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Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Greg Bishop
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. It arrived one day like an unexpected birthday present, a letter addressed to the Hasselbeck residence from the Boston College Hall of Fame.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could barely contain himself as he tore open the letter. This was the Super Bowl of college honors, the Pro Bowl of college accolades. He pulled the white paper from the envelope and started reading.
"Dear Sarah," it started.
Turns out, Sarah Hasselbeck, a former All-American field hockey goalie at BC, would be inducted before her husband. And that's how connected the Hasselbeck family is to this leafy, autumn-colored postcard of a college campus.
Matt played quarterback for the Eagles. So did younger brother Tim, now with the Washington Redskins. Both married women from their alma mater. And youngest brother Nathanael returned kickoffs and punts for the Eagles before transferring this year to Massachusetts.
"The Hasselbecks have been good for Boston College football," coach Tom O'Brien said this week. "It's unfortunate there weren't a few more of them."
Tomorrow, when the Seahawks play the Patriots in Foxborough, Matt will play his first game in Massachusetts since he starred at Boston College. He grew up in the state where his dad, Don, played tight end for the Patriots from 1977 to 1983.
Just ask Reid Oslin, a veritable fountain of Hasselbeck information and the former media relations director at BC.
Oslin remembers two instances in particular. There was the time, in the winter of Hasselbeck's junior year, when he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Core and spent time in Jamaica working with a leper colony. One day, a child fell into a cesspool and Hasselbeck jumped in to save her.
"He came out with the child all right," Oslin said, "but he also come out with a case of hepatitis."
Then there was one summer when Hasselbeck went to a wedding reception. Thunder and lightning shook the outdoor tent he stood under. Then lightning hit, injuring several people, including Hasselbeck.
"I don't know if there was a cloud over his head or what," Oslin said. "But he seemed to have more bad luck. For such a great guy, it was strange. He was one of my favorites."
At the end of the conversation, Oslin lingered. He asked for a small favor.
"Tell him I said hi."
Everybody said that. Christian Fauria, the Patriots tight end. O'Brien, who coached Matt only during his senior season. The secretary in the media relations office.
"He was such a sweet young man," she said, pulling out a copy of the Boston Globe with a blurb on his return.
But Hasselbeck doesn't think his return will be big news, even after he starred at Xaverian Brothers High School, a local powerhouse near Foxborough stocked with little Patriots. Even after he left BC and made the NFL and, eventually, made the Pro Bowl. Even now, when he returns home to face the undefeated team he once played ball boy for.
"In a way," Hasselbeck said, "it's a dream come true. At the same time, this is the best team in football, probably one of the best defenses of all time and one of the best teams of all time."
That's how they remember Hasselbeck. Self-deprecating. Humorous in that way. Likable. Exuberant. But focused and determined come football time. Much like he is now.
Oslin remembers a game against Hawaii. Hasselbeck came off the bench and led the Eagles to a touchdown and a field goal as time expired for the win. He remembers Hasselbeck with hair, a light brown, almost blond, and long since gone.
"It was getting thinner, as I recall," Oslin quipped.
O'Brien remembers playing West Virginia in the first game of Hasselbeck's senior season. The Eagles ran a pass that went for a touchdown. The excitable Hasselbeck came running off the field, screaming, "That's the best pass I've ever seen!"
"Just relax there," O'Brien told him. "We'll be OK."
"And that's exuberance," O'Brien said this week. "That's Matt."
They'll be watching tomorrow, even if the rest of Boston eyes the Red Sox, even if the Patriots on a 19-game winning streak aren't within miles of the front page of the sports section.
"It will mean more to him," Nathanael said, "but not that much more. My brother is pretty focused. Sure, it's great he's coming back to Massachusetts. But they've got to kill that streak."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or email@example.com; staff reporter José Miguel Romero contributed to this report.
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