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Q&A: Matt Hasselbeck still wants the ball...
... and he still expects to score. Here's the transcript of our conversation.
Damn right, he’d say that ahead of overtime again. Right over the PA system.
That day at Lambeau Field — in the 2003 wild card round — Matt Hasselbeck knew he was playing with “house money.” So, after winning the coin toss, he informed the officials that Seattle would win the game. No, the longtime NFL quarterback didn’t always burst with this confidence.
For our latest Q&A here at Go Long, Hasselbeck opens up on an NFL career he never, ever saw coming.
The audio and video of this chat is also available.
Words are below.
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We’ve talked on the phone over the years. I know back to my Milwaukee Journal Sentinel days, Bleacher Report days, you’ve always been just exceptional reliving old war stories and explaining how this game works. I think we talked about Toradol for an hour at one point.
Hasselbeck: I need some more Toradol in my life right now. No, thanks for having me. It’s cool. I feel like I’m looking in a mirror right now on this Zoom.
Just a couple bald guys hanging out.
Hasselbeck: I haven’t shaved, I’m coaching high school football right now, and we just had a big rivalry game and I was really in the thick of it with game-planning and film, and I was like, “Man, I should probably shave for this.” And then I didn’t. And now I see you and I’m like, “Oh, we’re good. I’m a week behind you. Maybe three.”
Obviously ESPN is a bunch of fools for doing what they did, but now you can just let the facial hair go. You can coach football. You’ve got your son going to Michigan State.
Hasselbeck: Yeah, so I got laid off this summer by ESPN. I was working Sunday NFL Countdown and doing features at ESPN. And in a way it was kind of a dream job. I’d been there for seven years, right out of playing football. At the end of my career, I was considering to keep going and playing and then had this opportunity to kind of work on a show with Chris Berman and the shows I grew up watching. I jumped at it and it was an awesome experience. I got to work with my brother and then they did some layoffs this summer and I got laid off. And at the time I was really — I don’t want to say devastated — but super, super disappointed. But the result of it is that I never would’ve had the courage to make the decision that was made for me. Instead of diving into NFL quarterbacks at all times, I’m getting to coach my son who’s a senior quarterback in high school at my high school who’s playing for the head coach that was there when I was there as a coach. It’s just like a dream come true. My Dad is the tight ends coach. I’m the quarterback’s coach. I ride home from practices with my son in the car. It’s like the coolest thing. And just like I said to my wife the other day, I never would’ve had the courage to quit my job to do this, but I can’t imagine in 30, 40, whatever, however many years looking back and regretting that I didn't get to do this with him and with them.
These are memories that you’ll have for the rest of your life with your family, your son.
Hasselbeck: I had never really gotten to see my son play football because I was always playing football. My last year in the NFL, I was 40 years old. So really not only was I not coaching him, I wasn’t really even seeing him play. And so now I’m seeing him and coaching him, and there’s this dynamic with fathers-sons that can be a little bit — you hear people talk about it all the time — it almost ruins the relationship. Mike Holmgren comes to mind and we’re very similar. He’s very passionate and fiery on gameday. And I also was that way, and the lessons I learned with Mike Holmgren, I’m using all of those lessons to coach my son. I’m glad I kind of experienced some bad to now not have to do that as a Dad. I’m aware of, I guess the pitfalls that could happen.
And your son was going to go to Maryland for lacrosse originally and then decided to go to Michigan State for football.
Hasselbeck: So in our house we’re huge multi-sport believers. I never would’ve picked football. Football chose me. I thought I was the next Larry Bird. I thought I was going to go play for the Boston Red Sox, and I just played football because my Dad played for the Patriots and I was like, “Oh, I should play football, too.” The sport chose me. Similar thing with my girls. My girls both played lacrosse at Boston College. One of them thought she was the next WNBA star. The other one thought she was going to win Olympic gold in hockey and the sport of lacrosse chose them. So in our house with our son who loves all these sports — he’s playing hockey, lacrosse, football — we were very anti-specializing in one sport. We were just totally against it. So he was committed to play lacrosse in college at Maryland. And when he committed there, he had never been a starting quarterback in high school football. Never. Before he committed, he said, “Coach,” — Coach John Tillman, amazing guy, amazing coach — he says, “Coach, I’m going to commit to you to play lacrosse at Maryland, and I promise I’ll never play lacrosse anywhere else. But if a big-time college football opportunity comes, I’m going to take that instead. Is that OK with you?” And these guys are probably laughing at him. They’re like, “Come on, man, you’re a sophomore. You’re like 159 pounds. You’ve never started in high school. No one’s going to come calling for you. You’ve never even started at your high school.” Sure enough, he ends up having a wonderful football season last year, has a bunch of offers for football, ends up committing to Michigan State, and I would say the rest is history, but Michigan State just fired their coach. So who knows? We're taking it one day at a time right now and just really focusing on having a good high school career.
