January 8th, 2011 had started exactly the way most so-called NFL experts predicted it would which was bad news for the 66,366 who had made their way into what was then known as Qwest Field. The heavily favored and defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints had jumped out to a 10 to 0 lead in their Wild Card playoff game against the Seahawks. The lead was fueled by a long drive after the opening kickoff resulting in a field goal and then a touchdown after the Seahawks first possession ended with Matt Hasselbeck throwing an interception.
With 6:21 left in the first quarter New Orleans had run 18 plays to Seattle’s three and the Saints looked every bit the 9.5-point favorites Las Vegas claimed them to be. Conversely, Seattle looked like what they were: a 7 and 9 team owing this playoff appearance more to a lousy division than on field prowess. The mood in the stadium was subdued but not overly so. Fans knew the quirks of the Seahawks season and realized the home team was being asked to climb quite the mountain in knocking off the Saints on a chilly January afternoon. The Seahawks were, after all, the largest home team underdog in NFL playoff history.
Another reality facing Seattle fans that day was the notion that it would likely be the final time they would see Hasselbeck quarterbacking their team. The game was his 148th as Seahawks quarterback and much like the team his Seattle career had peaked in the magical 2005 season, which resulted in the franchise’s only Super Bowl trip. By 2010 he was playing for a new coach and had thrown 17 interceptions for the second consecutive season. His numbers weren’t a total disaster but the decline was evident and it seemed almost certain that Pete Carroll would make a change at the position during the off-season.
Fans spent the week leading up to the game debating on whether Hasselbeck should even get the start. He was banged up to the point that Carroll had elected to use Charlie Whitehurst as his QB in the season finale win over St. Louis that had clinched the NFC West. Hasselbeck had treatment (including fluid drained from his hip) during the days leading up to the Saints game and wasn’t given the all clear to play until Thursday. Some fans didn’t care whether he was cleared to play or not. They wanted Whitehurst as their QB. They weren’t the only ones. Insiders say Carroll was convinced he should go with Whitehurst but was ultimately talked out of it by his assistants who felt Hasselbeck, even with a broken left wrist, gave the team a better chance to win.
Father Time is the ultimate winner in sports (and life). His unbeaten record over the years makes it ludicrous to think he’s never been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. He simply doesn’t lose to anyone. But on occasion as he’s winding up for his final knockout punch his victim dodges the blow and summons up one last gasp of greatness. These days speak to the romantic in all of us for they allow us to believe for a brief moment that eternal youth is possible for the athletes we watch (and for that matter for us).
For most (all?) Seattle fans they think back to that day and they remember one legendary play: Beacon Plumbing’s future spokesman’s 67-yard ramble in which he ran over everyone from New Orleans except Professor Longhair, Satchmo, and Lil Wayne. The so called “Beast Quake” run holds it’s rightful place among the greatest moments in Seattle sports history.
But the play might not have happened and would likely not have mattered if Hasselbeck hadn’t dug deep and turned his day around with one final glorious Seattle performance. To Carroll’s credit, even though he wanted to start Whitehurst, he stuck with #8 even after his third pass was intercepted. He was to be rewarded.
Hasselbeck completed his next 8 passes after that opening interception and went 16 for his next 21 with four TDs mixed in as Seattle roared back from 10 points down to take a 31 to 20 lead. Like true champions, the Saints refused to go away and closed the gap to 34 to 30 when Seattle had the ball 2nd and 10 at their own 33 and ran a play that Hasselbeck would say later was designed to get four yards. 67 yards (and several collisions) later Lynch dove into the end zone with his notoriously not quick quarterback right by his side. (A few years later at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis Hasselbeck admitted to me that his presence 67 yards downfield on a running play had more to do with the length of time the play took rather than any true speed on his behalf.)
The game ended shortly after Lynch’s run (but not before one late Saints touchdown) and with a 41 to 36 victory Seattle had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history. Delirious fans left the stadium and poured into various Pioneer Square and Sodo watering holes to relive one of the Seahawks most memorable triumphs ever. It was a win fueled not only by one of the greatest plays in team history but also by one of the team’s greatest players.
Matt Hasselbeck’s last appearance in Seattle as the Seahawks quarterback became a defiant denial of Father Time. His quarterback rating of 113 was among the best of his career and was his second best in the playoffs behind the 118 rating he achieved versus Carolina in the NFC title game in 2006.
The lasting image for many Seattle fans that day was the sensational photo of him leaving the field with his kids in tow. One of the best (and certainly one of the most likeable) athletes in Seattle history had provided fans with one, last, iconic performance in a career that will surely end with him one day taking a place in the Ring of Honor.
FIVE OTHER FACTS YOU MAY NOT REMEMBER FROM THE BEAST QUAKE GAME:
ONE: Lynch’s 67-yard run not only set a record for the longest rushing TD in Seahawks playoff history it was their longest playoff run ever. If I gave you 50 guesses you wouldn’t name the guy who previously held the record with a 32-yard (non scoring) run.
TWO: Long before he became known as a political numbers guru Nate Silver penned this pregame opinion piece that listed the 2010 Hawks as the second worst playoff team in sports history.
THREE: Ben Obamanu separated his shoulder on the Hawks first TD drive but came back to play most of the game. He was targeted a team high 11 times and had 5 catches for 43 yards.
FOUR: In week 11 of the 2010 season the Saints beat the Hawks 34 to 19.
FIVE: Former Seahawks Heath Evans and Julius Jones scored TDs for the Saints