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Hasselbeck to start for Seahawks in wild-card game vs. Saints

RENTON, Wash. -- By this point, the pleading with coaches was done. Matt Hasselbeck knew he wasn't going to start in what could be the last game he ever played for the Seattle Seahawks.

Instead of sulking, outwardly showing any bitterness or anger while Charlie Whitehurst took the snaps in Seattle's biggest game in nearly three years, the only quarterback to ever lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl stepped to the middle of the team's spacious locker room at Qwest Field last Sunday night.

"I think it was important that I offer something," Hasselbeck said Thursday.

There, in the minutes before the NFC West title was to be determined with Hasselbeck on the sideline -- in uniform but essentially just a spectator -- the quarterback gave an impassioned speech about the opportunity that awaited his teammates. That the Seahawks could retake control of a division it dominated for four consecutive seasons, only to collapse into a mess of just nine wins and two head-coaching changes in consecutive seasons.

"It meant a lot for him to come out and be as vocal as he was, and take charge and still be a leader," wide receiver Ben Obomanu said. "Some guys have a tendency to sit back when they're not playing. They tend not to take their leadership role, and some guys look for them not to be leaders because they're not playing. He stepped up to the plate and let Charlie know he supported him and let all of us know he would be there to support us."

Hasselbeck will be back out there Saturday when the Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints in an NFC wild-card playoff game. After watching impatiently a week ago as Whitehurst led the team to a division-clinching 16-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is turning to his experienced playoff veteran.

Hasselbeck was the starter the last nine times that the Seahawks played a postseason game. He has won the last four they've played at Qwest Field.

And Saturday could be the last time he ever takes snaps for Seattle.

"As we saw this year with the amount of turnover we had, you never know when your last day could be, and that goes for everybody," Hasselbeck said. "I'm excited. Anybody who has played here when the crowd is really into it, it's always a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep that rolling."

Hasselbeck's contract with the Seahawks expires at the end of the season, and he repeated Thursday a desire to retire in Seattle. After 10 seasons, 147 regular and postseason games appeared in and the only NFC championship the franchise has ever claimed, Hasselbeck could be on his way out.

Hasselbeck's future was placed in doubt the moment the Seahawks traded a second-round draft pick to the San Diego Chargers to acquire Whitehurst, then signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract. The move was part of Carroll's constant refrain of competition being at the center of everything the Seahawks do, and while Whitehurst failed to win the job during training camp and has seen only spot duty this year, the move was a signal that Hasselbeck's future in Seattle beyond 2010 wasn't guaranteed.

If anyone understands that feeling, the situation Hasselbeck is facing, it's his opposing quarterback, Drew Brees. In 2004, with Brees the centerpiece of San Diego's offense, the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers as his eventual replacement. For two seasons, Brees played with Rivers waiting for his opportunity.

"At the end of the 2005 season, it was on my mind just as to, 'Are they going to extend me to a long-term offer or do they feel like they've got their quarterback in the building already? Are they just going to let me walk, or whatever?'" Brees said. "That's part of the sport. Every team has a few of those guys that, each year, you're not sure what's going to happen the next year, where you're going to be."

Brees eventually landed in New Orleans, where his career has flourished, reaching its pinnacle last season with his first Super Bowl title. But when Brees landed in the Big Easy, he was 27 years old.

Hasselbeck will turn 36 in the first month of next season.

"I think he's still got a lot of good years left in him, but I guess only time will tell," Brees said.

Brees saw that firsthand earlier this season when Hasselbeck solved Gregg Williams' complicated defensive schemes and threw for 366 yards against the Saints. It was the most passing yards allowed this season by New Orleans and the fourth-highest total in Hasselbeck's career.

But even that was bested by Brees on that day as he threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints' 34-19 victory.

"He's a guy I look up to in a lot of ways," Hasselbeck said of Brees. "He's just done a great job of on- and off-the-field leading his team, leading the people around him."

By playing Saturday, Hasselbeck can at least ensure the potential final image of his career in Seattle isn't watching him score on a 1-yard touchdown run at Tampa Bay the day after Christmas, then going to a knee in the end zone after aggravating his hip injury. Hasselbeck wasn't touched, wasn't even threatened by a defender on the play -- his third rushing TD of the season, a new career high.

But this hasn't been a banner season. Hasselbeck has thrown 17 interceptions versus just 12 touchdown passes and was booed off the field at home against the Atlanta Falcons just a few weeks ago.

Saturday is Hasselbeck's opportunity to right his season and perhaps make a statement about next year.

"For me, the most special thing was coming here, we really weren't a very good team. It was hard to get this thing turned back around and get something special built here," Hasselbeck said. "So I take so much pride in that and for the opportunity I was given.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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