Nearly 37,000 yards, 212 touchdowns, 3-time Pro Bowler, five division titles. Seahawks Ring of Honor. A decade with the Seahawks, changed the franchise. But I think we’ve got to start in Green Bay. I remember talking to you for a story back at the Journal Sentinel about when you first got to Green Bay. Ron Wolf is drafting quarterbacks every year. You’re in that lineage.
Hasselbeck: First of all, I got drafted. I was shocked. My college career was up and down. I went to Boston College because of Tom Coughlin. He had coached my Dad’s last team. My Dad played in the NFL for nine years: Patriots Raiders, Vikings, Giants. His last team was Bill Parcells’ New York Giants. The receivers coach was Tom Coughlin. I loved the Giants. Loved everything about the Giants. I thought I was Lawrence Taylor, and when I wasn’t Lawrence Taylor, I was Mark Bavaro. And Tom Coughlin was recruiting me, and it was all about the Giants. I went there for Tom Coughlin and Tom Coughlin — Bam! — halfway through my freshman year, he’s in Jacksonville. He’s gone. And so my college career was kind of rocky. Different head coaches, different quarterback coaches. I wasn’t the full-time starter until really the second game of my fourth year in college. If there was a transfer portal, I would’ve jumped in it. The problem was no one wanted me. Why would you? It was a rough start to a football career.
Basically, I’m done with BC and I’m training for the NFL combine. I basically got uninvited to the Combine. That's a whole other story. My agent at the time, this guy Andrew Brandt, a really smart guy, was like, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. We’ll just have a pro day and we’ll invite all 32 teams to come to Boston College and work you out.” And I’m like, “Oh, sweet. Good idea. Why was I freaking out?” Only one team shows up. The quarterback coach for the Green Bay Packers is the only guy that shows up: Andy Reid. And it doesn’t go great. It’s snowing. I can’t really do what I wanted to do. I had prepared all this stuff. So I’m like, “Oh well.”
Fast forward to the draft and I’m shocked that I get drafted by the Packers. I’m just absolutely blown away. So when I get drafted to the Packers, my dad says to me, “This is a big deal that you got drafted to the Packers because not only did you get drafted, but you got drafted to Ron Wolf as GM, Mike Holmgren head coach, Brett Favre won three MVPs in a row and been to two Super Bowls in a row. This is a compliment.”
I get there and they have so many quarterbacks. I mean, they have Brett, they’ve got Doug Peterson, they signed David Klingler. They had this guy, Kyle Wachholtz from USC. They had Chris McCoy, a quarterback from Navy. They had Ronnie McAda, who they drafted the year before. At Army, he beat me (49-7) when we went head-to-head. I’m sitting there, like, “I have no chance to make this team. None.” And they gave me these really cool Green Bay Packers practice shorts. They gave me the number 11 and I had my number in ‘em. And I was like, “You know what?” This is literally my thought every day: “This stinks. I’m never going to make this team. But what’s really cool about this is that I’ll be able to keep these shorts probably and I’ll get to show these shorts to my grandkids and be like, ‘You’re not going to believe it. But I played for the Green Bay Packers for a couple months and was teammates with Reggie White and LeRoy Butler and Brett Favre and all these guys.”
There was an offseason when Mike McCarthy, you're working with him every day because Brett’s hanging down in Mississippi. You’re driving a VW Bug. You’re living month-to-month in an apartment. And he says, “Hey, I know we got all these other quarterbacks. Go buy a truck, go build a house.” And you went and bought a Jeep and built a house.
Hasselbeck: You’re exactly right. So my first year, Mike Holmgren is the head coach. Andy Reid is the quarterback’s coach and we have that year. All those guys that I mentioned, basically I just keep rising up the depth chart on all of them. And then before I know it, it goes basically: Brett Favre, Doug Peterson and me. Everyone else is gone. And at that point I’m like, “I made it. I made it.” And the D-coordinator, Fritz Shurmur, I remember him saying to me after the final cut: “I want you to know something that you should already know: Cuts are never final.” It was in one ear out the other. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.” And sure enough, Rick Mirer gets cut by the Chicago Bears and has his choice of where to go. And he chooses to sort of come to fertile soil for quarterbacks under Mike Holmgren. All of a sudden, I’m out. I’m on the practice squad that first year. And most of my rookie year was spent playing scout team tight end during practice. Blocking guys like Reggie White. Running routes on guys like LeRoy Butler. Andy Reid came to me and he was like, “Hey, listen, can you play tight end?” I was like, “Well, my Dad was a tight end. I played tight end in Pop Warner. I’ve got a good 3-point stance.” And he’s like, “Well, listen, I’m trying to fight to have you around on the practice squad.” There’s only five guys in the practice squad back then. There’s really nothing for a fourth-string quarterback to do at practice. There’s nothing for a third-string quarterback to do at practice. So he’s like, “Can you play scout-team tight end during the week and then come to quarterback meetings?” I was like, “I’ll do whatever you want to do. I should be paying you.” And basically my rookie year with those guys was I would sit there. I wasn’t allowed to talk. No one was really allowed to talk except for Brett, Andy Reid, Mike Holmgren. And I would sit there and I would write down all the questions that I would have when they were talking about stuff. I’d be like, “I wonder what that means? I wonder what this is.” And then on the walk from the quarterback room to the locker room, I would ask Doug Pederson all the questions that I wanted to ask if I was allowed to talk in the meeting. So in a way, I kind of got Doug Peterson his start in coaching.
