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Meet Matt Hasselbeck, the best quarterback you've barely heard of

December 30, 2007|Gregg Bell | Associated Press

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- 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 has 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 (10-5) 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 (12-3). Hasselbeck said the attention elsewhere is deserved. He marvels over Brady's 48 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 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, a differential second to Romo's plus-18 in the NFC. He's ranks in the top eight in the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and passer rating (91.5). He's set Seattle records with 337 completions in 537 attempts this season. He needs 23 yards in Sunday's regular-season finale at Atlanta to pass his franchise record for yards passing in a season (3,841).

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. 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 have retired. He keeps dodging blitzing defenses that have known Seattle was going to pass first for two months, or since Holmgren said so following weeks of trying in vain to run the ball.

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.

"[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."

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