Seattle Seahawks

Sorry, Charlie deserves a shot

So it turns out, the best snapshot of Matt Hasselbeck’s decade with the Seahawks was the last snapshot, when the quarterback celebrated his franchise-record playoff performance by giving 5-year-old Henry Hasselbeck a piggyback ride into Seattle’s version of a sunset.

Six-and-a-half months after the final Seahawks home game of Hasselbeck’s career, the image of the sainted Matthew remains vivid. Who remembers the immobile 35-year-old ill-equipped to escape a collapsed pocket when he throws four touchdown passes against the defending Super Bowl champions?

Well, I remember. I also remember when Hasselbeck was the intriguing but very raw project Mike Holmgren brought to the Seahawks from Green Bay. By identifying the Packers backup as the Hawks’ quarterback of the future, Holmgren cut ties with Jon Kitna, a serviceable veteran whose desire to give back to the community was every bit as genuine as Hasselbeck’s.

Such is the way of the world in the NFL. Hasselbeck made Kitna expendable, and now Charlie Whitehurst – or perhaps Tarvaris Jackson, a free agent expected to sign with the Seahawks later this week – has made Hasselbeck expendable.

Here’s what I don’t get: Why are fans so down on Whitehurst? He was caught in a San Diego roster logjam behind Philip Rivers, an elite talent in his prime, just as Hasselbeck had been stuck behind the great Brett Favre in Green Bay.

When Whitehurst finally got a chance to start a game – in November, against a Giants defense on a specific mission to harass the quarterback – the debut was a disaster: He went 12-for-23 for 113 yards, with two interceptions.

Whitehurst’s lone highlight was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu, enabled by a coverage mix-up in garbage time, that turned a 41-0 humiliation into a 41-7 humiliation.

It’s convenient to forget that the Hasselbeck Project began, in 2001, with similar results. Hasselbeck threw two picks in his first Seahawks start, at Cleveland.

Although Hasselbeck finished that year owning respectable numbers for a de-facto rookie starter – 2,023 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, worth a 70.9 quarterback rating – there was little evidence to suggest he deserved his depth-chart edge over veteran Trent Dilfer.

But Holmgren had come to Seattle with a vision, and the vision was predicated upon Hasselbeck’s ability to the master the nuances of an offense that put more emphasis on low-risk passes than downfield bombs.

When it was learned Tuesday that Hasselbeck would not be extended another contract (a previous offer reportedly was turned down before the lockout), he departed not only as the most accomplished quarterback in Seahawks history, but on a short list of the most popular pro athletes to grace a Seattle athletic field.

As Holmgren was allowed to nurse his backup-quarterback project toward fruition, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider deserve the same opportunity.

They liked what little they saw of Whitehurst in San Diego, where he was limited to the occasional second-half appearance in exhibition games, and they liked what they saw of Whitehurst in the 2010 regular-season finale against the Rams.

In what amounted to a playoff contest, Whitehurst responded with a performance that looks much better on paper than most Seahawks fans remember.

The anecdotal version of Whitehurst’s effort goes something like this:

Asked to execute a conservative game plan that required him to do nothing extraordinary, he did nothing extraordinary. The Seahawks’ 16-6 win was more a tribute to a home-field advantage that fortifies their defense with a 12th man than to Whitehurst’s prowess as a big-game quarterback.

The anecdotal version of that season-saving Sunday night is in conflict with the stats. A conservative game plan? Whitehurst threw 36 times. True, most of those attempts were dinks and dimes, but isn’t that how Hasselbeck made a living?

Whitehurst completed 22 of the 36, for 192 yards and a touchdown. In Super Bowl III, when the Jets’ Joe Namath certified himself as a living legend against the Baltimore Colts, he went 17-for-28, for 206 yards and no touchdowns. I know, nobody ever will confuse the 2010 Rams with the 1968 Colts, and nobody ever will confuse a season-finale between two teams with 6-9 records with The Game That Defined The Modern NFL.

But the quarterback statistics are pretty much the same, aren’t they?

Yet Namath was honored as the Super Bowl MVP for his 17-for-28, 206-yard passing effort, while Whitehurst’s 22-for-36, for 192 yards and a touchdown, is regarded with a shoulder shrug and a yawn.

The most impressive stat-sheet number from Whitehurst’s performance against the Rams was zero. As in, zero interceptions, and zero fumbles.

One knock on Whitehurst is his age. He turned 29 a few weeks ago, a tad old to be groomed from sideline clipboard holder to field general.

As NFL quarterback prospects go, it’s as if he’s been living in the basement of his parents’ house.

Another knock, perhaps, is his absence of Pacific Northwest roots. He played college ball at Clemson, then got his feet wet in San Diego, apparently on the beach. He speaks with a Southern drawl and comports himself like a laid-back surfer dude.

Get used to it. While I admire Matthew (as peerless Hawks play-by-play announcer Steve Raible insisted on calling Hasselbeck) as much as anybody else in the media – No. 8 was a prince, respectful and humble and candid and thoughtful – he isn’t able to throw four touchdown passes in the playoff game against New Orleans unless Whitehurst keeps mistakes to minimum in the unofficial playoff game against St. Louis.

The football is yours, Charlie. Love the name: Charlie. It’s kind of now, kind of wow.

But I’m hoping it’s only a matter of weeks until Steve Raible refers to you as Charles.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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