After that first year, Mike Holmgren goes to Seattle and takes pretty much everyone with him. Andy Reid goes to Philly and tries to take a bunch of people with him. I think a lot of people were like, “Hmm, I don’t know if you're going to be successful.” They don’t go with him. And Andy was wildly successful. Which is not a surprise. He is amazing. But basically whoever was left over there — we have Ray Rhodes come back as the head coach. Mike McCarthy is now the quarterback’s coach. Like you mentioned, that offseason they drafted Aaron Brooks really, really high. He had a lot of talent. Rick Mirer is now sticking around. Doug Pederson left and went to Philly with Andy Reid. One of the only people to go to Philly. And now it’s a totally different thing. And for me, they came in and I think it was Mike McCarthy who said, “Listen, your only shot to make this team is as the No. 2. We’re keeping Aaron Brooks as the 3. So basically you’re running around here looking like a practice-squad kid that was playing scout-team tight end driving a Volkswagen bug living in a month-to-month rental place. No one believes in you and it looks like you don’t even believe in you.” And he said to me, straight up, “You need to sell your car. Go buy a truck. You need to start building a house where everyone can see it. You need to send a message to everyone in this organization that you expect to be Brett Favre’s backup. Right now you’re walking around like, “Oh, I hope I can be Ryan Longwell’s holder. You need to start swinging the hammer. Like, ‘Yo, I’m here to stay.’”
I really didn’t have that mindset. As a rookie, I so looked up to Brett Favre… Doug Pederson… Rick Mirer. And now you’re telling me I’m supposed to compete with Rick Mirer? This dude has taught me so much in my rookie year. I loved Rick. And then the fact that I could even back up Brett — that blew my mind. So it was great advice from Mike McCarthy. Brett Favre didn’t really do the offseason program. He was gone. Rick Mirer had a family. He had a really nice house in San Diego. He was in San Diego quite a bit. Aaron Brooks was just a young guy. And so here I am with the next year’s class of rookies that come in — guys like Donald Driver. And I’m completely losing my hair. I look like I’m 40, but it’s my second year. I have zero credited seasons. And I remember driving back from practice one day and Donald Driver — and I’m running with the (starters) because no one else is around — and Donald Driver’s like, ‘Hasselbeck, man. What year is this for you?’ I was like, ‘What year do you think this is for me?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know? Six, seven.’ Nah, I was on the practice squad as a rookie last year. I just look old because I’m losing my hair.
I’ve been critical of Mike McCarthy. A lot of people are — especially after how that last game went. But him having that conversation with you at that point in your life, your career, it probably had to inject so much confidence. You’re blowing in the wind, but no, “I’m going to build the house. I’m going to get a Jeep. I’m winning this No. 2 job.”
Hasselbeck: No, no. Opposite. Opposite. First of all, when Andy Reid drafted me, I get a call from Danny Mock, he’s a scout that I talked to in the process. And he calls me and he’s like, “Hey Matt, Danny Mock here.” I go, “Hey Danny, how are you?” And he’s like, “Hold on, Coach Reid wants to talk to you real quick.” Andy Reid says, “Hey, are you watching ESPN right now? Watch the ticker. Tell me what you think about this next draft pick that we’re making.” And it was my name: Pick 187, sixth round. My name. And I’m like, “This guy, Andy Reid, is a fool.” He drafted me. He didn’t have to draft me. I wasn’t going to get drafted!” Literally in my brain, I was like, “He obviously doesn’t know how to evaluate quarterbacks. Because I’m not good enough.” That’s what went through my head. And so when Mike McCarthy said to me, “Sell your car, stop renting, build a house, send a message.” Literally, he might as well have said to me, “Go bench-press 315 pounds with no spotter.” His mindset was, “You’ll have no choice but to get it up, otherwise you’ll die.” I get it. But in my mind I was like, “I can’t do 315. I’ll die. And in my mind, I was kind of like, I don’t know if I could be Brett Favre’s backup. This team expects to be in the Super Bowl. I don’t know if I’m ready. I just had no belief in myself. And it was scary a little bit.
