Beginning this weekend, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's Sundays won't be spent at church with his family. Instead he will be eyeing defenses, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and doing his best to throw the Seahawks out of that 4-12 hole they found themselves in last season.
The sun retreats beyond the horizon, and dusk descends on a moment fit to be framed.
A father and his family are on the shore of Lake Washington near Carillon Point in Kirkland. It is Sunday, they have attended church, gotten ice cream and now the three children are at the park swinging across the monkey bars, running down toward the dock and generally giving in to the rambunctious whims of youth.
Matt Hasselbeck is just an observer at this moment. A dad watching the sunset of summer.
The NFL season is staring him down. Beginning this weekend, Sundays will be spent eyeing defenses, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and doing his best to throw the Seahawks out of that 4-12 hole they found themselves in last season.
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But on this night he’s a dad thinking about how to get his kids to bed.
“What kind of pajamas are you going to wear tonight?” he asks when they’re back in the car, heading for their Bellevue-area home.
“Superman,” says Henry, a 4-year-old with hair so blond it’s practically translucent.
Yes, Superman, concurs Mallory. Annabelle, the oldest, will opt for a tank top and pajama pants.
Eight years ago, it was just Matt and his wife, Sarah, living in an apartment without a yard while he played for a football team biding time at Husky Stadium while Qwest Field was built. He was 26, his wife was pregnant and he was the new quarterback in town, booed after a slow start and eventually benched for Trent Dilfer.
Now he’s no longer a tenant in this town. His roots run deep. He’s had the two most prolific passing seasons in franchise history, and all three of his children were born at the same Eastside hospital.
He’s the face of his franchise, the quarterback whose most distinguishing trait is a shiny dome. At 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, he’s bigger than you’d expect. He might be intimidating if his blue eyes weren’t so darn earnest.
In the 2005 season, he led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl, and he has enough of a national profile to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and get his mom a gig in the series of Campbell’s Chunky Soup commercials.
But he’s more than just a player who achieved prominence with the Seahawks, he’s a husband who became a father and on this August night, he’s a dad enjoying a Sunday night with his family before embarking on this crucible of a season.
Face of the franchise
He was the son of an NFL tight end, yet he ended up playing quarterback, the position that traditionally belongs to the coolest kid in school.
Same for his brother, Tim. In fact, his legion of first cousins — 30-some in all — said they wanted to play “the Hasselbeck” in backyard games. That was family shorthand for quarterback.
Matt is a three-time Pro Bowler at the most glamorous position, yet there are some people who’d say his sister-in-law Elisabeth — Tim’s wife and “The View” co-host — is the more prominent Hasselbeck.
Matt will always be linked to Mike Holmgren, which is hardly a bad thing. He’s got some pretty incredible company on that list, with Hall of Famers like Joe Montana and Steve Young. That Brett Favre guy wasn’t too bad, either, and in 2001 Holmgren went out and traded for Hasselbeck.
Things were rocky that first season. Hasselbeck was getting bludgeoned by opposing defenses and it wasn’t until his fifth start he finally threw a touchdown pass, but by the end of his second season Holmgren knew that this was the right quarterback for his franchise, and Hasselbeck became the pillar of the most successful era in Seahawks football.
He set the Seahawks franchise record for passing yards in 2003 and broke it himself in 2007. He has won four playoff games for a franchise that had three postseason victories in the 25 years before he arrived.
Now Holmgren is gone, but Hasselbeck remains, the triggerman straddling the fault line of Seattle’s geologic shift to the new coach, Jim Mora. There is the excitement of the unknown as the Seahawks open their regular season Sunday at Qwest Field against the St. Louis Rams.
He is 33, hardly old by quarterback standards, but he missed nine games last season — the most in his career — because of a back injury. He’s healthy now and he’s hopeful, a quarterback with two years left on his contract and a fresh start.
