Hasselbeck faces mentor Favre for 6th time

Matt Hasselbeck has almost as many Brett Favre stories as career touchdown passes. As in, 158.

There was the time Hasselbeck was so excited to get his first piece of NFL fan mail as Favre’s rookie backup in Green Bay 11 years ago.

The letter read: “I’d really appreciate it if you could get Brett Favre‘s autograph for me.”

There was the overtime coin flip Hasselbeck correctly called in Green Bay during a Seahawks-Packers playoff game, after he’d been traded to Seattle. Hasselbeck then boldly announced “We want the ball and we’re going to score!” He didn’t know the joke was being broadcast throughout Lambeau Field and live on national television, through the referee’s microphone. He then threw the interception that Al Harris returned for a touchdown, ending Seattle’s 2003 season.

“Typical Matt,” Favre said of his protege’s humor and bravado.

Yet what the three-time league MVP might not know: He almost kept Hasselbeck from becoming a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in Seattle.

Thursday, Hasselbeck laughed when he was asked if he could have imagined that 11 years after he first began learning from the future Hall of Famer, he would be 34 years old and facing his mentor – now 40 – Sunday at Minnesota.

“You know what? I don’t quite know. He had already accomplished so much at that point,” Hasselbeck said. “At the time, I would have been happy staying there, letting him be the guy in Green Bay, and just backing him up. It was that much fun.”

Humor and leadership. Those are the two biggest virtues Hasselbeck says he learned from Favre. Throw in longevity, and you have the keys to Sunday being the NFL-record 279th consecutive start for the mentor, and the 120th start in his understudy’s nine-year run leading Seattle. It’s the longest tenure for a Seahawks quarterback in the team’s 34-year history.

“At the time I was with him, it was the things people would call ‘intangibles.’ And he had ’em,” Hasselbeck said. “Every airport you go to has all these bookstores that have these books on leadership. I can promise you, he’s never read one of them. It’s just something that he has.

“Teammates love him. Coaches love him. Opponents love him. He was a lot of fun at work. It’s contagious, his attitude. And to go with that, he’s very, very talented.”

Hasselbeck said when he played at Boston College, the Eagles worked hard and were always serious. But they didn’t win, never made it to a bowl game.

“I get to Green Bay and they’re Super Bowl after Super Bowl. And the thing I noticed is they just had so much fun,” Hasselbeck said. “It wasn’t even like it was work.”

Hasselbeck said even as a relatively naive rookie a decade ago, he realized how special Favre’s mentoring was with the Packers.

“They were paying me – and I felt like I should have been paying them,” Hasselbeck said. “It was like Harvard Business School for a young quarterback, being in the room. Mike Holmgren was the head coach. Andy Reid was the quarterbacks coach. And Brett Favre was the starter. It was an awesome experience.”

Sunday will be the sixth time protege and mentor have opposed each other. Hasselbeck is 1-4 against Favre. The last two times they’ve met have been in blizzards – once in the playoffs at Green Bay at the end of the 2007 season, and the other in a freak Seattle storm late in 2006.

“Well, it won’t snow this week. That will be different,” Hasselbeck said of playing Favre in a dome. “It’s exciting. I think it’s good for the game that he’s back. It’s obvious that he’s rejuvenated that team. He has only three interceptions this season. It’s really impressive. I’m really happy for him.”