At the time, I was engaged. But single guy living in Green Bay in the offseason. Mike McCarthy was a single guy living in Green Bay in the offseason. We hung out all the time. He did this QB School. I hung out with him during the OTAs, during workouts, when we were done with school. We talked about Joe Montana and Rich Gannon and every guy he had ever coached. And I just got so much better. My footwork changed. Everything changed. He taught me football. It’s just a weird set of circumstances that all kind of aligned for me. And I improved so much as a player from Year 1 to Year 2 because of the time I spent with Mike.
I remember you told me once upon a time you’d be out grilling steaks and if you wanted to get crazy, you’d go to Walmart in Green Bay.
Hasselbeck: That was a Super Walmart and don’t knock it. I loved it. It was great. I loved living in Green Bay, and my best friend at the time was a linebacker named Jim Nelson from Penn State. The three of us hung out so much, they ended up moving Jim Nelson to fullback for a little while because Mike was like, “Man, you know the offense now. I’ve taught it to you. So, I went from Year 1 of just being allowed to be there and not really getting coached, but getting to watch Brett Favre get coached to Year 2. Mike McCarthy was like all-in on coaching. Loved coaching the quarterback. And it was really me and him for a lot of the time. And so I went from not getting coached to getting coached the history of the game.
Plus, you’re “Mr. August.” I remember tuning in on my grandparents’ satellite dish on “G5” whatever it was to get that random Packers broadcast from Buffalo and you’re lighting it up.
Hasselbeck: I’ve always felt like in my football career, I never really got a break. And then Year 2 and 3 in Green Bay — in those preseasons — I felt guilty because I was getting every break. My stats in the preseason were stupid. Stupid, stupid. I’d throw an in route, two DBs would fall down and the receiver would go score. I was feeling so guilty about how it went. It started out with this writer from in Wisconsin. They traded Rick Mirer away right before our first preseason game. It was a rematch of the Super Bowl: Broncos-Packers on Monday Night Football game. A game in Madison. I had never been to Madison. What an incredible place to play a football game. Unbelievable. So, he writes this big article, and I thought he said “Mr. August” or something like that. And I was like, “Oh boy, this is embarrassing.” And I walk in the locker room and I see a bunch of scouts huddled around this newspaper article that he writes. It’s pregame. They’re huddled up near the cold tubs. I’m just looking for a place to stretch. And I see them reading it — and it’s about me — and they all turn to me and say, “Well, you better ball out now.” Or something like that.
Brett Favre breaks his thumb on the seventh play of the game. I have no time to think. Mike McCarthy’s like “Go!” I run in there. I have no mouthpiece. I don’t even know if my shoelaces were tightly tied. I thought I was playing in the second half. I get out there and I think I throw four touchdown passes in the first half of that game. And I was like, “What just happened?” And then they take me out. I remember them coming up to me and being like, “Hey, we’re going to take you out. We can’t afford to lose you.” And I was like, “You can’t afford to lose me?! Three weeks ago, you would’ve traded me for a case of Gatorade. Now you’re saving me in a preseason game on Monday Night Football?” It was crazy. So I think my confidence was definitely building, but honestly, that preseason, it was nuts. And I almost can’t take credit for it. Everything just sort of went my way. It was really kind of bizarre.
But you parlayed it into being the starting quarterback, the face of the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Holmgren handpicks you to be The Guy. And you kind of referenced your relationship with him earlier. I know it started rocky. I remember you getting benched? How did that relationship evolve over time?
Hasselbeck: I got to watch Mike, my first year, coach Brett and he was really, really hard on Brett. He was hard on Andy Reid. He was hard on everybody. So, I think that helped that I got to see that because he was really hard on me when I got there. And he should have been. I had two really good preseasons and, in Green Bay, I didn’t play too much. Ran two fake field goals, and they both worked. That’s my resume. Basically it. So I get to Seattle and I was arrogant. I thought I was just going to take off where I left off with the Packers. And he was like, “No, you need to walk before you can run. We’re going to put training wheels on you early. You’ve got to earn it.” And I just was defiant. I did everything wrong. It kind of reminds me a little bit of what I saw out of Zach Wilson early in his career and we’re still early in his career. But I’m sitting there, it was just like all this was just kind of handed to me. I thought because I had earned the respect of my locker room in Green Bay over a three-year period — I think they respected the way I came in the weight room. They respected the way that I didn’t screw up practice when I was trying to block Reggie White. I think they respected the way that I would stay late with all the backup tight ends there and throw.