Hasselbeck thrived under Holmgren’s offense, but make no mistake whom that scheme belonged to: Holmgren. He likes things one way, his way. This is not to knock Holmgren’s offense, which has made him one of only five NFL coaches to reach the Super Bowl with two different franchises, but the offense was precise, particular and as predictable as the fullback draw he tended to run on third-and-long.
There’s a new voice in Hasselbeck’s ear. It belongs to Greg Knapp, the offensive coordinator who’ll be using more shotgun formations and play-action pass.
Ask Hasselbeck about the changes, and he’ll talk in general terms or joke about the terminology. He does what quarterbacks get paid to do — he passes — when asked about how he’s adjusted to Seattle’s change in scheme.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with the offense,” Hasselbeck said. “There are some tongue-twisters out there. There’s some things that we say a little backward than we’ve said in the past.”
Hasselbeck isn’t starting over. He has way too much experience for that. He has a decade in the pocket as an NFL quarterback and he is flanked by a family that has grown alongside his career here in Seattle.
Face of the father
Matt and Sarah have known each other since college began.
He was smitten enough to copy her class schedule, which steered him toward a business major.
She played field hockey and earned induction to the Boston College Hall of Fame. He had no idea what he was in for following her early class schedule because she ended up graduating summa cum laude.
The couple grew into a family here in Seattle. Their oldest, Annabelle, performed as a cheerleader at halftime of one of the Seahawks exhibition games. She’s about to turn 8 and she already has the moves of an ice skater as she glides along in sneakers with wheels in the heels.
Mallory is tough enough that she might be ready to play in one of those halftime football games. From the back seat, she offers an unprovoked opinion.
“Some people think girls aren’t tough,” she says, “But you mess with me, I’ll take you down.”
She is 6.
Then there’s Henry Hasselbeck. Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu nicknamed him H2. He turned 4 not long ago, but will insist he’s 4-½. Henry learned his NFL teams about the same time he learned his ABCs. His favorite football team?
“The Bengal tigers,” he says.
That would be Cincinnati, and his affection for them originated with a tale his father spun about their tiger-striped helmets. Matt told Henry a whopper of a bedtime story about the time the Cincinnati Bengals played the Cleveland Browns, back when the Bengals’ nickname was written on their helmet. At halftime, the team’s owner told his team they needed to be more aggressive so he had stripes put on their helmets for the second half and they played like the tigers they were named after.
Good night. The Bengal tigers have been his favorite ever since. In fact, a Bengals jacket was Henry’s favorite Christmas present.
Henry does his best to keep up with his sisters, and on this August night, that means following them from the playground down to the dock at Kirkland’s lakefront park.
Nathanael is there. Matt’s youngest brother is the best kind of uncle, one who’s willing to chase and to be chased. Nathanael played football, too. He was a wide receiver and then a defensive back at Boston College and the University of Massachusetts. Now he lives in the Puget Sound area and works in real estate.
This is one of the last Sundays that Matt Hasselbeck will have with his family. The next four months that’s the day he will spend traveling the country and trying to pass his way up and down the field. He will be under center for the Seahawks and in Seattle’s spotlight.
There’s a rule in the Hasselbecks’ car. Actually it’s more of a guideline: No DVDs while driving around town.
There are exceptions. Like right now. Bedtime is fast approaching, and Henry is a restless 4-year-old — OK, make it 4 ½. So “Harold and the Purple Crayon” is playing, and Henry is transfixed.
Mallory and Annabelle answer trivia questions from their father. The last one comes with a promise: Answer the three types of Olympic medals, and bedtime is extended until 9. This sounds great and elicits proclamations of his fatherly virtues.
“You’re the best!” comes the chorus from the back seat.
Then comes the realization that it’s already 8:40. Twenty minutes is not enough to warrant coronation.
“You’re mean!” becomes the consensus.
No, he’s just being a dad and right now, that means trying to tie up the evening after watching the sun set on one of the last summer nights before this most important season.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org