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Originally published Friday, December 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Healthy Engram thriving for Seahawks

Just a year ago, Bobby Engram was taking the first tentative steps back to football. The thyroid illness that briefly baffled doctors and...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sunday

Cardinals @ Seahawks,

1 p.m., Ch. 13

KIRKLAND — Just a year ago, Bobby Engram was taking the first tentative steps back to football. The thyroid illness that briefly baffled doctors and doggedly threatened his career finally had been corralled.

Cautiously he was carving pass routes again inside the team's chilly practice bubble. Doing a little more every day. Feeling better with every route he ran.

In early December, Engram finally was back.

For so much of the season he had felt so sick and so tired and so worried about his future. His illness lingered like an unhealed wound.

And every time it entered his head, that he might not play again, he had to fight off that idea the way he had fought off menacing linebackers for the past 11 seasons.

"Once they finally diagnosed what it was, I wasn't concerned about whether I would live or die," Engram said after practice this week. "There was a split second of indecision, maybe three or four or five days, in the beginning when they couldn't tell me what it was.

"But when they told me what it was, I was cool with that. And after that, my concern was just trying to get healthy. I just didn't know if I was going to be able to come back last year or not. It truly was a miracle that I was able to come back so fast."

He played a handful of plays on Dec. 10 and didn't catch a pass. But he caught 13 in the final two games of the regular season and the two playoff games.

Now a year later he has rescued the season. At the age of 34, after missing nine games last season, after worrying if he would ever catch another pass, Engram is having the best season of his career.

With four games left, he has caught 72 balls (his career high is 88 with Chicago in 1999). Only six receivers have caught more.

"What I went through last year, absolutely it makes this year even sweeter," Engram said. "Any time you face adversity and you're able to come back it makes everything sweeter, no matter what you do in life."

With the injuries to Deion Branch, Shaun Alexander, D.J. Hackett and Marcus Pollard, Engram has been the offense's go-to guy.

Where would the Seahawks be without him?

"Our record [8-4] would not be what it is right now without Bobby," offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. "Bobby's got a great feel for the game. He understands situations in the game. He understands the pressure of the game. And [quarterback] Matt [Hasselbeck] knows where he is on every play. And you can count on Bobby every time, on every play, that he's going to do it right."

Hasselbeck and Engram have become the Stockton-to-Malone of football.

"We've been together for seven years now and we took some growing pains, took some lumps together," Engram said. "And I just think you're seeing the fruit of a lot of hard labor over the years right now."

It used to be that Engram was Hasselbeck's third-down security blanket. Now he has become the quarterback's every play, every down, Everyman.

"He thinks like a quarterback out there," Hasselbeck said. "He's very sure-handed and dependable. And if somebody's dependable, you're going to go to him over and over again."

Engram came to the Hawks at the end of the 2001 training camp, Hasselbeck's first season in Seattle. At 5 feet 10, Engram wasn't a large, physical presence in the middle of the field and that, coupled with their unfamiliarity, made Hasselbeck reluctant to throw to him.

But when Hasselbeck was benched in favor of Trent Dilfer, Hasselbeck noticed that Dilfer threw to Engram all the time, seemingly in every important situation. And it was working.

Further, Hasselbeck noticed, Dilfer and Engram spent as much time together in the film room as they did on the practice field. When Hasselbeck got his job back, he went to the film room with Dilfer and Engram and began throwing to Engram more and more.

Now, in his 12th NFL season, Engram is having his best season. He says he has learned the secret to longevity.

"It's all about the individual. To me, age is but a number. It's all about how you take care of yourself," Engram said. "I've tried to ratchet my training up a whole 'nother notch. And I feel better now than, I think, any time in my career. Now that I look back on it, I think the thyroid condition might have gone undetected for a couple of years."

Now, every game, every catch, every down, Engram feels as if he's living a miracle.

"I'm just thankful that I'm on the field this year and feeling as good as I am," Engram said. "And I'm trying to make the most of every opportunity."

His recovery has given Engram a sense of perspective, a second chance at his dream job. He has become a force again, for an offense that desperately needed him.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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