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Hasselbeck laughs all the way to the Super Bowl

Associated Press

Detroit — Oh, brother. This was the 3,456th question already this week asking under-appreciated Seattle about being a four-point underdog to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

But instead of the rote, pat response of "whatever," Matt Hasselbeck used the tired query during media day Tuesday to add to a season in which he has risen from unknown to the NFC passing leader and Pro Bowl starter.

He put standup comedian on his resume.

With his team cap on backward, the dry-witted Hasselbeck excitedly spread his arms wide to pantomime excitement. His high voice — "You know, kind of like ... a girl," according to his playful antagonist, teammate Robbie Tobeck — climbed higher.

"Do we in the locker room even say, 'OK. We're favored by 21/2 points. All right!'? No, no one does that," Hasselbeck said, shaking his bald head for emphasis.

"As Coach (Mike) Holmgren likes to say, all that stuff is minutia. I don't know what that means, but I hear him say it."

Next came the inevitable intrusion by roving television "reporter" and comedian Gilbert Gottfried.

"Oh, hi Gilbert," Hasselbeck droned, feigning annoyance.

The comedian loudly asked Hasselbeck for a joke.

Without hesitation, the quarterback said: "There are three kinds of people in this world. There are people who know how to count. And there are people who don't."

Silence. And blank stares — even from Gottfried.

"Anybody else?" he asked. "That was pretty good, eh? Just made that up. Thank you. Thank you very much."

Hasselbeck wasn't the only quarterback cracking jokes during Amateur Hour at Ford Field.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger was asked what he dislikes about going playing away from Pittsburgh for a fourth consecutive game.

"My dog," he said, speaking fondly of the Rottweiler named Zeus that stayed back in Pittsburgh. "If I could have my dog here it would be perfect, but Coach Cowher wouldn't let me bring him."

It's all laughs now for Roethlisberger, after a playoff flameout and acknowledged fatigue ended his rookie season of 2004.

It's also all fun for Hasselbeck, thanks to 24 touchdown passes, just nine interceptions — his career-low for an entire injury-free season — and a 66 percent completion rate.

"It all came together this season and he has had his best season," Holmgren said.

But it wasn't always a gas for Hasselbeck in Seattle.

In 2001, the joke was on him.

Holmgren, in his third season coaching Seattle after leaving Green Bay, had just traded with the Packers to get Hasselbeck to be his starting quarterback. He had just finished his third season learning behind Brett Favre.

Hasselbeck had zero career starts. He was a sixth-round draft choice from Boston College. Holmgren's Packers were the only team to call him for a pre-draft tryout — yet he now acknowledges he was arrogant and difficult to coach.

But Holmgren loved Hasselbeck's intelligence.

Those brains got a beating in his second game as Seattle's 2001 starter. Philadelphia hit the new quarterback so often in a 27-3 Eagles' win the Seahawks almost had to peel him off the turf at old Veterans Stadium.

The following week, he strained a groin muscle. He sat the next two games behind Trent Dilfer. Hasselbeck eventually returned for nine more starts — five were losses — before he hurt his passing shoulder.

"Instead of people saying, 'Hey, I feel bad for you,' it felt more like people were applauding ... No, it didn't feel that way, it WAS that way," Hasselbeck said. "It was tough. It was very, very tough."

Before 2002, the Seahawks kept Dilfer from leaving as a free agent by promising he would start. But in the first preseason game, Dilfer hurt his knee. Hasselbeck came back again. And struggled again. Dilfer returned in Week 2.

Then, on Oct. 27, 2002, at Dallas, Dilfer tore an Achilles' tendon. Hasselbeck entered and led the Seahawks to a 17-14 win. He started the final nine games, passing for 300 yards four times and over 400 yards twice, both Seahawks' season records.

He's started ever since.

"Well, it's taken a little while," Holmgren said Tuesday. "But right now we are in a very, very good place."

Hasselbeck completed 67 percent of his throws with three touchdowns and no interceptions in two playoff wins. He almost single-handedly took over the divisional-round win over Washington after league MVP Shaun Alexander left in the first quarter with a concussion.

"He's just matured," said receiver Bobby Engram, who arrived in Seattle with Hasselbeck in 2001. "He's taken his lumps like any star quarterback, but he's dealt with it extremely well.

"He is the leader of this team."

Tuesday, Hasselbeck was their leader in laughs. Especially at his own expense.

"Anybody losing your hair, you can root for us, too," he said. "Anything to get the home-field advantage here in Detroit."

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