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Super Bowl XL
Hasselbeck's star is rising
Seattle Times staff reporter
DETROIT — Seahawks cornerback Jimmy Williams saw first what the sports world embraced this week. In the Seahawks locker room, after they manhandled the Carolina Panthers and clinched the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, Williams embraced teammate Seneca Wallace.
Their conversation started where most Seahawks conversations start lately.
With quarterback Matt Hasselbeck — soon-to-be international superstar.
"Matt looks like he's glowing," Williams said to Wallace. "Like no one can touch him now."
Did he say glowing? That's too easy — so feel free to insert bald joke here.
Hasselbeck has heard them all this week. Heard Rush Limbaugh on his radio show talking about how all he knows about the Seahawks is they have the league MVP and some bald-headed quarterback. Heard his center, Robbie Tobeck, talk about how Super Bowls make quarterbacks into Super Stars — the global, household, instantly recognizable kind.
"But most quarterbacks, you know, they're All-American guys," Tobeck says. "They've got a full head of hair."
The Hasselbeck file
Ht.: 6 feet 3. Wt.: 223 pounds.
College: Played at Boston College from 1994 to 1997, completing 390 of 701 passes for 4,548 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Team had losing records in his final three seasons.
NFL: Drafted by Green Bay in sixth round of 1998 draft, the 187th pick overall. Was on the practice squad in 1998, then threw just 29 passes in two years playing behind Brett Favre. Traded to Seattle along with a first-round (No. 17 overall) and seventh-round pick for the Seahawks' first-round (No. 10 overall) and third-round picks. Lost his starting job in Seattle to Trent Dilfer in 2002, but regained it when Dilfer was injured against Dallas at midseason. Named to his first Pro Bowl in 2003. Led NFC in passer rating this season and was named to his second Pro Bowl.
Personal: Wife Sarah, two daughters (Annabelle 4, Mallory 2) and son (Henry, 7 months). Father Don was an NFL tight end, brother Tim is a backup QB for the New York Giants and sister in-law Elisabeth is a co-host of "The View" and a former "Survivor" contestant.
At least longtime friend and Seahawks long-snapper J.P. Darche could be counted on to provide serious insight into Matt Hasselbeck, marketing machine.
"The Super Bowl will make Matt bigger than life," Darche says. "But you know what will help him most?"
Um, winning the Super Bowl?
Watch out Mr. Clean. Bald is becoming beautiful again, and it has a new spokesman poised to assume the title of Sport's Most Famous Bald Man.
But that's not the only reason this week belongs to Matt Hasselbeck more than any other Seahawk. He is also poised to become the ultimate kind of superstar.
He has done a "milk mustache" print ad, been adopted as the favorite player of the "Ellen DeGeneres show" and played tambourine on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." By the end of Super Bowl week, particularly if the Seahawks win, it will be tough to determine which Hassel is more popular — Matt Hasselbeck or David Hasselhoff of "Baywatch" fame and thick-haired mane.
The task of marketing Matt Hasselbeck falls to John Drana, a longtime friend and sports lawyer who doubles as Hasselbeck's marketing adviser. Earlier this season, Drana received only a few Hasselbeck-related inquiries. Lately the offers are pouring in — phone calls and e-mails and faxes for the newest star in sports. During a recent interview, Drana's business phone rang eight times.
"He's gone from a rather obscure quarterback in the Pacific Northwest to being introduced on a national level, a worldwide level," Drana says. "There's no question Super Bowl exposure equates into those kind of large dollars. It's obviously more substantial than anything he's seen.
"What I keep saying to myself is, 'Boy, we still haven't played the game. What if they win? And what if they win, and he's MVP?' "
That's the kind of question David Carter studies for a living. He's a sports-marketing expert and a professor at USC's business school. And like many people outside the Pacific Northwest, he admits he couldn't pick Hasselbeck out of a police lineup.
In that respect, Carter says this Super Bowl will be different for Hasselbeck than some of the more famous quarterbacks — Carter references John Elway and Joe Montana — who had higher expectations coming in. If the Seahawks do win, though, and then sustain success for more than just one season, Carter notes the possibility of Hasselbeck "becoming the next Tom Brady."
"To almost everybody outside of the Northwest, he's an unknown," Carter says. "Half the people watching Sunday won't be able to believe the old "Baywatch" guy got another job. But what better way to burst onto a national stage than through the Super Bowl."
In so many ways, Hasselbeck has been groomed for this spotlight, this game. The attention remains secondary — Drana says they turned down national offers to fully concentrate on the Super Bowl — but Hasselbeck seems at ease in the center of the circus.
Tackle Sean Locklear sat 20 feet in front of Hasselbeck's media table. He felt like a matador during the running of the bulls as journalists scrambled past him to surround Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck answered questions for the full hour, talking about how Trent Dilfer became his mentor, his high-school football memories, and whether he would appear on his sister-in-law's television show "The View."
"This is the most attention I've ever received," Hasselbeck said when asked about the Seahawks getting little respect. "So you won't hear me complain."
Drana says several factors play into that comfort. Like coming from a football family — his father, Don, owns a Super Bowl ring from 1983 — and spending time in the Green Bay Packers organization after several teammates went to two Super Bowls.
"He was built for this type of climb," Drana says, before pausing.
"Hold on one second. There's my phone again. Here we go."
A few teammates and coaches wonder why Hasselbeck didn't reach national stardom earlier. They say he has been an elite quarterback for a few years now. Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell suggests the only things Hasselbeck has to prove in the Super Bowl are if he can win the biggest game in sports and whether he's the "best quarterback in the NFC."
But there's more to marketing than just football, and Hasselbeck has a few things going for him. Tobeck, in all seriousness, calls Hasselbeck a role model, the "kind of guy you want your kids to look up to."
Dilfer took one look at Hasselbeck's stylish wardrobe and called him a "metrosexual." Quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn points to Hasselbeck's sharp wit and quick jokes. Wallace says that Hasselbeck has a great story — traded to the Seahawks and benched before he became a star.
And still, they can't resist. The headline in the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday said it all: The Young & The Hairless. The first part referred to Pittsburgh's second-year quarterback. The second?
"He's becoming a superstar now," Darche says. "Maybe a wig will help him. We've got to figure something out."
"It's going to be interesting to see how it works out for Matt," Tobeck says. "There's going to be bald guys everywhere paying attention to that."
"Too much has been made of that," Drana says. "But I will add this. I don't know how many bald people there are out there — but it's got to be a pretty good demographic."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company