous here, Matt) is a perfect reflector for the glare of the spotlight you have lived in since arriving in Seattle in 2001. Your coach has described your scrambling style as similar to “a deer running on ice”, but you always seem to know just when to vacate the pocket and pick up critical yards. There are no style points in the NFL, just drive-0sustaining first downs. Keep on scrambling.
Now, you are one of the franchise pillars. Thanks to the surge through the post-season and into the Super Bowl, your face and your name are well known throughout the NFL. Many of the league’s new fans are just finding out what we have seen developing for the last several seasons - that they would be lucky to have a field general like the Seahawks’ #8.
As it turns out, you were right on the money when you announced to a frigid Lambeau Field stadium (and a national TV audience) that, “we want the ball, and we’re gonna score!” You were just off by a couple of years, that’s all.
Look at you now - you have an entire city in your back pocket and a fan base wondering how and why we ever doubted you.
Greg Renick writes regularly for Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.