Matt Hasselbeck had finished offering his customary articulate insights to the Seattle media via teleconference when it was time to turn over the phone to his understudy/heir Jake Locker.
“Jacob Cooper Locker, get over here right now,” he shouted in a paternal tone.
“I know I’m in trouble when he uses my full name,” Locker kidded when he got on the line.
The exchange is symbolic of Hasselbeck’s role as willing tutor on the field and kindly “uncle” off the field, and also Locker’s respect and appreciation for the veteran’s attention.
The two quarterbacks, iconic to the Seattle area, return Saturday with the Tennessee Titans when they take on the Seahawks in the exhibition opener at CenturyLink Field.
The Titans drafted Locker, the University of Washington star, with the No. 8 overall pick in the spring of 2011, then signed former Seahawks star Hasselbeck as a free agent.
The plan was for Hasselbeck to play as long as he was able and efficient, with the understanding that he’d be the perfect veteran mentor to Locker.
Early results were successful. Hasselbeck led a Titans revival (9-7) by passing for 3,571 yards and 18 touchdowns. Locker, in limited action, put together a 99.4 passer rating with four touchdowns and no interceptions in 66 attempts.
The competition for the starting role is more acute this preseason with the 24-year-old Locker presenting more of a challenge to Hasselbeck, 36. But that hasn’t affected the relationship between them.
“I have just been very fortunate to have him a part of my life … both as a player, and as a person,” Locker said. “He just has a lot of great advice on how to deal with stuff, how to handle things. That’s what’s great about it, and I think people might not realize that it goes beyond football.”
Locker, a new father after the July arrival of daughter Colbie Jo, has taken relevant tips from Hasselbeck – a veteran parent, as well.
All part of the job, Hasselbeck says.
“Conversations come up (among the quarterbacks) about discipline and parenting and those kinds of things, and truthfully, that’s part of playing the position,” Hasselbeck said. “How you handle the season, how you handle your time at work versus your time at home, how you are as a husband, how you are as a dad, and ironically, a lot those things translate into playing quarterback well … leading a team and dealing with different personalities and making sacrifices.”
Hasselbeck addressed what could be an awkward situation for a veteran helping an understudy learn the things that will eventually cost him his job.
“I think there’s an added responsibility to be very unselfish and very transparent and helpful to the guys that you’re competing with,” Hasselbeck said. “There were so many older veteran quarterbacks that I played with that helped me so much, when I know across the league that wasn’t the norm.”
He recalled early in his time in Seattle when veteran Trent Dilfer was brought in to compete for the job. Dilfer was so helpful that Hasselbeck was suspicious he was being set up.
“I was really cautious, like, ‘Why would you try to help me? You should be trying to take my job,’ ” Hasselbeck said. “I was like … ‘You must think I’m a moron, I’m not falling for this.’ Looking back, that’s really important to me and I’m really thankful that I had guys like that that were willing to share and help, and pump me up, and kick me in the butt and whatever needed to be done.”
Hasselbeck set most of the franchise passing records in his 10 seasons in Seattle, but he posted dwindling numbers on a series of weak teams his final three seasons.
When he hit free agency in 2011, he was not re-signed. He has regrets about the way it all ended here, but said there’s nothing he could have done differently.
“I appreciated the way that I heard it from (coach Pete Carroll),” he said. “He and (general manager John Schneider) called me … and they were upfront and professional about it and just said, ‘Hey we’re going a different way.’ I was appreciative of that and I think in a lot of ways it made it a lot easier for me to move on. I did the best that I could to cut the ties for a little bit and kind of emotionally step into this role and put all the focus and energy that I needed here. It wasn’t easy but I’m happy with how the first year went.”
Locker said he doubted he’d have much time to make this quick trip much of a homecoming.
But Hasselbeck will savor a return to CenturyLink, recalling leaving the field the last time, his son Henry on his shoulders, after the Seahawks upset the Saints in the playoffs following the 2010 season.
“(It’s) obviously a place that was really, really special to me and my family,” he said. “Through it all, great memories and really the place where we grew up and matured and where all my kids were born. It’ll be nice to come home and get a chance to experience that just one more time.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling