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Part of plan, or parting?

With future cloudy, Hasselbeck gets start

Although he sat out last Sunday’s playoff-clinching win, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck still took on a leadership role with an impassioned pregame speech. Although he sat out last Sunday’s playoff-clinching win, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck still took on a leadership role with an impassioned pregame speech. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
By Tim Booth
Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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RENTON, Wash. — By this point, the pleading with coaches was done. Matt Hasselbeck knew he wasn’t going to start what could potentially be the last game he ever played for the Seattle Seahawks.

Instead of sulking, outwardly showing any bitterness or anger while Charlie Whitehurst took the snaps in Seattle’s biggest game in nearly three years, the only quarterback to ever lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl stepped to the middle of Seattle’s spacious locker room at Qwest Field last Sunday evening.

“I think it was important that I offer something,’’ Hasselbeck said yesterday.

There, in the minutes before the NFC West title was to be determined, Hasselbeck — in uniform but essentially just a spectator — gave an impassioned speech about the opportunity that awaited his teammates. That Seattle could retake control of a division it dominated for four straight seasons, only to collapse into a mess of just nine wins and a pair of coaching changes in consecutive seasons.

“It meant a lot for him to come out and be as vocal as he was, and take charge and still be a leader. Some guys have a tendency to sit back when they’re not playing. They tend not to take their leadership role and some guys look for them not to be leaders because they’re not playing,’’ Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu said. “He stepped up to the plate and let Charlie know he supported him and let all of us know he would be there to support us.’’

Hasselbeck will be back out there tomorrow when the unlikely Seahawks host New Orleans in the NFC playoffs. After watching impatiently as Whitehurst led Seattle to a division-clinching 16-6 win over St. Louis, Seattle coach Pete Carroll is turning to his experienced playoff veteran.

Hasselbeck was the starter the last nine times Seattle played a postseason game. He’s won the last four they’ve played at Qwest Field.

And tomorrow could be the last time he ever takes snaps for the Seahawks.

“As we saw this year with the amount of turnover we had, you never know when your last day could be and that goes for everybody,’’ Hasselbeck said. “I’m excited. Anybody who has played here when the crowd is really into it, it’s always a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep that rolling.’’

Hasselbeck’s contract with the Seahawks expires after the season. He repeated yesterday a desire to retire in Seattle. After 10 seasons, 147 regular-season and postseason games appeared in, and the only NFC championship the club has ever claimed, Hasselbeck could be on his way out.

Hasselbeck’s future was placed in doubt the moment Seattle traded a second-round pick to San Diego and signed Whitehurst to an $8 million, two-year contract. The move was part of Carroll’s constant refrain of competition being at the center of everything the Seahawks do, and while Whitehurst failed to win the job during training camp and has only seen spot duty this year, the move was a signal that Hasselbeck’s future beyond 2010 in Seattle wasn’t guaranteed.

If anyone understands that feeling, the situation Hasselbeck is facing, it’s the opposing quarterback tomorrow, Drew Brees. In 2004, with Brees the centerpiece of San Diego’s offense, the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers as his eventual replacement. For two seasons, Brees played with Rivers waiting for his opportunity.

“That’s part of the sport,’’ said Brees. “Every team has a few of those guys that, each year, you’re not sure what’s going to happen the next year, where you’re going to be.’’

Brees eventually landed in New Orleans, where his career has flourished, reaching its pinnacle last season with his first Super Bowl title. But when Brees landed in the Big Easy, he was 27 years old.

Hasselbeck will turn 36 in the first month of next season.

“I think he’s still got a lot of good years left in him but I guess only time will tell,’’ Brees said.

Brees saw that first hand earlier this season when Hasselbeck solved Gregg Williams’s complicated defensive schemes and threw for 366 yards against the Saints. It was the most yards passing allowed this season by the Saints and the fourth-highest total in Hasselbeck’s career.

But even that was bested by Brees on that day as he threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints’ 34-19 victory.

Tomorrow gives Hasselbeck an opportunity to right his season — he’s thrown for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions — and perhaps make a statement about next year.

“For me the most special thing was coming here, we really weren’t a very good team. It was hard to get this thing turned back around and get something special built here,’’ Hasselbeck said. “So I take so much pride in that and for the opportunity I was given.

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