BY Art Thiel 04:07PM 08/10/2012

Thiel: Civic hug near for Hasselbeck, Locker

Two football favorite sons return, both better for having moved on, except for maybe Saturday when they get to experience the wrong side of the NFL’s best home-field advantage.

In happier days: Matt Hasselbeck and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. / Rod Mar, seahawks.com

Except for Alex Rodriguez, Seattle sports fans generally have a forgiving nature toward former athletes returning here to slap around the local teams.

When it comes to Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the civic bosom may not be large enough to cuddle simultaneously both former football heroes.

The oddness of two of the most popular players in modern local sports history playing for  Tennessee will be on display at 7 p.m. Saturday when the Seahawks play their first no-count-’em against the Titans at the Clink.

“Feels a little weird to me,” said Hasselbeck by teleconference this week. He’s the one most off-balance. After a 10-year stay that included a Super Bowl, as well as a deserved reputation as an approachable community icon, he really thought he was going to come back to Seattle for the 2011 season, because Pete Carroll said re-signing him was the club’s highest off-season priority.

“When I left that field (after the upset of defending NFL champion New Orleans in early 2011), I truly didn’t think that that was the last time I was going to play in that stadium,” Hasselbeck said. “Even though I knew it very easily could be, I just didn’t feel that in my heart. So it’ll be nice to get an opportunity to go back and play some football.”

Then 35, Hasselbeck was persuaded that good years remained. But in the post-lockout NFL, Carroll changed his mind and let Hasselbeck go into free agency, picking up instead Tarvaris Jackson, who proved serviceable as a passer, and more important, a tackling dummy behind a woefully unready offensive line in the season’s first half.

The Seahawks went 7-9, while the Titans were 9-7, and Hasselbeck was better in the South than he was in the Northwest. In 2011, he had a quarterback rating of 83.2, about his career average and better than the 72.3 of his final season in Seattle. He also was sacked just 19 times in 16 games in Tennessee, instead of 29 in 14 in 2010 Seattle — and way better than the 42 Jackson absorbed in 15 starts behind the Seahawks’ shoddy protection.

In hindsight, Carroll, knowing what was likely coming, probably did Hasselbeck a huge solid. Which doesn’t mean that, even though he’s scheduled to play only the first half of the first fake game, he wouldn’t like to deliver a haymaker to the team that let him go early (the same team that signed a 38-year-old receiver).

But Hasselbeck didn’t betray payback.

“I’m looking to schedule on how much free time I’m going to have, who am I going to be able to see, where am I going to be able to eat,” he said. “You know, all of those kind of
things.”

Casual as he made it sound, it will be amusing to see Hasselbeck have to deal with the audio riot in the Clink, where his teams enjoyed one of the best home-field edges in the NFL — at no time more apparent that his last game here, the win over the Saints that became a modest seismic event.

“I tried to tell the guys here that it’s a great crowd,” he said of his Titans teammates. “We haven’t worked on silent count or any of that, but we need to get going on that. Preseason game, or regular season game, or playoffs  — the crowd is always into it.

“When I first got (to Seattle) it wasn’t necessarily a place that had a reputation of being a tough place to play. That really changed while we were there. It’s just one of the great atmospheres in all of football right now.”

The Titans were thrilled to sign Hasselbeck because several months earlier they drafted Locker, Ferndale’s finest, with the No. 8 pick in the first round. Partly due to the mediocre Washington teams Locker helped prop up, he wasn’t as ready as some of his QB classmates to start right away. So they hired Matt the Mentor.

“I hate to say mentoring because I’m not mentoring anybody,” he said. “I’m just doing what I do and trying to do it well. But I think there’s an added responsibility to be very transparent and helpful to the guys that you’re in the room competing with.

“There were so many older veteran quarterbacks that I played with that helped me so much, when I know across the league that wasn’t the norm.”

He remembered being suspicious of his elder, Trent Dilfer, in Seattle.

“I was really cautious,” he said. “Like, ‘Why would you try to help me? You should be trying to take my job.’ I didn’t accept any of his help. I almost didn’t like him. I was like, ‘You must think I’m a moron, I’m not falling for this.’”

That changed; the two became, and remain, close friends. Happened even faster in Nashville between Hasselbeck and Locker, who didn’t really know each other in Seattle. The friendship seems to have paid early dividends. Locker played in 10 games his rookie season, starting five, with a quarterback rating of 108.4 and absent a single interception in 64 attempts.

“I have just been very fortunate to have him a part of my life, as a player and person,” Locker said.  “I’ve been going through a lot of things that are new to me that he has already gone through. He just has a lot of great advice; on how to deal with stuff, how to handle things. I think people might not realize is that it goes beyond football.”

The changes include parenthood. Locker and his wife became parents July 17 to their first child, eight-poun Colbie Jo. Since Hasselbeck had already surrendered the phone, there was no opportunity to ask him about whether he, as a father of four, mentored Locker on one of the truly grueling jobs in life.

Locker was quick to respond: “It is not as bad as everybody makes it seems. The first week the diapers didn’t even stink.”

While some may have suspected as much of a child of Locker, the overarching fact is that things could barely have worked out better for Hasselbeck and Locker a long way from home.

Which is as good an incentive as any to yell at them Saturday in Seattle. The over-matched civic bosom can take only so much hugging.


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