I got to Seattle and I just thought I had earned their respect. I had not. Not at all. They’re looking at me like, “Dude, you’ve thrown 29 passes in your life.” So, it was rough. I didn’t play great. Mike and I kind of batted heads a little bit. And at the same time, Trent Dilfer is my backup quarterback. He had just won the Super Bowl. Everything I was doing wrong, he was doing right. The offensive line loved him. Our defense loved him. I’m sure our wide receivers liked him more than me, too. It was just like everybody. For me, I just had a lot to learn and I got to learn so much in Green Bay for three years watching Brett, being around Doug, learning from Rick. But then I got to Seattle and I thought, “Oh, I got it. I know it all.” And the biggest thing I didn’t know, and I don’t think anyone could have taught me, is what I watched Brett do — play really, really, really well while really hurt. And that was the thing that I failed miserably at. I got banged up and I thought it was good enough that I was out there. But no one cares. No one caress that you were hurt. No one says, “Oh, this is your QBR, but he was hurt.” No one cares! I needed to learn how to play really well while injured.
Yeah, I think you told me once that 2001 was the most miserable year of your life. You get hit by Michael Strahan on a Hail Mary at the end of the half, you have a floating clavicle in you. A newborn baby. You’re living next to a fire station.
Hasselbeck: There were so many rookie mistakes. We have our first child in October — in the middle of the season — and we were renting in Seattle. We were renting in Bellevue, Washington, right next door to the fire station. And so I talked to the realtor and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know about being next to the fire station.” And the person’s like, “There’s this rule. They’ve got to be a mile and a half away before they can turn their sirens on.” And I was like, “OK, that makes sense.” Well, of course they’re not doing that. And what are you going to do? Complain? “Hey, I know you’re on the way to save somebody’s life, but please don’t use your siren. Trying to sleep over here!”
So between a newborn baby, sirens all the time, we got no sleep that from October. Our closest relatives were in probably Chicago. No help. We had no idea what we were doing. And I’m banged up and the entire stadium is booing me and there are “Dilfer!” chants every game. My team doesn’t like me. Doesn’t want me. It was a rough experience, but I’m thankful for it because it for sure hardened me. Helped me get to where I needed to go. I learned. I definitely improved. I learned how to be coachable, which was a real struggle early on. And I forged a friendship with my quarterback coach, Jim Zorn. I don’t know if we could have gotten as close as we got had I never had gone through the fire. He helped kind of pull me out of it, and ultimately, so did Trent Dilfer and so did Brock Huard and some of the guys that I was teammates with.
Trent Dilfer went through the same exact immaturity in his Tampa career. You’re going through it, but eventually you get healthy. You’re the starter. You almost beat those Packers at Lambeau Field a couple of years later (in the playoffs). Of course you should say that at midfield.
Hasselbeck: Are you talking about the Al Harris pick?
“We want the ball and we’re going to score.”
Hasselbeck: I don’t regret it for a second. Not for a second. We played the Packers (earlier) that year of ’03 and everyone in the building knows I’m not a mellow person. So everyone in the building was like, “You’ve got to control your emotions. You’re going back to Lambeau, you’re playing your friends.” And I was like, “Alright, alright. Fine, fine. I’ll be coachable. I’ll listen.” And I played boring. I controlled my emotions. I was just like, “Oh, I’m going to play it safe. We could have won the game, but we lost.” But you know why we lost? No one did anything special. We were almost just happy to be there. The Packers were this great team with all these future Hall of Famers and we didn’t win and we could have won. And I just remember being like, “Whatever.” So we make the playoffs that year — shockingly. Didn’t expect to.
You know what? House Money.” And Mike Holmgren was kind of like “House Money. No one expected you to be here.” But he also said, “Listen, I coached at San Francisco. There was a moment where we as a coaching staff — Bill Walsh and everybody — we said, ‘You know what? These guys are good enough, but they don’t believe it.’ I coached in Green Bay, and there was a moment in Green Bay with Reggie White and Brett Favre and those guys as a coaching staff, we were like, ‘These guys are good enough, but we don’t know if they know it yet.’ And he said it to us. We’re in Appleton, Wisconsin the night before the game. And he was like, “I have been there. I know what it takes. This team right here, the guys in this room, we have what it takes. You just don’t believe it. As players. We as coaches, we believe it. You guys don’t believe it yet.”
So many times, for three years, I sat on the sidelines in Green Bay and I watched teams come in there and get intimidated by, “Oooo Brett Favre! And Reggie White and the mystique of Lambeau and Ray Nitschke and Bart Starr and cold weather. We were just as cold. Our quarterback meetings at halftime were sometimes in the sauna. We would sit in there in the sauna and be like — (trembling) — “What do you like?” “Oh, I like 93 blast.” “What do you like?” “Oh, I like XY Hook.” “You like dagger?” “I love dagger.” “Okay.” And then we would run out of the locker room with no sleeves on, run out, like, “Oh, we’re not cold. We’re not cold.” I remember playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they’d be like, “Man, these guys are psychos. They’re not even cold. It's freezing up here.” We were cold! So anyway, just having this mindset: Not intimidated, don’t care. You’re not as good as you think you are. I know you guys, you don't even practice outside! You hate the cold like we do. You practice in the Don Hutson Center if it’s like 56 degrees. Just stop. We’re good. We can do this. We know you don’t believe in your defense either. So just that mindset. Anyway, so the coin toss, we go out with John Randle, who’s one of my favorite teammates of all-time. Hype man of all hype men. He’s the best. And I just remember being fired up at Lambeau. Can you believe we took them to overtime? Already a win.
