Veteran NFL players have frequently functioned as role models to those just acclimating themselves to new systems.
This pattern often asserts itself with greater frequency in the cases of players who function at quarterback. This marquee position has often had players referred to as “coaches on the field.”
Perhaps the first in the modern professional football era quarterback to be referred to under the aforementioned moniker was John Unitas of the Baltimore Colts, a rags to riches story.
Unitas went from a semi-pro team signal-caller to the Hall of Fame after leading the Colts to two world titles in 1958 and 1959 against one of the toughest defensive teams of the era, the New York Giants with Tom Landy as defensive coordinator.
The Giants were no pushovers on offense either with Vince Lombardi coaching on that side of the ball.
Unitas would be remembered for another reason as well as his meteoric rise and performing greatness. His clutch come-from-behind exploits led the Colts to the first overtime win in NFL championship annals.
It came with a 23-17 triumph in the 1958 title decider over the Giants in an excitement filled nail-biter that was called the game that served to popularize the NFL as a network television attraction.
A different type of roster quarterback in the role of a coach came when John McKay was launching the Tampa Bay Buccaneer franchise and made a trade for a veteran quarterback who was a Heisman Trophy winner but was now in the twilight of his career as a backup to a prominent signal-caller.
Steve Spurrier, who had won the Heisman in 1966 as a Florida Gator, was a backup to John Brodie with the San Francisco 49ers. The reason why McKay made the move was not so much out of concern for how much Spurrier could bring to the team as a quarterback.
The wily McKay knew Spurrier’s gridiron savvy and had probably concluded that he had a successful future in coaching after his playing days ended, which happened to be the case.
Spurrier launched a Southeastern Conference dynasty after returning to Florida as coach. He won a consensus national title for the Gators in 1996.
Veteran Spurrier was in a position to not only help McKay’s young quarterbacks learn his system on one of the NFL’s two newest teams, along with the Seattle Seahawks. He could also benefit the receivers in helping them learn to interact successfully with the quarterbacks throwing them the ball.
When the curtain rings down on the 2010 season Hasselbeck will have been a Seahawk for a full decade. He came to Seattle, if your memory needs refreshing, in a 2001 trade with the Green Bay Packers.
Mike Holmgren, Hasselbeck’s former coach at Green Bay, now held that position with Seattle. The passing guru who had been one of the creators of the West Coast Offense under Bill Walsh with the 49ers obviously saw something he liked in Hasselbeck.
The team of Holmgren and Hasselbeck achieved great dividends. The culmination of their association was the 2005 season with an NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So now a new coach has arrived in town. Pete Carroll earned a reputation as a two time national championship winner at USC by personally coaching the defense and turning the offense over to innovative minds who rolled the dice with a daring offense combining the pass and the run.
That description sounds a lot like the Holmgren 2005 Seahawks and the dynamic touchdown producing combination of passer Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander.
It seemed like only yesterday when Matt Hasselbeck arrived on the scene but now he is a seasoned veteran.
New man in town Carroll has reason to value Hasselbeck’s insights. He knows much about the personnel that Carroll has inherited from the Holmgren Era. As a veteran he can also assist Carroll with up and coming young players in the way that Spurrier rendered service to McKay.
So this season Matt Hasselbeck will wear two hats. He will remain quarterback Hasselbeck but with his valuable experience and insights gained from it he will serve as a coach to Carroll as well.