Silencing the critics, he shows the world
Walking off Qwest Field late Sunday afternoon, son on his shoulders, fans in his thrall, Saints in his wake, sports history on his resume and the NFL at his feet, was a man in full.
Matt Hasselbeck offered a smile of serenity that would make an angel weep.
Not a celebratory whoop, not a sarcastic grin, not a macho sneer, the face of the Seahawks quarterback held the satisfied look of a man who had shown the world.
Damn, did he show the world.
Scorned, injured, aged, relegated and dismissed, Hasselbeck personally, along with his teammates collectively, threw down the defending Super Bowl champions. Not a single witness to the 41-36 shocker over New Orleans would dare say they didnt deserve it.
Delivering some of the most artful throws of his career, including four touchdown passes, after being absent from scrimmage for a week, well, thats remarkable. Doesnt begin to tell the story.
He was, said coach Pete Carroll, ridiculously good.
Something else, too.
This week he had a little extra edge to him, said tight end John Carlson, who caught two of the touchdowns. In practice he was whipping people into shape, making sure we were on point.
Still hurting from a sore gluteus that required draining three times this week, Hasselbeck led his team back from deficits of 10-0 and 17-7 to a lead of 31-20, then kept them from collapse against a reviving Saints offense led by premier quarterback Drew Brees.
“We just beat the world champs, and that’s a great feeling,” said Hasselbeck. “We worked hard to do it. It wasn’t like it kind of happened.
“We worked had, we prepared and we believed. We laid it on the line. I’m emotionally drained, I’m physically drained.
“It was just satisfying.”
The moment didn’t compare to the team’s run in 2005 that reached the Super Bowl.
Maybe it’s better.
The 2005 team under a proven pro coach, Mike Holmgren, was loaded with talent. Much was expected. Much was delivered.
The 2010 team came in a vegetable truck that dumped over several times and was reloaded on the run by hand. Two weeks ago, they were left for compost after a 38-15 loss at Tampa Bay.
Now they are one win from the NFC championship game. And they still don’t have a winning record (8-9).
Behind superb protection and supplemented by a respectable running game — including a 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch that will be replayed long after Seattle is buried in a pyroclastic mud flow — Hasselbeck completed 22 passes in 35 attempts for 272 yards. He had at least five catchable balls dropped.
Yet what may have been decisive is that Hasselbeck and Carroll are finally together. Took a season, but now, who cares?
“I give Pete a lot of credit,” Hasselbeck said. “We were down 10-0 to the world champs and my third pass was intercepted. You could easily tank it right there. The crowd could have easily tanked it on me too.
“But Pete came up to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s nothing you could have done on that first (interception).’ And they were about to score and he said, ‘Even if they score here, there’s nothing you can do about that.’ He showed me some confidence, and I appreciated that.
“It allowed me to focus on what we needed to do.”
Free of the pressure that often forced him into recklessness this season, Hasselbeck was a master of his world.
In scoring a season high in points while averaging 6.8 yards per rush, they were balanced, patient and efficient for most of the game. Abetted by a defense that forced New Orleans to settle for field goals three times inside the 10-yard line, the transformation from condemned to contender in two weeks was preposterously complete.
Given the season-long injuries, the roster churn and the general chaos around this team, there was a moment when Hasselbeck hoisted his five-year-old son, Henry, upon his shoulders when reporters thought they might have missed a roster addition.
“I remember as as kid always wanted to go down on the field with my dad (New England Patriots tight end Don Hasselbeck),” Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know if I ever did.
“I saw my son being carried out by one of our guys. So it was really cool.”
Really cool? It was more than that, Matt, but we in the media are the ones with the words. You’re the one with the deeds.
We’ll be writing about this one for a long time. In what may have been his last game at Qwest Field, it was a ridiculously good exit.