We lost the game, but we could have lost the game a bunch of different times. And it was fun game to be a part of. Super fun. We lost on the last play of the game that year in a wild card. The very next year, we lost on the last play of the game at home to the Rams on a pass in the end zone that I threw too hard. And I really think that the loss in ’03 in the playoffs, the loss in ‘04 in the playoffs, really propelled us to the success that we had in ‘05 to be the one seed, to get the bye, to have the kind of year that we had. And then unfortunately, we didn’t get it done in the Super Bowl, which is still crazy to me because I really felt like that was our year.
You were 13-3 in 2005. But really, I think you guys rested your starters against Green Bay in that finale.
Hasselbeck: Week 1 we go down to Jacksonville and get spanked. Blown out of the water. They destroy us. Then we win basically every game until the last game where we rested our starters. And we thought it was Brett Favre’s last game.
It’s 2005. He plays another half-decade.
Hasselbeck: It’s crazy. He’s crazy.
Emotional hug with Mike.
Hasselbeck: He got on our team plane after the game saying goodbye to everyone. People are getting their picture and an autograph from Brett. We thought it was it that year. But we only played our starters so that Shaun Alexander could get the touchdown record and lock up the MVP. That was the mindset. And we did lose one game in-between there at Washington. Our field goal kicker, who was an awesome kicker, hit the upright on a game-winner, which just doesn’t happen. It’s like when Justin Tucker misses a kick. You’re just like, “Not our day.” But yeah, it was a great year. There’s some good lessons in that, too. Even losing Week 1 the way that we did, I sort of chuckle now when I see NFL teams get blown out Week 1, and the media’s just like, “Oh, here’s who’s not going to the Super Bowl!” No, Week 1 is a liar. It’s like this unbelievable blind date. You have no idea what they’re going to unleash on you. It’s very uneasy. For the teams that are good at game-planning, Week 1 is really tough.
Obviously you guys were hosed in the Super Bowl, right? The offensive pass interference on Darrell Jackson, not even close. Barely touches the guy. Roethlisberger is down at the one. The holding call later, it looks like an offsides.
Hasselbeck: A lot of things have come out of that for me. No. 1, I won’t ever really blame officiating. And I for sure will never let my kids blame officiating. My kids are playing travel sports. And it almost felt like the most natural thing after a lot of games: For them to get in the car afterwards — after a loss — and be like, “The ref didn’t…” No, that doesn’t happen in my house. It doesn't happen in our car. And I think that’s a life lesson. Those guys are human, too. They’re doing the best they can.
I will say this though, and I feel strongly about this. The NFL in that Super Bowl and in others, and maybe even now. Those guys and women work as a team. We all do in every business that we’re in. And the way they were doing it then, and I think maybe the way that they’re doing it now, is they would take each different type of official who graded out well during the year — and as a reward — they would let them have the Super Bowl. No, no. That’s why a Super Bowl team would always beat the Pro Bowl team. You’re not together. It’s all about communicating. Watch an NFL game sometime. When ref throws a flag, his buddy, his partner in crime, his teammate, they’re throwing their flag right after him: “Yeah, I saw that, too!” And when they huddle up, why do they get the players out of the huddle when they huddle up? They’re conversing on, “What’d you see?” They work as a unit. And I can’t tell you how many referees, how many officials, umpires, everybody after that Super Bowl have come up to me and said, “Hey, I really don’t like how we do this. Can you imagine if you had to play with somebody else’s center? Somebody else’s wide receiver? Somebody else’s playcaller calling into your helmet? It makes your job harder.” And even at ESPN, I was on Sunday NFL Countdown, had great chemistry. Our producer in our ear, we had great chemistry. Our statistician, our host, me, Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi, Rex Ryan, all of it. If all of a sudden, we had just randomly one day, it was like, “Oh, it’s Terry Bradshaw! And now it’s Nate Burleson, and now it's Rich Eisen.”
So the focus really needs to be on us. And I think we over-tried, if that even makes sense. We over-tried in that Super Bowl, and I didn’t fully understand it until Pete Carroll became my head coach in 2010.
Hasselbeck: Instead of understanding: “No, you were the best team in football that year.” There was a reason at the Pro Bowl when they announced the Pro Bowl team, it felt like half our team was there. We had that kind of a year. And in the biggest game of our lives — maybe because we had two weeks to prepare for it, or we wanted it so bad — we didn't play our best. Because we got outside of ourselves and we were pressing, and then we couldn’t overcome some things.
And the “Beast Quake” game (in 2010), we remember Marshawn Lynch and the seismic activity. You were amazing in that game. Four touchdowns. You were playing through an injury too, right?
Hasselbeck: Yeah, I was banged up that year. I had a broken wrist. I was at the bottom of a pile that year at Arizona. And they had a great defense. Arizona didn’t ever get the respect that I felt like they deserved. We were playing them with Kurt Warner and company and just a lot of different quarterbacks. But their defense was always really tough. And I remember being at the bottom of a quarterback sneak. The play was over. And Darnell Docket, one of their defensive linemen, we had a history and he was a fierce competitor. And I’m at the bottom of the pile. The whistle has blown. They’re blowing the whistle and he’s trying to rip the ball out of my hands. I just was stubborn. I was just like, “No, I’m not giving you this ball.” And he was trying to get it. And I’m like, “No! I’m not going to let it go.” Something had to give. And all of a sudden: Crack! Crack! Two bones in my wrist break because I was so stupid. And so I break my left wrist and it kind of made the rest of the year a miserable year.
But anyway, we go into that game and I was banged up. I didn’t even play the game before. And Pete Carroll, his whole thing that year was like, “Hey, it’s all about the ball. Don’t turn over the ball.” And I turned over the ball more than I had ever turned over the ball. The only thing I can really equate it to is when you’re playing in a golf scramble and someone’s like: “Just don't leave the putt short.” And what do I do? I leave the putt short.
My coaches that week: Jedd Fish, the quarterback’s coach, and Jeremy Bates, they were like, “Hey, you’re playing tentative. You’re playing scared not to turn the ball over. You’re driving a car like someone who’s taking driver’s ed: 10 and 2.” And they were like, “We’ve seen you drive. You’re from Boston!” Those roads make no sense. Play quarterback the way that you drive: aggressively. It’s the safest way to drive. Drive aggressive. Play quarterback aggressive. And similar to the Green Bay thing, we had played the Saints earlier in the year, played not to turn the ball over. We were close, had a chance, but we needed someone to be a difference-maker. And we lost. So that game, we were 7-9, we won the division. The whole world’s like, “Oh, you guys shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. You’re 7-9. It’s not even a winning record. The defending world champs have to fly all the way out to South Alaska to play the Seahawks? That's not fair. Sean Payton shouldn’t have to do that. Drew Brees shouldn’t have to do that. That’s not fair.”
So Pete Carroll just had our minds right. He was like, “Hey, we’re not 7-9. We’re 0-0. We deserve to be here.” And then my quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator were like, “Cut it loose. You’re a kid from Boston who drives like a maniac. Play quarterback that way.” And to me, that made sense.
We schemed them up. A lot of smoke and mirrors. A lot of taking what they did really well and using it against ‘em. And it ended with the Beast Quake run. One of the funny things about that game is my very first pass in that game — I didn’t start the game before — gets intercepted. It gets tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, and I’m like, “That’s it, I’m done.” So I’m used to the Mike Holmgren experience on the sidelines: Just go over there, take it a man, whatever. I run straight over to Pete Carroll, ready for him to bench me. Completely ready. First play the game, his whole thing is “don’t turn the ball over.” First pass, third and 1, gets intercepted. And he’s like, “Hey, don’t worry about that. We need you today.” And I was like, “What?” Just totally shocked me. And the rest is sort of history until Marshawn’s amazing run. The best run in NFL history.
When I hear the name “Matt Hasselbeck,” I just think of all of the pain that you played through. Your toughness. Is that how you kind of look back at your career? Broken ribs, torn MCL, torn labrum, broken fingers, that floating clavicle, the back.
Hasselbeck: You know what’s funny though? I’ve only had one surgery in my entire life. And even that, I don’t think I really needed to have it. Drew Brees kind of talked me into it. He had the same surgery the year before on his throwing arm. I was there just for a second opinion in Alabama. They put him on the phone and talked me into it. I’m glad he did, but that’s the only surgery I ever had. So in a way, yeah, I was banged up a lot. But I also feel very fortunate. I played 18 years and then five years in college and then high school and all that, and had one surgery. That’s kind of crazy. My kids have all had more surgeries than me, so I feel very, very fortunate.
For me, it was more how I came into the NFL. And even my college experience. If I ever came out, I don’t know that I was ever going back in. And I kind of remember just even Brett Favre talking about it a lot. He got his start when Don Majkowski, The Majik Man, got hurt in a game. Brett goes in and he never, ever comes back out. And there were so many times when Brett was hurt, and I would hear his Dad say to me, or his brothers would say to me, or maybe he would say to me: “It could happen to me. If it happened to Don Majkowski, it could happen to me.” And I remember sitting there and being like, “It’s never going to happen to you. You’re Brett Favre.” But the mindset is really special: You’re going to have to literally drag me off the field. And I think that’s the mindset. And I think going back to when I said I don’t think I had earned the respect of my teammates when I showed up in Seattle. I was kind of like what maybe the locker room felt about Zach Wilson early on. Like everything’s been handed to you: “Oh, you’re just the starter. Just because. We’re naming you the captain.”
I had to earn it. And one way that you can earn respect in a locker room — obviously playing really well. But sucking it up and playing through injuries that your teammates have seen people not play through those injuries. That was something that I failed at early in ‘01, and something for the rest of my career that I really tried to model. Even to the end. In my last years in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck gets hurt. The locker room’s like, “Ah, we’ve got no chance.” And our record wasn’t great. I come in at 40 years old. I was looking around and what I saw in that locker room — maybe it’s the next generation — but the teams I played on in Green Bay and Seattle, and even Tennessee, guys would’ve played through some of this stuff. Whether I should have or shouldn’t have, I probably shouldn’t have played. But it’s sending a message like, “Hey, if I can play with this, you can play with that. We need everyone to at least have that mindset and then let the coaches say, ‘You know what? I appreciate it, but you can barely run or you can’t throw or we got someone else.’”
That’s part of the game with life lessons. Dealing with injuries and saying prayers before a game.
Taking that shot of Toradol in the ass.
Hasselbeck: And I think part of it is just like the medical staff, too. You want to talk about unsung heroes, whether it’s the equipment guys who come up with a contraption to help you get through a game, can’t say enough about them. About the athletic trainers. You hear Patrick Mahomes after he won the Super Bowl last year, he was like, “Couldn't have done this without Julie Frymyer and half the world’s like, “Who the heck is that?” Most people who played are like, “It was probably the athletic trainer that helped him get through this.” Totally get it.
So, 2008 is when you had the back injury and you’re going on your weekly radio show because the Seahawks want to create the illusion that you might come back. That had to have been tough. You’re going 4-12. And then it was the two separated ribs in 2015 with the Colts right? You couldn’t breathe. You couldn’t drive a car.
Hasselbeck: Yeah, the back injury was bad. I just remember being frustrated and I’m sure everyone in Seattle was frustrated. We were playing this game like, “Oh, I’m going to be back. I’m going to be fine.” Because my style of play was very different than my backup’s style of play. Seneca Wallace. So basically we were sort of pretending like I was going to play knowing full well there was a very low likelihood that I was going to be able to play. And the mental anguish of dealing with injuries sometimes can be almost with the physical anguish of it. I don’t know. That was not a year that I’m super proud of. I don't think I handled it well and I learned a lot through it, but it was definitely a tough year.
But what a career, what a life, and you’re feeling good today?
Hasselbeck: Honestly, that's the cool thing about coaching high school football is that you’re around it. You get to throw a little bit. This last game, we only had two quarterbacks healthy. And so I’m out there, I’m throwing pat-and-go. I’m throwing routes before practice. A lot of people are like, “Oh man, you could still spin it. You could still play!” I’m like, “Not a chance.” Throwing the football is just a fraction of what it takes to play quarterback. And so it’s fun to get out there. It’s fun to throw, but it is good to not be the person taking hits or having to stand in there and look down the barrel of a gun.
Well, selfishly, I miss seeing you right on TV. But you can come on here any day, anytime. Man, this was awesome.
Hasselbeck: It’s like a little memory lane therapy session. But the funny thing about coaching is I can’t tell you how many of my coaches I’ve reached out to or tried to reach out to and been like, “Man, I had no idea. You weren't really trying to just bust my chops. You were just trying to help me be better.” And that's kind of what I feel now as a coach dealing with these kids. I'm like, “Trust me. Just trust me! I'm not even making this up. Bill Walsh said this to Joe Montana who said it to Steve Young, who said it to Mike Holmgren, who said it to Brett Favre, who said it to Andy Reid who said it to Donovan McNabb. The list goes on and on. Just trust me. Don’t make this hard. Just submit to this. Just run it this way or just read it out this way.” So I’ve had to apologize to so many coaches, like “I’m sorry that I questioned you on stuff I have never questioned you on.”
So you’re on your track. We’re looking at the next Mike Holmgren, right?
Hasselbeck: I wear this WHOOP fitness tracker. We played our first Friday night game this year, and then the next day my whoop was like, “You were in the high-stress zone for two hours and 30 minutes from this time to this time.” I was like, “Yeah, I certainly was. You knew it.” So I’ve sort of joked with a lot of the coaches. I’m like, “Man, I don’t know if you know this, but coaching’s really stressful.” And these coaches are like, “Oh, you think? You're just now realizing that?” When I was playing, I was like, “Oh, you guys got it easy. We’re the ones that are out here doing it. You’re just watching.” Not true at all. I have so much respect for coaches.